Progress in a Pandemic: Toward Feminist Leadership in a Time of Crisis

Publication Subtitle

A Report Card on the Secretary-General’s Fourth Year from the Feminist U.N. Campaign

Publication year


Publication Author

Spogmay Ahmed and Lyric Thompson

The Feminist U.N. Campaign drafted a feminist vision for the United Nations in late 2016, and has graded the Secretary-General on his performance toward that vision each year following his declaration of himself as a “feminist” as he took the helm in 2017. Since then, it has measured the extent to which the Secretary-General advanced progress on six priority proposals for a more gender-equitable world and U.N. system.

This year, we found that the SG’s focus on gender equality remained and even increased in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, earning him a ‘B’— his highest score to date.

Key Findings

  • In a year where progress could have easily stalled or been reversed, the Secretary-General’s focus on gender equality remained and even increased in light of the pandemic—earning him his highest score to date. The overall 2020 rating of ‘B’ recognizes the Security-General’s improved commitment to a feminist leadership agenda and his leadership on gender in the context of the COVID-19 response, including by mandating gender analysis as a condition for his new COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund.
  • Despite immense progress and attention to gender equality in the context of COVID-19, our 2020 assessment revealed stalled or lost momentum in other parts of the Feminist U.N. Campaign’s agenda. There was a notable lack of rhetorical attention and new updates in 2020 with regard to rooting out sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse—an earlier priority for the SG. Guterres’s leadership also fell short on his High-Level Task Force on Financing for Gender Equality, which failed to meet with its expert advisory group or release any information with regard to its findings or recommendations.
  • As the pandemic prompted a move to virtual spaces for several U.N. gatherings, there were missed opportunities to enable more meaningful civil society participation and foster greater transparency.
  • We now have enough data to observe trend lines, which indicate overall progress from 2017 to 2020. Secretary-General Guterres has made great strides in prioritizing rhetoric, action and commitment on gender equality in line with Campaign recommendations. Trend lines also reveal key barriers to implementing a feminist agenda where the SG’s leadership could be stronger: decreased financing overall, pushback on women’s rights globally and insufficient inclusion of civil society.
  • In his fifth and last year of his first term, Secretary-General Guterres has an opportunity to make 2021 the banner year for gender equality and women’s rights that 2020 was supposed to be and see through the implementation of his commitments to gender equality.
Publication Rights:

Ahmed, S. and Thompson, L. (2021). Progress in a Pandemic: Toward Feminist Leadership in a Time of Crisis.
Washington D.C., International Center for Research on Women.

© 2021 International Center for Research on Women