A new push to appoint a woman as secretary general of the United Nations has begun, the Times of London reported this week. The international body has not had a woman at its helm during its 60-year history and current Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to step down by the end of this year.

Equality Now, an advocacy group based in New York, is leading the charge to elect a female leader for the U.N. and has floated the names of 18 candidates, including Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese dissident who has been under house arrest since 1989; Helen Clark, the prime minister of New Zealand; and Thoraya Obaid, who currently heads the U.N. Population Fund. Equality Now says that just over 16 percent of under-secretaries general at the U.N. are women, and 37 percent of professional positions or higher at the U.N. are held by women.

The push at the U.N. comes at a time when women’s access to top political jobs is improving worldwide. The Japanese Diet is considering legislation that would allow a woman to succeed to the Chrysanthemum Throne. In New York City, Christine C. Quinn broke ground by becoming the first woman as well as the first openly gay person to be speaker of the city council, the city’s second most powerful position. In Johnstown, N.Y., Sarah Slingerland became the town’s first female mayor Jan. 2, reported the Albany Times-Union. Slingerland chose to take her oath of office using a bible signed by suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was born in Johnstown in 1815.

Other News to Cheer This Week

  • Abstinence-only education programs "threaten fundamental human rights to health, information and life," according to a position paper in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. The paper criticizes current federal policy that emphasizes abstinence in sex education programs for U.S. teens and recommends that those programs be replaced with "comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education." Funding for abstinence-only education has doubled during the Bush administration, according to the Washington Times. The study’s lead author, Dr. John Santelli, a researcher from Columbia University in New York, told the Times that "the problem is not the ‘abstinence’; the problem is the ‘only’."

  • A petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asserts that victims of domestic violence are entitled to protection from their abusers. The American Civil Liberties Union announced Dec. 27 that it has taken up the case of Jessica Gonzalez, a Colorado woman whose three children were murdered by her estranged husband after police failed to respond to her calls that he was violating a restraining order.

  • President Bush signed into law Thursday legislation that pays for new and existing programs that aid victims of domestic violence. The bill reauthorizes funding for the Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994. It authorizes $3.9 billion in funding over five years, a 20 percent increase over the amount authorized in 2000. Actual funding levels will be determined by appropriators.

  • Contributions to the U.N. Population Fund reached record levels last year, reported the United Nations, and the number of countries contributing funds to the reproductive health and women’s rights agency were also the highest ever. Contributions totaled $350 million in 2005. Most of the top donor countries were European, but every nation in Africa also made pledges.

    In the meantime, Jane Roberts, a Women’s eNews 21 Leader for the 21st Century 2004, has published "34 Million Friends of the Women of the World." Roberts co-founded a campaign to benefit the U.N. Population Fund in 2002 after the Bush administration withheld $34 million in funding from the agency. The book and Robert’s grassroots organization calls on individuals to replace the funds the U.S. has refused to provide each year of the Bush administration.