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Will 2016 bring the first female UN Secretary General?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses a plenary session of the EU Parliament in Brussels.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, May 27, 2015. 

In the 70 years since the United Nations was founded, there has never been a woman Secretary-General. But with a new leader of the global body set to be selected in 2016, many believe the time to shatter that glass ceiling is now.

Advocates and several diplomats are urging for the next leader to be female. They point to the fact that women represent half of the world’s population, and despite a U.N. goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women – even at the organization, just 24.6% of the highest positions there have been filled by women.

Now, nearly a quarter of U.N. member states are encouraging the organization to pick a woman secretary general for the next term, according to the Associated Press. Those 42 member states signed a document – started by a Colombia ambassador -- saying “the time has come for a woman to hold the highest position.”

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That may be easier said than done, as the current selection process is murky, done behind closed doors, and is dominated by the five security council members—U.S., China, Britain, France and Russia.

However, some states are calling for greater transparency this time around and groups like Equality Now have embarked on a campaign to have general equality part of the selection process. The final resolution about the selection process will be adopted in September.

“Achieving gender equality, development and global peace will never be realized without women’s equal access to positions of decision-making power and a clear process to get there,” Equality Now says on their website.

Currently, Secretary Generals can serve for five-year terms that can be renewed indefinitely, although –so far – no one leader has held the post for more than two terms. Since the U.N.’s existence, there have been eight Secretary Generals, including three Europeans, two Africans, two Asians, and one Latin American.

Of course, gender disparity has long existed in political institutions outside of the United Nations. In fact, as of January 2015, only 22% of all national parliamentarians have been female, according to U.N. Women, a branch of the organization dedicated to gender equality.  Additionally, there are 38 states in which women make up less than 10% of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including five chambers with no women at all. And many of the world’s countries including the U.S. and other western ones like Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden and Austria have never have never been led by a woman.

Current U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has not specifically called on the next leader to be a woman but has said in the past that it is “high time” for a female to lead.