24 September, 2021


From The Glass Ceiling To A Carpet Of Shards

By Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon

Ban Ki-moon

As a boy growing up in post-war Korea, I remember asking about a tradition I observed: women going into labour would leave their shoes at the threshold and then look back in fear. “They are wondering if they will ever step into those shoes again,” my mother explained.

More than a half-century later, the memory continues to haunt me. In poor parts of the world today, women still risk death in the process of giving life. Maternal mortality is one of many preventable perils. All too often, female babies are subjected to genital mutilation. Girls are attacked on their way to school. Women’s bodies are used as battlefields in wars. Widows are shunned and impoverished.

We can only address these problems by empowering women as agents of change.

For more than nine years, I have put this philosophy into practice at the United Nations. We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards. Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past so women can advance across new frontiers.

I appointed the first-ever female Force Commander of United Nations troops, and pushed women’s representation at the upper levels of our Organization to historic highs. Women are now leaders at the heart of peace and security – a realm that was once the exclusive province of men. When I arrived at the United Nations, there were no women leading our peace missions in the field. Now, nearly a quarter of all UN missions are headed by women – far from enough but still a vast improvement.

I have signed nearly 150 letters of appointment to women in positions as Assistant Secretary-General or Under-Secretary-General. Some came from top government offices with international renown, others have moved on to leadership positions in their home countries. All helped me prove how often a woman is the best person for a job.

To ensure that this very real progress is lasting, we have built a new framework that holds the entire UN system accountable. Where once gender equality was seen as a laudable idea, now it is a firm policy. Before, gender sensitivity training was optional; now it is mandatory for ever-greater numbers of UN staff. In the past, only a handful of UN budgets tracked resources for gender equality and women’s empowerment; now this is standard for nearly one in three, and counting.

Confucius taught that to put the world in order, we must begin in our own circles. Armed with proof of the value of women leaders at the United Nations, I have spoken out for women’s empowerment everywhere. In speeches at parliaments, universities and street rallies, in private talks with world leaders, in meetings with corporate executives and in tough conversations with powerful men ruling rigidly patriarchal societies, I have insisted on women’s equality and urged measures to achieve it.

When I took office, there were nine parliaments in the world with no women. We helped to drive that number down to four. I launched the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign in 2008; today, scores of leaders and ministers, hundreds parliamentarians and millions of individuals have added their names to the action call.

I was the first man to sign our HeForShe campaign, and more than a million others have joined since. I stood with activists calling for the abandonment of female genital mutilation and celebrated when the General Assembly adopted its first-ever resolution supporting that goal. I am echoing the calls of many who know women can drive success in achieving our bold 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and advancing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On this International Women’s Day, I remain outraged by the denial of rights to women and girls – but I take heart from the people everywhere who act on the secure knowledge that women’s empowerment leads to society’s advancement. Let us devote solid funding, courageous advocacy and unbending political will to achieving gender equality around the world. There is no greater investment in our common future.

*UN Secretary-General’s Message on International Women’s Day

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Latest comments

  • 4

    In an era that we have seen the biggest refugee crisis since the 2nd world war, the UN is crowing about what they have done for women….surely there must be a mix up of priorities here ?

    The glass ceiling you claim to have shattered are nothing and rather inconsequential to what remains…

  • 0

    I want the opinion of someone who has worked under a woman. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

  • 3


    I notice that educated and ambitious/successful career women are losing interest in marriage and bearing children. This a problem in Singapore too. Their biological instincts are changing. I observe this problem in our family too. Birth control was necessary, however, would a low birth situation we are heading for acceptable?

    Can the UN investigate this phenomenon? What does it mean for mankind?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1

      Mankind must perish. The sooner the better. Man is a horrific aberration in the process of evolution.

  • 0

    [Edited out]

  • 2

    Planted stooge did not have the guts to say Iraq war illegal like his predecessor Kofi Anan?

  • 2

    You are a failure:

    You are a stooge of the west and gang of 5

    Women are working in most developed countries till
    They cannot bare children,biological clock doesn’t follow
    Your reasoning.
    You are eugenic (a group who wants to cull humans to 2billion)
    Bill gates and his father were leaders of this organization.
    Vaccines given to children under pretex of preventing decease like hpv,
    Also have a mutation, where the girls are going barron.
    Bill gates foundation is giving this free, check what has happened in India,

  • 2

    Dear Ban ki,

    The UN fact sheet is steeped in failure – abysmal failure. You as the head of this organisation must be ashamed. You are laying claim to peripheral successes to cover up all the ills of this reprehensible organisation.

    The UN came to being with the intention of stopping wars. But in fact the UN has evolved into a staging post or a rubber stamp for designer warfare. Ban ki, you are the head of a very highly sophisticated criminal enterprise. Be ashamed.

  • 0

    There are societies in which women are unable to choose their life partners.
    In some, women who choose their partners are killed in cruel ways.
    Women who refuse men as partners, are deformed for life by throwing acid on their faces.
    In some, women are expected to be ‘virgins’ at marriage, but this is not expected of men.
    In some, women are used only for procreation, and are denied the normal joy and happiness of marriage.
    In some, women are expected to ‘share’ the marriage with one to three other women.
    Women are overlooked for career advancement in many ways.

    All this must change.

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