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  • Ursula Wynhoven and Kadiatou Sall-Beye

Uncovering HERstory at the United Nations

The United Nations has its own Hidden Figures story around its creation. Hidden Figures is the story of black female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration but were kept in the background. At the conference at which the UN was founded in 1945, women constituted only 3% of the delegates but they played a very key part in its creation, which is not widely known. Only four women signed the UN Charter. At the time, in twenty of the fifty countries that participated, women did not yet have the right to vote.

UN Headquarters in New York on 22 May 2018. Photo credit: Ursula Wynhoven

An event at UN Headquarters in New York on Women and the Origins of the UN - A Southern Legacy, held on 22 May 2018, highlighted some of these stories and the contributions of women, especially from the Global South.

The Permanent Missions of Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, India, Pakistan and South Africa teamed up with Stockholm University and SOAS University of London to uncover these stories from the UN archives and bring them to a wider audience. Among their many achievements, these women ensured that the Preamble and Article 8 of the UN Charter did not only refer to men, but to both men and women. Brazilian delegate Dr. Bertha Lutz and women delegates from Australia and Uruguay played a particularly instrumental role in ensuring the rights of women are included in the UN Charter.

Ms. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Chef de Cabinet of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined the session. She reiterated the Secretary-General’s commitment to gender equality, as demonstrated by his recent announcement that full gender parity had been achieved in the top leadership of the UN, in his Senior Management Group, and among Resident Coordinators of the UN at the country level.

For more information on the event, click here. Watch the full event here.


Ursula Wynhoven is the ITU Representative to the United Nations

Kadiatou Sall-Beye is the Project Officer at International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

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