Chapter 4

Equality from Day One


01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

© UN Photo - Adam Kane

Long-standing biases and gender stereotypes have steered girls and women away from studies and careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Research has shown that globally, only 6% of app developers, 17% of ICT staff, and 30% of science students are women which has led to a persistent and widening digital gender divide.

In 2019, UN Geneva celebrated the International Day of Women in Science, and Girls in ICT Day. Discussion at the events explored ways to help close the gender gap, while shining a light on the diversity and talent of women already contributing in the STEM fields.

As jobs in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and STEM are some of the most highly demanded and fastest-growing sectors, women’s contributions to science and technology can help positively shape the way we live, work and communicate.

“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” – was the primary message for promoting women role models and ending gender stereotypes, a crucial step towards ensuring that girls feel like they belong and are empowered to make a difference.

Watch the Designed for Science event at UN Geneva.

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01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

Cerrie Burnell

Writer, actress and television presenter

“I feel like the world that we paint and draw and present is very white, very able-bodied, very middle-class… There are so many other stories and songs and cultural heritages that we are not giving time to. It’s like having a rainbow of many colours and only painting in red.”

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The 100Elles* project on gender and equality highlights the role of 100 women, people with marginalized orientations or gender identities and intersex people, who have made positive contributions to Geneva.
The project is organized by l’Escouade, a Geneva-based feminist organization, in partnership with the City of Geneva.

01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

Bertha Lutz

1894-1976, Vice President of the Inter-American Commission of Women

© UN Archives Geneva – McLain

Bertha Lutz: Vice President of the Inter-American Commission of Women

Brazilian-born Bertha Lutz (1894-1976) had a broad range of experiences in her life, trained as a herpetologist at the Sorbonne University, working as a scientist, Brazilian politician, diplomat and always as an activist for women’s suffrage. 

As an outspoken proponent for women’s right to vote in Brazil, Lutz was ultimately chosen to help draft the country’s new constitution, which granted women that right in 1932. Through several national and international organizations, Lutz continued to fight for women’s rights around the world.
After years of campaigning, Lutz was elected to the Brazilian Congress in 1936. Though a Brazilian dictatorial regime ended up cutting her term short in 1937, she continued to fight for women’s rights. 

In 1945, Lutz was one of four women to sign the Charter of the United Nations and was part of the Brazilian delegation to the San Francisco Conference. She fought to have the terms “gender equality” and “women” included in the new UN Charter, and thanks to her persistence the terms were ultimately included. Her diplomatic life continued into later life, and, in 1975, at the age of 81, she attended the UN World Conference on Women in Mexico. She continued to be a practising scientist her entire life, authoring numerous publications and is honoured in the names of five amphibians. 


01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

© UN Women-Ryan Brown

A landmark United Nations System-Wide Action Plan, UN-SWAP, serves as an accountability framework for gender equality and women’s empowerment. Adopted in 2012, the plan established a set of common indicators with which to measure progress achieved towards gender equality.

As part of its 2019 commitments, UN Geneva made the unprecedented decision to publish its SWAP results for the previous 5 years. To date, efforts have mostly met or exceeded requirements, particularly in leadership, policy, and communications. As a priority of the Secretary-General, it is understood that until true gender equality is achieved, more work can be done to ensure equal representation of women and to achieve the goals of UN-SWAP.

Find out more about gender equality efforts at UN Geneva.

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01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

Joshua Sinclair

Novelist, film and television writer, actor, producer and director, and medical doctor

“Inequality is usually decided by those who consider themselves better, because they have more power, more wealth, better looks… We have the power to create inequality and we also have the power to create equality.”



01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

UN Geneva has made great strides towards increasing gender equality in recent years, as it is a necessary step towards achieving a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. Sparked by the International Gender Champions initiative, cofounded by the UN Geneva Director-General in 2015, progress continues to be made. Despite these actions, women continue to be underrepresented as staff members across the entire United Nations system.

The Champions, heads of UN entities, have pledged to advance gender equality in their organizations and  not to participate in panel discussions unless they are gender balanced. Launched in Geneva with 74 Champions, the initiative has taken off and is now active with over 235 leaders in 5 locations including New York, Vienna, Nairobi and The Hague.

At UN Geneva, the initiative has truly made an impact, including the implementation of the first-ever Policy for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which is comprised of an accountability framework for managers and staff and a survey to measure progress.  Other examples of change include achieving near gender parity at the junior and intermediate staff levels, acting to address casual sexism at the workplace, implementing a project to develop innovative recommendations on gender action, increasing access to leadership programmes for women and improving workplace flexibility.

Gender equality is enshrined in the Charter of the UN, and the UN system itself is leading the effort to attain gender parity while providing an enabling environment for all staff.  UN Geneva is determined to advance gender equality through all of our work.

“It is self-evident that we will not achieve any of our goals if half of humanity is left aside.” said Tatiana Valovaya, the first female Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva. Having worked in male-dominated spheres throughout her career, her goal is to ensure that women and men are granted equal opportunities at UN Geneva and beyond. 

As an International Gender Champion, the Director-General has pledged:

  • To support the IGC Panel Parity Pledge
  • Organize a follow up survey on staff perceptions about gender equality at UN Geneva to assess the impact of past gender-related actions and contribute to the development of the UN Geneva gender equality policy
  • Support a UN Geneva staff Gender Innovation Challenge to bring about innovative and concrete ideas to foster gender equality in the Organization

Watch a video about how UN Geneva is working to make Gender Equality a reality. 

