M T Escher

In The Corridors

By Jim Della-Giacoma

3 min readSep 24, 2015


Britain’s PR Matthew Rycroft recently told the GA “that other things being equal it is high time for a woman to lead the United Nations.”

Other things being equal? This well worn diplomatic formulation sounds less like a pledge to support equality for the top job in Turtle Bay and more like the Queen’s representative was hedging his bets.

It made In The Corridors wonder aloud: Are Member States serious about choosing a woman as the next SG? Is this it an inevitability or still just one possibility?

Caught in a quiet corner of the Secretariat, a retired G77 ambassador thought that the old rules still prevailed; passport first, gender second. “The conventional wisdom is that it is Eastern Europe’s turn. If we don’t follow the regional rotation, then it would be a free for all.” And we would not want chaos at the United Nations.

A WEOG PR visited in their Midtown eerie concurred: “We are not challenging the claim of Eastern Europe group. It’s their turn.”

Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin may have narrowed the field considerably when he recently told reporters: “We support an Eastern European woman for secretary-general.”

But even with such an endorsement, not everyone thinks a woman is a dead cert. One online betting agency has a candidate with the distinctly male name of Antonio Guterres heading the field with 4/1 odds in favor. (Check to see if he’s still in front here).

But what if the Americans don’t like “her”? Is it still an Eastern European woman’s “turn”? Or should it be opened up to all women? Should gender trump geography?

A European DPR thought so. “Most of us feel the weight of history, the societal pressure pushing on us that says it is time for a woman to be the SG. It is more than just tokenism.” One website listed an A-Z of 30 “outstanding women” from judges to presidents who have the experience and qualifications.

This might be music to the ears of a few head of agencies, funds, programs of the appropriate gender as subtly wait in the wings for a global job egged on by their fan clubs of Twitter followers. One staff even praised her female boss’s “strengths”.

“Her selling point in the eyes of the Member States is not that’s she a woman, but she made us more efficient! Some hope she might do the same to the Secretariat,” said slightly incredulous subordinate.

Holy high paid consultants! ITTET, if Member’s wanted to cash in their efficiency coupon, then Turtle Bay might then resemble the slaughterhouse it once was before the Rockefeller family bought the land for the UNHQ. “Whether or not someone like me agrees whether she has done a good job or not is irrelevant. She has saved them money.” Now, that’s a competitive edge.

So, gender may not be the sole criteria in this race after all? “I’d rather have good man than an unqualified woman,” said a sister with from the greater UN family with one-star rank. When pushed, even our enlightened DPR aka our male feminist of the month, had second thoughts. “We have to admit there are many Members States who would be more than comfortable choosing another man.” And there are plenty of men on 1 For 7 Billion’s candidate list.

But we also hear that at least one erstwhile male candidate has got the message that it’s a woman’s turn. Or maybe just that the odds are too long for his own victory? Either way, his eyes are fixed on a consolation prize. Who wants to be the UN High Commissioner for Refugees?

Jim Della-Giacoma is the Deputy Director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, also serving as the head of its Crisis Diplomacy and Peace Operations program. He came to CIC after being a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and the Asia Program Director at the International Crisis Group. You can find him on Twitter.