Tanzanian woman?s UN appointment cause for celebration

Date: January 1, 1970
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The world over, gender activists celebrated the appointment of Tanzania?s Foreign Minister, Asha Rose Migiro as United Nations (UN) Deputy Secretary General by the newly appointed Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. She becomes the third person and second woman, after Canadian born Louise Fr?chette, appointed to the position.

This appointment occurred against a background of civil strife in Iraq, the Dafur region of Sudan and Somalia, as well as the hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein on camera. It was one of the few highlights of an increasingly dark new year. Mgiro and everyone at the UN have much work ahead.
At a press conference held 10 days after he took office, Ban Ki Moon announced five major appointments, including the post of Deputy Secretary-General and Chef de Cabinet. He said, “Three of those five are women from developing countries. All of them are outstanding, and who should be judged on their merits.”  
At the same press conference he alluded to his selection criteria “My policy on appointing senior officials above the rank of Assistant Secretary-General, and in particular in the case of Under-Secretaries-General, is based on, first of all, the merits of the person concerned, with due regard to gender balance as well as geographical distribution.”
While the more cynical may argue that bringing in more women does not mean anything, for me as a gender activist it means the world is increasingly becoming sensitive to the need for gender balance in decision making bodies.  It is testimony to the fact that the work by feminists over the last century, and particularly since the 1970s, has paid dividends.
Think of the time when a woman could not even vote, let alone participate in paid work. That has changed, though not at the preferred rate.
In Southern Africa, some countries are still lagging behind the target set by leaders of the Southern African Development Community of 50% women in decision-making. A similar trend of poor gender equity in decision-making roles is the norm throughout Africa. Tanzanian born and educated Migiro shows that women have what it takes to be successful in the highest offices.
It is against this background that the effort by the UN system to maintain, strengthen and develop focus on balanced participation of women and men in its corridors of power is welcome. It is reassuring to activists that the world is listening and brings hope for change in mindsets – particularly the inherent gender dynamics in many socio-economic, development and even political issues.
After all women constitute half of the global population but remain marginalised in all spheres of life. Migiro’s appointment, like that of Fréchette who served for eight years, represents that half of the world population.
As was noted at the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, women can play a role in “redefining political priorities, placing new items on the political agenda that reflect and address women’s gender-specific concerns, values and experiences, and providing new perspectives on mainstream political issues”.
Migiro’s law background, and extensive political and human rights portfolios brings that necessary experience which will enable her to contribute meaningfully in the UN decision-making process. Following her five-year position as Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children, she was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in January 2006. Her commitment to gender and rights issues and longstanding political and legal experience will bring a fresh view to the UN.
While it is ideally unfair to hold different expectations between women and men office bearers, one cannot help but keep hoping that as more women join influential positions in world politics, we begin to see a shift in the world’s attitudes to gender implications of the world’s unfolding events. For example, we hope Migiro’s appointment as UN Deputy Secretary will contribute to ending senseless wars and the resultant violation of women’s rights in many parts of the Middle East and Africa.
Statements without action, from the UN and other international bodies, and selective application of the law are the current situation in many conflict zones.   Women and children who bear the brunt of war are hungry for tangible action. 
Migiro along with other influential women such as US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Vice president of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo Nqcuka and Vice President of Zimbabwe, Joyce Mujuru among others are in the places we want them to be. As more women join high offices we hope to see a shift in world politics to incorporate and bring women’s concerns to all important issues that the world is grappling with.
 Loveness Jambaya-Nyakujarah is the Gender Justice Programme Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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