It is "high time" for a female Secretary-General of the United Nations. That’s the opinion of the current incumbent, Ban Ki-moon.

As he nears the end of his second five-year term, Mr Ban says that after seven decades and eight male leaders, the time is right for a woman in the top job.

The Secretary-General stressed that the decision was not down to him, but to the 15-member Security Council, which must recommend a candidate to the 193-member General Assembly for its approval.

Of the 11 candidates in the running to take up the post, five are women.

Irina Bokova, Bulgaria

Image: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

Director-General of UNESCO

Fluent in four of the six official languages of the United Nations and twice elected Director-General of UNESCO by the direct vote of member states, Irina Bokova has solid UN credentials.

Ms Bokova says she wants to see a “more efficient UN.”

Helen Clark, New Zealand

Image: Reuters/Jason Lee

Head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)

Helen Clark has headed UNDP since 2009, the first woman to lead the organization. Prior to that she served three terms as Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999-2008.

Ms Clark says “a strong and relevant UN is one which is flexible, practical, and effective.”

Christiana Figueres, Costa Rica

Image: Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2010–2016)

Figueres is widely credited with helping to re-energize global climate action after the disastrous failure of the 2009 Copenhagen meeting which failed to reach the accord that was finally struck in Paris in 2015.

If she wins, she has vowed to deliver a new model of “collaborative diplomacy”.

Natalia Gherman, Moldova

Image: Reuters/Mike Segar

Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova (2013–2016)

A career diplomat, Ms Gherman served as Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and Deputy Prime Minister.

Ms Gherman speaks four languages and was the Chief Negotiator on behalf of Moldova for the Moldova-European Union Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union.

Susana Malcorra

Image: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina

The current foreign minister of Argentina, Ms Malcorra had previously been Chef de Cabinet to the Executive Office at the United Nations, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Another speaker of four languages, Ms Malcorra worked at IBM before becoming president of Telecom Argentina.

The rotating appointment

By tradition, the job of Secretary-General has rotated among regions of the world. Officials from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Western Europe have all held the post. East European nations, including Russia, argue it is now their turn.

But a group of 56 nations are campaigning for the first female UN chief.

The Security Council has held two informal polls in which 12 candidates participated, and in each the highest-ranked woman was in third place. Antonio Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who has also headed the UN refugee agency, came top in both polls.

In the first “straw poll", Irina Bokova came in third but in the second she dropped to fifth. In the second poll, Susana Malcorra moved up to third.

The Security Council has scheduled another informal poll on 29 August and at least one is then expected to be held in September.

The final candidate is expected to be selected by October and will take office on 1 January 2017.

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