UNITED NATIONS – The number of women diplomats at the United Nations has always been low and for the last 70 years only a few have gotten seats on the Security Council. In 2014 there were a record six, in 2015 there were four, and today there is only one woman on the council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power.
With thousands of women at U.N. headquarters this week for the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, four U.N. ambassadors who served on the 15-member council including Power spoke about being part of the male-dominated body and the need to put more women in the front lines on issues of international peace and security.
U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman, who moderated Wednesday's panel, said being back to just one woman on the council shows the need for a "sustained commitment" to gender parity in dealing with world crises and conflicts.
But he stressed it's not just the Security Council where women are outnumbered.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has increased the number of undersecretary-generals and assistant secretary-generals serving overseas to about 20 percent, and the number of women ambassadors at the U.N. has risen from about seven 20 years ago to about 37 today, which is also about 20 percent, "but again it's not enough," Feltman said.
"Numbers aren't everything, but they're an important signal to the international community" of the implementation of the U.N. goal to achieve equality for women including in leadership positions, he said.
The first woman to serve on the Security Council was Ana Figueroa Gajardo of Chile in 1952. The first American woman with a seat on the council was Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick in 1981.
Power said the first time she felt that she was the only woman on the council was last Thursday during a debate on sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers where she spoke out strongly.
"I felt when I was strong, very strong, I could see the little thought bubbles in some of my counterparts who were listening to me thinking, 'This is because she's a woman. She's this fired up about this issue,'," Power recalled. "I don't think it has anything to do with being a woman. It has to do with basic decency and injustice and a sense of what the U.N. stands for."
She said people will also ask why there's been no woman secretary-general and why there have only been two women presidents of the General Assembly in over 70 years, she said.
Other ambassadors said getting a seat at the Security Council table was harder for women than for men but that being female also had its advantages in diplomacy.
Jordan's U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said "women get where we get ... because we fight more to get where we want to get."
"I think we all navigate in no man's land, male and female," Kawar said. But "there's something in this nature in women where we want to find solutions."
Lithuania's U.N. Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite said having "women sitting at the council and debating world affairs is a very powerful signal for those who would like to be there in the future."