U.N. Recruits Superhero Strength to Fight for Gender Equality

By Laura Nunez

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Superhero, crime fighter, army nurse, and now Honorary Ambassador for the U.N., DC comic book character Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) has just added a new day-gig to her extraordinary adventures.

On October 21, 2016, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon bestowed the iconic DC super-heroine with the title of Honorary Ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment, attended the inaugural ceremony, along with some “surprise guests,” including Lynda Carter – 1970s Wonder Woman – and Gal Gadot, star of the upcoming 2017 stand-alone Wonder Woman film. The event also launched U.N.’s groundbreaking campaign supporting Sustainable Development Goal #5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

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Initial response to the U.N.’s announcement was positive, with feminist sites like The Mary Sue commenting that Wonder Woman “shows what women can become when freed from a patriarchal society.” The U.N. hopes that Wonder Woman’s world-wide fame and commitment to justice and equality will be able to reach a younger and larger audience. According to Maher Nasser, Outreach Director of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, Wonder Woman’s avatar will be used on social media to promote important messages about issues such as gender-based violence and equal inclusion of women in public life.

Ironically, Wonder Woman’s nomination has received considerable backlash for the same reason the U.N. created her position in the first place – gender equality.   News of Wonder Woman’s titular role arrived around the same time that the U.N.’s Security Council named Portuguese politician, Antonio Guterres, the next Secretary-General of the organization, effectively rejecting all seven female candidates vying for the coveted position. Dozens of countries and diplomats urged the U.N. to lead the fight for gender equality by example and elect a female Secretary-General, but instead they were left with what many consider a “consolation prize.”

Shazia Rafi, leader of the She4SG campaign, an initiative to elect a female U.N. Secretary-General, called the choice of Wonder Woman “ridiculous.” She condemned the global organization for choosing a “cartoon character” to represent women empowerment when there are so many successful “real-life women they could have chosen.” Rafi is calling for members of the U.N. to boycott Wonder Woman’s christening event, and to have the character removed from the campaign.

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Sophie Walker, leader of the UK’s Women Equality Party, echoed Rafi’s outrage, saying that there are “women who have defied gender norms to ascend to the top of hostile industries” and that “these are the real superheroes.” She believes that real-world women are the role models who young people should see, not fictional characters with the strength to “wield Thor’s hammer.”

Wonder Woman’s fight for equality will be an uphill battle at best. She won’t just need to win the hearts of her critics who find her position “demeaning” to accomplished women, but she’ll also need to knock out the gender disparity at her own New York headquarters. Not only has the U.N. never been led by a woman Secretary-General, but as of 2015, 9/10 of all senior positions in the organization were held by men.

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Only time will tell if Wonder Woman’s strength can tackle the challenges of the real world, or if the U.N. consigned female empowerment to the fantasies of comic books.

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