ECA Chief puts women’s day spotlight on administrative assistants

Addis Ababa, 8 March 2018 (ECA) - “Sometimes you may feel forgotten but we do know that you are part of the engine that runs this place,” said Vera Songwe , Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), during a meeting with administrative assistants from all ECA divisions on 8 March.

Ms. Songwe noted that international women’s day tends to be a day when “women at the top meet and celebrate each other,” and that there’s a “tendency to forget some of the people who are actually doing the work.”

It is against this backdrop that the ECA Chief “thought it would be a good idea to bring you all together today; listen to your concerns and aspirations; and reflect on some of the issues that we as UN are dealing with.”

She underscored gender parity as one of the areas in which serious work needs to be done, and praised the Secretary General (SG) for having “taken the senior level female management in the institution from about 27% to parity.”

She noted that although ECA is headed by a woman assisted by a male and a female deputy, there is still a clear imbalance in favour of male staff at the levels of directors, P5, P4, and P3. She stated that “we have made a conscious decision to speedily address this.”

Ms. Songwe encouraged the all-women group of administrative assistants to make smart and informed career moves including attending trainings that can enhance their professional growth, especially for those wanting to move from the general to the professional level within or outside the institution. 

“The vacancies are highly competitive with applicants from all over the world.  So you really have to be better than good,” said Ms. Songwe.

The discussions also hit on the issue of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation in the workplace.  

“As you know sexual harassment is something I have over the past few months been very firm about. It is something the SG takes very seriously as well,” said Ms. Songwe adding that efforts are underway to expedite the process of investigating cases of sexual harassment in the UN. 

She gave an example of how contracts that get renewed every three months,  for instance, can create a system of subordination whereby the staff becomes more concerned about pleasing the person who is in charge of renewing their contracts rather than actually being professionally productive.

“Such system gives people more power than they actually deserve. When you have such short contracts you’re not really happy and that means you’re not giving it your all.”

Ms. Songwe was accompanied to the meeting by Thokozile Ruzvidzo, Director of ECA’s Social Development Policy  Division, who encouraged the administrative assistants to always speak out because “there is no space for sexual harassment in the UN.” Ms. Ruzvidzo added that “we are all open to listening to you. Don’t allow yourself to be harassed.”

In the same light, Sandra Baffoe-Bonnie, Secretary of the Commission, explained some of the legal avenues available for victims of sexual harassment and any other form of unfair treatment in the workplace. Ms. Baffoe-Bonnie cautioned that not speaking up might “create a permissive environment where those who are the perpetrators feel they can continue.”  She reassured them that,“my door is always open and your confidentiality will always be protected.”

All the administrative assistants received a gift of rose flowers from the Executive Secretary who said “the roses are just to say that you are special and that we really do appreciate your hard work. We wish you a very happy women’s day."


Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826