GVI Guest Blogger Series on “Where is the UN now?”

The United Nations: a place for sustainable change only if we dare to challenge its ways

by Khadija T. Moalla, PhD, Senior Human Rights and Development Consultant

 “You can’t change what you are not aware of[1]”. imagesIs the United Nations (UN) aware of the many dysfunctionalities it suffers from? Can the UN afford not to change its Modus Operandi? With the increase in the development and political challenges the world is facing, on one hand, and the numerous cuts in funding from most donors, it becomes imperative for the UN to introduce real change, in the way it operates. Development as freedom is the core of what the UN can do and was created to do. The UN should be a platform that allows people, particularly in leadership positions, to ‘shift the middle ground’ towards new ground and new worldviews. More than ever, the current political international context calls urgently for such paradigm shift.

In order to achieve that, the UN should take its Charter to a new level. This needs to be done with the people by the people and for the people and not with the Governments, by quasi parliaments and for the lobbies. The UN Charter was initially adopted by few powerful States and then disseminated to the whole world through other States that were many times ruled by undemocratic regimes. The evolving new Charter based on the “Earth Charter” should be endorsed by real people from all Nations to voice a global consensus. This may bring back the true meaning of what the “United Nations” was created for. True participatory mechanisms involving broad sections in every nation should be developed in the process that will, hopefully, culminate in referenda that would serve as the political expression of a community consensus.

“The UN needs the mechanisms, policies and relationships reflective of principled leadership. Guarantees of effectiveness should be based upon an intrinsic sense of stewardship and a work environment that fosters creativity and initiative rather than compliance to rules and regulations.”

The UN universal core values can be summarized around: ‘Service to All People’, not governments, businesses, civil society or lobbies. This implies a commitment to radical transformation, while respecting people’s culture without compromising on Human Rights. However, respecting people’s culture does not mean condoning harmful practices or false interpretations of religious texts. On the contrary, it naturally should put a decisive wedge in the vicious circuit of rights violations based on culture and allow true access to the common human core, promoting dignity and equality. One battle worth engaging in, is the laicity imperative in order to guarantee Freedom of Religion and Consciousness, on one hand, and peace and development, on the other hand.

The UN needs the mechanisms, policies and relationships reflective of principled leadership. Guarantees of effectiveness should be based upon an intrinsic sense of stewardship and a work environment that fosters creativity and initiative rather than compliance to rules and regulations.

This goes beyond accountability and has to do with serving the people, on a responsibility and not accountability basis. However, the UN does not require programming that listens to and is genuinely responsive to real people with real needs and real aspirations. In addition, most UN agencies that went through a restructuring process, didn’t enhance their performance, rather added more bureaucratic administrative layers along with losing many competent staff. What the UN system needs most now, is to treat issues in the most holistic manner and encourage a group milieu that values responsible integrity more than bureaucratic rules and regulations.

Only secure leaders with the highest level of emotional intelligence are able to create a positive emotional climate that encourages motivation and extra effort, and they are the ones with good emotional self-awareness. This, in turn, let them make frequent use of positive leadership styles, which results in the best working climate for their teams. This is why, it is important to make sure that the most competent people, women and men are the ones that are in charge of all the developmental challenges the world has been facing for the last 70 years. Competent women don’t have the same opportunities, as men, to be in leadership positions especially as Resident Coordinator, Special Representative and Envoys[2]. When chosen to be in leadership positions, the majority did a great job. However, let’s note that some women didn’t prove to be the most competent, or made a real difference in bringing tangible results and ensuring peace and prosperity. Some unsecure ones made even sure to keep competent women away from leadership positions fearing a potential competition with them, in the future. None of them has been held accountable for such unprofessional behavior.

In this context, the increased understanding of the process of gender construction should aim primarily at dismantling the unequal relationships between women and men. Actions that aim at redressing and redefining the unequal power relationship between women and men, must be the cornerstone of any UN gender strategy. It must be implemented by both men and women who embody women rights and are totally engaged in ensuring gender equality. Any UN reform should aim at strengthening the strategic choice of hiring the right people engaged towards implementing the Sustainable Development Goal number 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. All the other 16 goals will not be achievable if girls and women are not equal partners to boys and men. It’s time to translate strategies and campaigns into actions based on the perfect synergy between all goals.

To conclude, it might be the right time to ask the question: Does the UN have a legal and moral obligation of means or an obligation of results? The answer might inform the future of the relevance of this organization.


About the author:

With 25 years of experience in Development, including 10 years in Senior Leadership positions in the United Nations, Dr. Khadija Moalla’s repertoire includes extensive expertise in International Law & Human Rights, Gender Equality & women empowerment, Governance & rule of law, Civil Society Organizations & the SDGs. Dr. Moalla is also a recognized global expert in the Transformational Leadership Development Methodology and provided trainings and lecturer in more than 60 countries in the five continents.

As UNDP Practice Team Leader in the Arab States, Dr. Moalla coordinated initiatives to sensitize and mobilize Religious Leaders, political leadership, art & media leaders, NGOs, legislators and private sector leaders, for ten years. Previously, Dr. Moalla taught international law at the University of Law of Tunis & the Diplomatic Institute and was a practicing Lawyer for ten years.

Dr. Moalla has provided advice and shared in constructing policies of the League of Arab States and the Arab Parliament, she is also one of the Founding members of the New Middle East Gender Parity at the World Economic Forum and a Founding Member of the Global Legal Network. Dr. Moalla received the Leadership Award from the United Nations General Assembly President for her work with Religious Leaders through the establishment of the Multi-Faith Network CHAHAMA and received the Excellency Award of the 2010 South-South Global Expo for successful innovative Solutions. Dr. Moalla was chosen as one of the most influential 500 personalities of the Arab region, in 2011.


[1] Deepak Chopra.

[2] The new UNSG promised to guarantee a total gender parity by the end of his mandate: “We should reach full gender parity at the Under-Secretary General and Assistant Secretary-General levels, including Special Representatives and Special Envoys”.


All opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Global Vision Institute.

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