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The Empress’ Château


© UN Photo: Adam Kane


Public Domain - Empress Joséphine painting by Francois Pascal Simon Gerard

A small road with an intriguing name, Chemin de l’Impératrice connects the northern end of Ariana Park to Route de Pregny and Lake Geneva.

The name refers to a former resident, Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie (1763-1814), who briefly lived at the Château de Pregny-La-Tour. Joséphine lost her first husband, the Viscount of Beauharnais during the French Revolution. Several years later, she met her future husband, a young Corsican army officer named Napoleon Bonaparte. Before meeting Napoleon, Joséphine was known as Rose, but as Bonaparte preferred to call her Joséphine, she took the name from then on. They married in 1796 and were crowned as Emperor and Empress of France in 1804.

After Napoleon divorced Joséphine in 1810, she retired to her château in Malmaison, near Paris. In 1810, she purchased the Château de Pregny-La-Tour and had the medieval building renovated. With a noted love for the natural beauty and the people in the region around Geneva, Joséphine settled at the château in July 1812 to spend the summer; she returned to her French estate that autumn.

During her stay, Joséphine was warmly welcomed by the Genevois and participated in the city’s social activities.  Sadly, she never had the opportunity to return to Pregny, as she passed away two years later. The Château is currently home to the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations in Geneva.

Throughout her life, Joséphine had a passion for plants. She transformed the gardens at the Château Malmaison with a remarkable collection of exotic plants, largely cultivated in her nursery. The Empress engaged a well-known botanist, Étienne-Pierre Ventenat, who worked with a renowned artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté, to describe her luxurious collection. Between 1800 and 1808, the botanist and painter created an herbarium, a set of books with names, descriptions and illustrations of plants. Ventenat’s famous flower book, Jardin de la Malmaison, a masterpiece of botanical illustration, went up for auction upon his death in 1808, and was purchased by Benjamin Delessert who later donated it to the City of Geneva in 1869. This magnificent collection is still housed today in the archives of the Geneva Conservatory and Botanical Garden, appropriately located on the Chemin de l’Impératrice, across the street from the Empress’ château.


01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

© UN Photo - Adam Kane

On a global scale, women are increasing their presence in professional fields which had traditionally been dominated by men. On the CHF 836.5 million Strategic Heritage Plan (SHP) project at UN Geneva include numerous women in highly technical positions including architects, designers, engineers, a change manager, and a risk manager. Bringing with them diverse profiles and impressive professional experiences, these women come from over 20 countries and represent all five UN regional groups of Member States. Combined they speak more than a dozen languages, including the six official UN languages and some less spoken, such as Amharic and Tigrinya.

“Beyond the necessity to walk the talk by establishing and respecting quotas, the Organization has a lot to gain in hiring more women professionals. I observe it every single day in the context of the SHP project. The competencies, diversity, skills and strengths of our talented women colleagues are invaluable to the project”, noted Véronique Neiss, Chief of Design and Construction.

Breaking through the glass ceiling in fields historically overrepresented by men, these women are contributing greatly towards one of the largest renovation projects currently underway in Europe. 

Read more about the Strategic Heritage Plan. 

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01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

Amber Heard

Actress, human rights activist

“Women’s rights are human rights and I think that real change happens in the conversation. We need to change attitudes by changing conversations, whether we are at work or at home, whether it is behind closed doors or amongst friends.”



01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

© UN Globe Photo

“The United Nations stands up for the rights of the LGBTI community. Many of its members are imprisoned, abused and even killed simply for who they are or whom they love.” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, emphasizing,“So long as people face criminalization, bias and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, we must redouble our efforts to end these violations.”

In 2019, More than 400 UN officials, interns, and consultants from UN Geneva and Geneva-based UN agencies, as well as family, friends and LGBTI allies, marched under the UN GLOBE banner at the Geneva Pride Parade. 

During the Geneva Pride Week celebrations, UN Globe hosted a discussion and handed out informational materials from UN agencies about LGBTI rights.   

In July, as part of the week-long celebrations, UN Geneva’s Ciné-ONU screened the documentary “Queen of Ireland”. The film and discussion featured Rory O’Neill, drag queen (Panti Bliss) and LGBTI activist, fighting for equality and against homophobia in Ireland and around the world.   

In support of the UN Free and Equal Campaign, UN Geneva helped developed a programme on LGBTI rights demonstrating how the UN is working to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.   

In the run-up to the World Day Against Homophobia on 17 May, information was presented at the International College Lycée Ferney-Voltaire and Lycée international de Saint-Genis-Pouilly, with more than 120 secondary-school students in attendance.

By sharing knowledge about sexual orientation and gender identity, prejudice and discrimination, UN Geneva continues to empower young people to fight hatred and discrimination. The United Nations is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion within the Organization and fighting for universal equality, so that everyone can live free with dignity and equal rights.

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01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

Rory O’Neill

Irish LGBTI activist

“Inequality is not one-sided, it is not something that you only have to worry about for the LGBTI community itself, but broader society suffers.”

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01-5a-UN Photo-Adam Kane

Yalitza Aparicio

Actress, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Indigenous Peoples

“I am an indigenous woman – Mixtec – I grew up thinking that all the success I am having was like a fantasy. That because of skin colour or because of socioeconomic status, one cannot become part of that. Society is waking up and is realizing that these stereotypes do not matter. What matters is your desire to get things done.”