"UNSG: Breaking The Last Glass Ceiling"

This year has seen the impressive rise of strong, inspiring women at the forefront of global politics. Hillary Clinton stands an excellent chance to be elected as the first female President of the United States. Britain has just elected its second female Prime Minster in Theresa May, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel's principled humanitarian position on the refugee crisis has given Europe much needed leadership. It is obvious why some people say this is the 'Year of the Woman'.

A glass ceiling remains for one final international position, the United Nations Secretary General, but this could be finally shattered by a powerful woman leader. The mandate of current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finishes in the coming months and the race to elect his successor is reaching fever pitch. Twelve candidates have been nominated for the position including former Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers. For the first time, women candidates make up half of the nominees.

After years of scandals and inefficiency, most UN observers agree this election is one of the most important in decades. The UN desperately needs a strong leader with diplomatic experience, a solid track record of institutional reform, and someone who understands the challenges faced by communities around the world. The next Secretary-General must also fulfill two further important criteria - the Secretary-General must be a woman, and must be from Eastern Europe.

First, after 70 years spent with eight men at its helm, the United Nations has yet to be led by a woman. The current election present a perfect opportunity to break this last glass ceiling, which would inspire women all around the world and set an example to follow for the next generation of women leaders. Symbolically, it would show the world that the UN is capable and willing to reform itself and lead by example in the promotion of gender equality and women's rights.

Despite strong campaigns from civil society groups and UN member states, it seems that old habits die hard. In the first indicative 'straw poll' of UN Security Council members - who will appoint the next Secretary General - four of the top five contenders for the position were men, with the only exception being Irina Bokova, UNESCO's Director-General. Other female candidates who were expected to perform strongly, like New Zealand's Helen Clark and Argentina's Susanna Malcorra, failed to generate much enthusiasm from the Security Council. While their chances now look quite slim, they still remain in the race and there is all to play for in the coming straw poll which takes place on Friday 5 August.

The second important criteria is the UN's principle of regional rotation under which the position rotates between the UN's different regions to ensure equality, fairness and legitimacy. Eastern Europe is the only region to have never had a UN Secretary General, and many UN watchers agree that it is a high time for an Eastern European to hold the post. This would also be strongly symbolic - an acknowledgment of how far the region has come since the fall of the Berlin Wall over 25 years ago.

Irina Bokova ticks these boxes and that is why she is widely considered a front runner for the position. She has extensive diplomatic experience and a solid track record of reform at UNESCO. During the UN hearings she came across as insightful, knowledgeable and determined to institute much needed changes in the UN. Switching between multiple languages with ease, she stressed the importance of safeguarding human rights and free expression across the globe. She also spoke candidly about strengthening the UN's preventative role by investing in early warning measures and pledged to fully reform and revitalise the UN's peacekeeping operations.

Whether Bokova, or indeed any female candidate, can succeed remains to be seen. For this to happen, the UN Security Council must overcome the 'boys' club' mentality that has so far determined the appointment of UN Secretaries-General. It is striking that of the representatives at the UN Security Council table, only the US will be represented by a woman, Ambassador Samantha Power. Challenging convention and supporting female leadership have been key traits of Obama's term in office and the US has a crucial role to play in breaking the UN's glass ceiling. Friday's second straw poll will be indicative of whether the US will 'walk the walk' and increase pressure on the Security Council to elect the first woman to lead the UN.

The Security Council has a range of candidates to choose from. They need to send an important signal to the world on what the international community truly values. Fairness and equality dictates it must go to Eastern Europe. A progressive future means it must go to a woman.

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