Remarks made by Soon-Young Yoon at the Women Who Make A Difference Award, 9 May 2012

Soon-Young Yoon
Women Who Make a Difference Awards
May 9, 2012

When the first UN women’s conference was held in Mexico City in 1975, gender balance was not what it seemed. Granted, 113 of the 133 heads of delegation were women, but the ones calling the shots were still largely ministers back home—most of whom were men. And who was elected President of the Conference? None other than Mr. Pedro Ojeda Paullada, Attorney General of Mexico, who, when asked to meet with NGOs at the Tribunal, answered that “he had already heard it all”. Also sitting next to then-Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was the Secretary of the Conference, Mr. Diego Cordovez.

This gender imbalance at the UN inspired the NGO CSW NY to hold its first “Women who make a difference” awards in 2000. Under the leadership of its Chair, Leslie Wright, the committee recognized 12 women ambassadors acting as heads of missions to the UN. These included Ambassadors Patricia Durrant from Jamaica, Ms. Neh Dukyly-Tolbert from Liberia, and Ms. Marjatta Rasi from Finland.

Today, the NGO CSW NY presents the “Women Who Make a Difference” awards to recognize women ambassadors for helping to achieve the goal of gender equality in international politics. It isn’t an easy climb to become an ambassador—you either have to be equally or –more likely—more qualified than your male rivals. Combining the loyalties of family, work and country is familiar to us all, but weighs particularly heavy on women working in Foreign Service and at the UN.

Today, we have a total of 23 women ambassadors. Think about it. This means that we are adding about one woman ambassador a year to the exclusive men’s club. If this feminization of the upper ranks continues, who knows—in another 175 years, we could have a female-dominated leadership. When and if that happens, the NGO CSW NY—ever the champion of gender equality– will have to give awards to the rare male ambassadors in our midst.

And by the way, we may already be heading in that direction. Have you noticed that we are increasingly talking about men’s and boys’ shared responsibility and participation in our movement? Are we ready to salute the male allies in our midst? I, for one, see this as a step in the right direction.

Through some mysterious process, our message has reached men like Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who stands out for his admirable appointments of women at the UN. But there are others. The truth is, more men in foreign affairs have joined our ranks as defenders of women’s human rights. Frankly, I suspect that male politicians have realized—as is certainly true in this year’s US elections—that if you don’t get the women’s vote, you may not win your election.

So today, we celebrate our women ambassadors and your achievements in being a part of the women’s political revolution. Through your example, you encourage young women to work in international affairs. We are proud to be associated with your leadership.