The United Nations steps up efforts to promote young women’s leadership within the UN

Date: Tuesday, September 17, 2019

On the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly, young female staff members came together to share progress and challenges in advancing their careers. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
On the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly, young female staff members came together to share progress and challenges in advancing their careers. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

On the opening week of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, an inter-generational conversation convened by UN Women, placed youth leadership at the centre of its new campaign, Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future.

The multigenerational campaign to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, demands a sustainable future where women and girls have equal rights and opportunities. The side event on 16 September examined what’s needed and what’s working to promote the leadership of young women within the United Nations.

In a choreographed performance, young people voiced the demands made by Generation Equality: freedom from violence; environmental justice; economic rights; access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; justice and peace for all; and equal participation in politics and decision-making. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka responded by encouraging them to take concrete actions.

"For Generation Equality to tackle these massive issues, the campaign needs action from all of us, young and old. If it were not for the amazing and brave young people, we would be facing an even more complex future,” said the Executive Director.

The event featured young female staff members of the UN sharing their progress and challenges in advancing their careers, while women who have risen through the ranks, talked about the need for mentorship.

Minna Nurminen from UN Women highlighted the issue of gender parity and female representation in the UN System—a priority for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Overall, the role of women continues to increase slowly in the UN, reaching 44 per cent of the total workforce… but the representation of women continues to correlate negatively to seniority.” 

13 September 2019 marked the second anniversary of the Secretary-General’s System-wide Strategy on Gender Parity, a progressive roadmap adopted by the UN to reach parity at its senior levels of leadership by 2021, and across the board by 2028. UN Women has efforts to promote gender parity and removing the barriers that typically hold women back, including through the development of the Enabling Environment Guidelines. The Guidelines provide suggested measures and good practices on flexible working arrangements, family-friendly policies, standards of conduct, implementation, recruitment and talent management for all staff.

UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, speaks at the UN Women event on youth leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, speaks at the UN Women event on youth leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, spoke about the efforts made in the UN Youth 2030 Strategy to prioritize youth leadership across the organization, and the need to address the culture and attitudes around youth leadership: "There are a lot of myths about what young people bring to the table, we see them as those who are in training to become adults…We really need to recognize the agency, power and the leadership that young people bring to the organization,” she said.

She also drew attention to the need for more role models, specifically women in senior positions.

Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development under the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Daniela Bas, speaks at the UN Women event on youth leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development under the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Daniela Bas, speaks at the UN Women event on youth leadership within the UN. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Daniela Bas, who traversed a long journey from the time that she joined the UN as a Junior Professional to becoming the Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development under the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, agreed: “In those years, if I would have had enough support and mentoring, maybe I could have changed my approach and benefited more.” 

Other participants highlighted better practices and progressive initiatives that are underway. Irem Tumer, a young professional from UN Population Fund (UNFPA) highlighted the benefits of professional leadership training for young professionals and the young professionals’ network, dubbed “Tangerine”.


David Bearfiled, Director of Human Resources in UNDP shared the recent measures being adopted by the organization to foster and retain young talent and gender parity, including through new entry-level programme for young people straight out of universities, paid internships and flexible working arrangements.

The Generation Equality campaign, launched in May 2019, aims to reinvigorate the women’s rights agenda and mobilize actions for gender equality across a range of critical issues. Learn more about the campaign.