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Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.
— Plato, The Republic
At first reading I thought it was probably one of the many whimsical ideas that is going around the internet during this election season. Instead, it was a serious move to make women feel better. And it was almost certainly a resounding success. It was announced shortly after Antonio Guterres was named the new Secretary General of the United Nations.
The process of selecting a new Secretary General has been underway for several months and was made necessary because the term of Ban Ki-moon of South Korea comes to an end on December 31 of this year, His retirement gave rise to the pressing question of who would replace him. On October 5 it was announced that the unanimous choice to be his successor was the former Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres. It turns out that his selection was not without controversy but not for the reasons one might have expected. It was because of his sex. He is a man.
Mr. Guterres was chosen from among the 13 candidates who were finalists and hoped to get the position. Of the thirteen, seven were women, all of whom who were considered to be highly qualified to hold that position. Their supporters hoped that at long last the United Nations, an organization that has promoted gender equality around the world for many years, would take the advice it had given others and choose a woman as its leader. Among the seven female contenders were a woman who heads the U.N.’s cultural organization, a foreign minister from Argentina, a woman who runs the U.N.’s development program and a woman who led successful international climate negotiations. For a variety of reasons, however, none of the seven women was able to gather enough support from those making the selection to prevail in the contest. And the result was the selection of Mr. Guterres.
Women must now wait until Mr. Guterres, who has an initial 5-year term, retires. The powers that be at the United Nations knew that this selection would come as a disappointment to the many women in the world who had hoped that the gender barrier had been broken. Sensitive to the feelings of the distaff side of the United Nations, those in charge were determined to address their disappointment in a meaningful way. Accordingly, they named a woman to be the U.N. Ambassador of Gender Equality. As the name suggests, it is designed to address the situation that seems to have been overlooked in the selection of the new Secretary General and it is a post that is singularly appropriate to be occupied by a woman.
The woman who has been selected to serve as the United Nations’ honorary ambassador for “the empowerment of women and girls” is not a real woman, but a comic book character who was born in 1941-Wonder Woman. Her appointment struck a blow not only for gender equality around the world and against gender-based violence, but served as a lesson to employers who frequently discriminate against women in the hiring process because of their ages. EB,an organization that has evaluated all the comic book super heroes of the past, says that Wonder Woman is “bigger than Spider-Man or Batman. She’s an inspiration for every little girl who would like to imagine herself saving the world. . .. she’s an enduring powerhouse.” The Mary Sue Comics site that owns Wonder Woman is pleased with the selection. It said that: “Wonder Woman is a great, easily recognizable symbol of what women can become once freed from a patriarchal society.”
Wonder Woman will be officially appointed October 21. According to Maher Nasser, the director of the United Nations’ Department of Public Information: “Wonder Woman’s character is the most iconic and well known female comic book superhero in the world, known for her strength, fairness and compassion, and her commitment to justice, peace and equality.” He said it would mark the beginning of the U.N.’s sustainable development goal 5 which states that the U.N. will work to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
Mr. Nasser is quoted in the New York Times as saying that Wonder Woman “will be used on social media platforms to promote important messages about women’s empowerment, including on gender-based violence and the fuller participation of women in public life.”
Reports suggest that in 2015 one of 10 senior positions at the U.N. went to women. Nine of them went to men. Why the U.N. would want to promote important messages about women’s empowerment and the fuller participation of women in public life by using a comic book character instead of a real live woman is something someone should ask Wonder Woman. If she could speak I’m sure she’d be happy to answer the question.