António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general. Photo by: Evan Schneider / U.N.

WASHINGTON — United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has made “slow but steady progress” in achieving a more feminist U.N., raising his grade from a C+ to a B-, according to a report card evaluating progress on issues such as promoting gender parity and addressing a culture of sexual harassment.

“He’s clearly a leader who is listening, he’s clearly a leader who’s making more moves than any secretary-general before him ever has.”

— Lyric Thompson, report lead author

The report card was the second annual issued by the Feminist U.N. Campaign, a coalition of women’s rights advocates and U.N. watchers led by the International Center for Research on Women. It issued its first report card following Guterres’ first 100 days in office — for which he received an A- — and then designed a more rigorous progress assessment to evaluate his first year, which saw his grade drop.

“His first year his grade went down because he wasn’t making moves in all the areas we wanted to see,” said Lyric Thompson, ICRW policy and advocacy director and a lead author of the report. “He definitely moved forward on his two really key priority areas that he had set out from the beginning, which was parity and implementing the zero-tolerance policy.”

The report card measures Guterres’ progress against the agenda recommended by the Feminist U.N. Campaign, not against the secretary-general’s own stated agenda, and also acknowledges that he alone cannot be responsible for enacting change across the entire U.N. system.

“The more actions he’s taken, the more critique he’s gotten both from women’s rights advocates who say it’s not going far enough, as well as from senior staff in the system and countries who don’t like that he’s taking this on at all because it’s very radically subversive to the status quo if done well,” Thompson said.

“He’s clearly a leader who is listening, he’s clearly a leader who’s making more moves than any secretary-general before him ever has, and as we see what those moves are, there’s critics on both sides,” Thompson said.

Guterres got the same or better grades for 2018 across key areas evaluated in the report card: articulate and implement a feminist leadership agenda; ensure feminist implementation and accountability for the sustainable development goals; financing for gender equality; utilize feminist leadership: parity and rights protections; enable a feminist transformation for Commission on the Status of Women and UN Women; and promote the freedom of information in the U.N. system.

The secretary-general scored highest on two areas the Feminist U.N. Campaign found to be most within his ability to effect change: achieving gender parity in leadership — which Guterres is on track to meet or exceed benchmarks for progress — and tackling violence, discrimination, and abuse in the U.N. system.

The report card acknowledged a U.N. staff survey commissioned by Guterres that released its report last week — too late to have its contents analyzed and included in his 2018 score. Some surveyed by the Feminist U.N. Campaign said that the report, which looked at staff attitudes on the U.N. system’s response to sexual harassment, was rushed and conducted by a multilateral organization rather than consulting firm Deloitte.

The Feminist U.N. Campaign said that while Guterres’ 2018 progress was an improvement from the prior year, more needs to be done.

“This is a leader that is still committed to making real, albeit insufficiently speedy, progress in turning the tanker that is this system,” Thompson said. “I think 2019 is going to be a year where rubber really hits the road for this.”

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.