Skip navigation

Which Woman Should Be the Next UN Secretary-General? Our Survey Results

This article was originally published in Passblue on April 4th 2024 by Click here to read the original piece. 


From Left: Michelle Bachelet, Mia Mottley and María Fernanda Espinosa
The top three winners of PassBlue’s informal survey on which woman should lead the UN next, in order, from left, Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile; Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbardos; and María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, an ex-president of the UN General Assembly. PHOTO MONTAGE BY JOHN PENNEY

Michelle Bachelet, a two-time president of Chile and ex-UN high commissioner for human rights, is the winner of our informal survey on which woman should be the next United Nations secretary-general, starting in the five-year term on Jan. 1, 2027. Following Bachelet is Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados.

Third place was snagged by María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, a former president of the UN General Assembly and an ex-foreign minister of Ecuador. Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary-general and a onetime environment minister for Nigeria, came in fourth.

“I feel very honored for the support received, and I think it is essential that women be present in all decision-making spaces,” Bachelet said in an email to PassBlue sent by the Chilean mission to the UN. “I have no doubt there are a lot of outstanding women with capabilities. A challenge of this nature requires a lot of reflection.”

The survey included space for write-in candidates, and Jacinda Ardern, a 43-year-old former prime minister of New Zealand, came in first, garnering 1.2 percent of the overall vote. In second place as a write-in candidate was Dunja Mijatovic, a 59-year-old human rights expert from Bosnia-Herzegovina, drawing 0.6 percent of overall votes.

The UN has never been led by a woman, and numerous civil society campaigns are gearing up to promote the end of this decades-long gender imbalance for the next secretary-general term to succeed António Guterres of Portugal. The 1 for 8 Billion advocacy project by UNA-UK is underway, and the Global Women Leaders Voices nonprofit group promoting gender equality in multilateral organizations, said it was planning to advocate for a woman secretary-general beginning this year.

“After nearly 80 years, the male monopoly of the UN’s highest office must end,” Marissa Conway, chief executive of UNA-UK, wrote in an email to PassBlue. “It’s time for member states to walk the gender equality talk and appoint a woman Secretary-General. States must take this opportunity to help restore faith in the UN and demonstrate that diverse and inclusive leadership is vital to achieving a more equal, sustainable, and peaceful world.”

Colombe Cahen-Salvador, a 30-year-old lawyer and a founder of a democracy advocacy group, Atlas Movement, declared her candidacy on March 31. She is not endorsed by her country, France, which may not be an official prerequisite for a candidate but certainly an important booster.

The Atlas website declared: “We are facing global survival threats: climate change, wars, artificial intelligence, poverty, dictatorships, and pandemics. We must unite to fight them: that’s why we are running for elections worldwide, from local councils to the United Nations, on the same political vision.”

PassBlue’s survey listed 12 candidates, mostly from the Latin America/Caribbean region, given that it is contending that it should have the next turn to lead the UN. The list also included candidates from Eastern Europe (an area that has never had a secretary-general), Africa and Asia. The names in the list rotated automatically to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

They were culled through conversations held in the last few months with a range of diplomats, UN personnel and civil society groups as well as researching digital news and other resources to glean who should be listed. None of the candidates approached PassBlue to be included in the survey.

The space provided for survey-takers to write in potential names inspired dozens of possibilities. Besides Ardern and Mijatovic, they included Natalia Kanem of Panama, Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands, Catherine Pollard of Guyana, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Angela Merkel of Germany and Hillary Clinton of the United States.

The survey ran from March 24 to March 31 and was sent by email to PassBlue subscribers worldwide and posted repeatedly on our social media accounts. The survey was finished by 2,220 respondents, and PassBlue’s managing editor, John Penney, tallied the results.

Although Bachelet of Chile won the No. 1 spot, garnering 23.9 percent of the votes, Mottley’s percentage was 19.8 percent. Fernanda Espinosa clinched 11.8 percent and Mohammed, 8.3 percent. The order of placement of the other women in the list of 12 is as follows, starting with fifth place: Alicia Bárcena of Mexico, Rebeca Grynspan of Costa Rica, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of Nigeria, María Angela Holguín of Colombia, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Retno Marsudi of Indonesia, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett of Guyana and Tanja Fajon of Slovenia.

Bachelet, 72, was president of Chile from 2014-2018 and 2006-2010. She is also a former executive director of UN Women. The Chilean mission to the UN said Bachelet is scheduled to participate in the UN Youth Forum, April 16-18, in New York City.

Mottley’s name has been bandied about as a potential candidate in the last several years, as her focus on reforming international financial institutions coupled climate activism has been encapsulated in her 2022 Bridgetown Initiative, drawing global attention. Mottley, 58, a lawyer, has been prime minister of the Caribbean nation since 2018 and is the first woman to hold this job. She is not above quoting from, say, Bob Marley and the Wailers. Kereeta Whyte, Barbados’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, declined to offer a comment from Mottley for this article.

Fernanda Espinosa, 59, was president of the General Assembly’s 73d session, in 2018-2019, the fourth woman to hold the post in the history of the UN. She has been Ecuador’s minister of foreign affairs twice as well as the minister of defense and the coordinating minister of natural and cultural heritage. In 2008, she was the first woman to become the permanent representative of Ecuador to the UN in New York City. She is the executive director of Global Women Leaders Voices.

Besides being deputy secretary-general of the UN, Mohammed, 62, is chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, overseeing the implementation of the 17 sustainable development goals. Before her environment ministry post in Nigeria, she joined the UN in 2012 as special adviser to Ban Ki-moon when he was secretary-general.

Ardern is a visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. She was New Zealand’s prime minister from 2017 to 2023, becoming the world’s youngest head of government at age 37. She describes herself as a social democrat and a progressive. She made news at the UN in 2018 when she brought her infant daughter, Neve, to the annual General Assembly opening debate.

Mijatovic was most recently the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, serving from April 2018 to March 2024, focusing on, among other issues, freedom of expression, safety of journalists, protection of human rights defenders, the rights of migrants and refugees and combating discrimination and hate speech. Previously, she was the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s representative on freedom of the media, from 2010 to 2017.


Continue Reading

Read More