Women At The U.N. "Take More Notes, Listen More" — So Why Aren't There More Of Them?

Photographed by Chandler West.
(From left) Four ambassadors: Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, Samantha Power of the United States, Dina Kawar of Jordan, and Raimonda Murmokaitė of Lithuania, discuss why more women are needed on the U.N. Security Council.
The United Nations Security Council is one of the most powerful organizations in the world. Made up of 15 countries (five permanent members and 10 rotating seats), the Council is tasked with tackling some of the biggest issues and threats worldwide, from terrorism and nuclear weapons to human rights abuses and genocide.

Yet, of those 15 seats, only one is currently filled by a woman: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. Back in 2014, shortly after Power first started, female ambassadors held more than a third of the Security Council seats.

So, on Wednesday, four of those female ambassadors — Power, Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg, Dina Kawar of Jordan, and Raimonda Murmokaite of Lithuania — got together to talk candidly about how world peace and security suffer when women are missing from the negotiating table. The discussion came amid a week when thousands of women are in New York for the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

"First of all, we take more notes than men. All of the women take more notes, they attend more meetings, they’re more studious, and they go to the end of the session and they listen more," Kawar said.

"I think it’s very female, because naturally, we have this feeling — I don’t know if it has to do with motherhood — especially when you have kids and they are always fighting and you want to make some peace, or make peace between your brothers, there’s something about this nature in women where we want to find solutions," she added.

For women to get where we get, we have to fight more for it.

Dina Kawar, Ambassador of Jordan to the United Nations
Murmokaite seconded Kawar.

"I think women were more ready to put aside their notes and speak on the substance," Murmokaite said of her time on the Security Council. "You have your country's position...but at the same time, how we went about it and the willingness and readiness to take in what others had to say was the true mark of women on the Council."

Power said the reality of being the sole woman on the Security Council hit home for her during a discussion about rape and sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers working in conflict zones last week. There were 99 allegations of sexual abuse by U.N. personnel in 2015, up from 80 in 2014, Al Jazeera reported. In the first three months of this year, there have been 25 allegations.

"I felt that when I was strong — very strong — I could see the little thought bubbles in some of my counterparts who were listening to me, thinking: Because she is a woman, she is this fired up about this issue. I don’t think it had anything to do with being a woman. It has to do with basic decency and justice and sense of what the U.N. stands for," Power said.
Photographed by Chandler West.
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks on the impact of women on the U.N. Security Council at the Netherlands Mission on March 16.
The Council passed its first-ever resolution aimed at curbing abuse on Saturday. But the feedback Power said she received on her remarks was telling.

"I had a couple colleagues be very complimentary, saying it was ‘passionate,’ which is my least-favorite word in the context of matters of principle," she said. "And a couple — I heard through the grapevine — were saying, 'She’s so emotional.' If you look at the video, I was not emotional, I was strong on the substance as any of my counterparts would have been if similarly situated."

Currently, 20% of permanent representatives across the U.N. are women, a step back to 2012 levels, said U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman, who moderated the discussion. That number isn't enough, he added.

Meanwhile, a campaign is underway to elect the first female Secretary-General. All eight Secretaries-General in the U.N.'s history have been men. It's a reality that all four female ambassadors said they hope will change.

"For women to get where we get, we have to fight more for it," Kawar said.

All four women agreed that having more women at the U.N. isn't just about improving things now. It also sends a powerful message to girls and young women who aspire to be there.

"When a young girl comes and visits the U.N. and sees the Security Council with one woman ambassador, if she thinks that's normal, that's a problem. Because it shouldn't be normal," Power said.

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