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Beyond Storm and Stars celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the courage of individuals, communities, and societies to transform structures of discrimination and injustice

Noeleen Heyzer (PhD, Social and Political Sciences) is an expert in conflict resolution, economic development and women’s rights, and was the first woman to serve as the executive secretary of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific from 2007 to 2014.

In her memoirs Beyond Storms and Stars, published this year by Random House/Penguin, she reflects on her remarkable journey – from the challenges of her childhood and youth, her intellectual development at the University of Singapore and the University of Cambridge, to her groundbreaking work on women’s empowerment and her meteoric rise to the position of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

In October, Dr Heyzer was named the next United Nations special envoy for Myanmar/Burma. Her appointment was announced by UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 25th October, a day before the opening of a crucial summit of government leaders from Asean, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to which Myanmar belongs. She will start her new role from 13th December, working towards a peaceful political solution in the country for a better future for all the people of Myanmar.

Below you can read the memoir’s review by Diane Elson, Emeritus Professor at the University of Essex.

“This memoir tells the remarkable story of how Noeleen Heyzer grew from childhood poverty and social disadvantage in post-war Singapore to lead two UN agencies, first UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) when she was the first leader from outside North America and then UNESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), where she was the first women leader. Heyzer is far from being a standard -issue international bureaucrat, and she had no hesitation in challenging those who were. She had been a student activist, linked through international networks to people and organizations across the globe who were seeking to create more democratic and socially just societies. She did not leave behind that experience but brought it with her when she took on posts in the UN system. She recounts how she pursued a strategy of ‘inside -outside’ partnerships to mobilise both the resources of the UN and of civil society (NGOs, academics, feminist groups) to address issues like violence against women, and women, peace and security, that had not previously been taken up by the UN. She brought feminist economists (including myself) into UNIFEM to develop analysis of economies as structures of gendered power, recognising that women’s economic empowerment will not be secured until we have gender-equal economies.

Her memoir depicts a far-sighted, fearless and tough-minded leader, informed by post-colonial struggles, who aimed to foster a ‘people-centred multilateralism’, based on both top-down and bottom-up leadership. It also reveals the challenges Heyzer faced in her family life, mother of twin daughters, her husband a committed political leader in Malaysia, giving his life to the causes for which he fought. Heyzer knew all about the problems of balancing family life with public life, so she could empathise with the many women she met who also had to cope with these problems. Her kind of transformative leadership does not aim just to get more women into positions of power but to change the structures of power to create a better world for all who are disadvantaged. More than ever, this kind of leadership is needed.

Read Heyzer’s inspiring memoir to get insights into how it can be developed and exercised.”

About Dr Noeleen Heyzer

Dr Heyzer was the first woman to serve as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific from 2007-2014. Under her leadership, the Commission focused on regional cooperation for a more resilient Asia-Pacific, founded on shared prosperity, social equity and sustainable development.  In 2008-2009, she worked closely with ASEAN, the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations in the recovery efforts, following Cyclone Nargis and led a dialogue with Myanmar's leaders on development and poverty reduction.  From 2013-2015, she was also the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Adviser for Timor-Leste, working to support peace-building, state-building and sustainable development.

As the Executive Director of UNIFEM (1994–2007), Ms. Heyzer played a critical role in the Security Council’s formulation and implementation of the landmark Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.  She undertook extensive missions to conflict-affected countries worldwide, engaging women and a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society, youth and faith-based organizations.

Dr Heyzer is a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation, a member of the Governing Board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and a distinguished fellow of the Singapore Management University and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.