UNITED NATIONS - Pressure is building up at the United Nations for a more open and transparent process for the selection of next secretary-general and for a woman to lead the organization, now celebrating its 70th anniversary.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term ends Dec.?31, 2016, and a new leader will replace him. In the past, the election of a successor has taken place in the fall of a secretary-general’s final year in office, but the debate is heating up early this time around.

Since the birth of the United Nations in 1945, eight men, from Norway, Sweden, Burma (or Myanmar), Austria, Peru, Egypt, Ghana and South Korea have held this important post. There is a distinct push for a woman to be the next secretary-general.

The U.N. Charter states, “The Secretary-General shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” This has traditionally meant a process of secret consultations by council members, primarily the council’s five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

The transition to Ban’s successor has been a matter of speculation for months, and unofficial campaigning has already begun. The final choice must get affirmative votes from nine of the 15 Security Council members, with no objections from any of the veto-wielding permanent members. The final candidate will then be presented to the General Assembly for confirmation.

Historically, the General Assembly has confirmed secretaries-general by consensus. But in 1991 the U.N.’s Africa Group said it would call for a vote in the General Assembly if an African was not nominated. The group had enough states in its camp to defeat any non-African, and the Security Council responded. Similar pressure could be exerted today to encourage the council to select a woman.

The process has always been secretive. There is no transparency, no apparent search process, no job description and no pool of candidates. As far as anyone can tell, no woman has ever been seriously considered.

According to The New York Times, three dozen countries, led by Colombia, are promoting the idea that it is a woman’s turn to lead the organization. Women’s groups have put out lists of candidates. Prominent world leaders — including members of the group former Ireland President Mary Robinson belongs to, the Elders, composed of former heads of state — have called for countries to nominate women.

Women have been elected to lead countries as varied as Germany and South Korea. The International Monetary Fund is led by a woman, and some of Europe’s biggest companies are required by law to set aside 30 percent of their supervisory seats for women. Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, has pursued “a feminist foreign policy,” calling women’s rights critical to global peace and security. And Hillary Rodham Clinton — who, 20 years ago, spoke as the first lady of the United States at a landmark United Nations women’s conference in Beijing — is running for president.

The United Nations, though, has been something of a holdout. Since its inception in 1945, it has always been led by a man.

“After eight male secretary generals in a row, the Elders are very sympathetic to the idea that it is high time for a woman to be chosen,” Ms. Robinson was quoted as saying in the Times’ dispatch. “But if it turns out that the right candidate is a man, then so be it.”

The “right candidate,” she said, should be “independent and not beholden to the interests of individual member states.”

The calls reflect not only an appeal for gender equity but also a growing sense of frustration with the opaque way in which world powers — namely, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council —  bargain over the choice of the world’s top civil servant. Diplomats and civil society activists say that if the process does not change, it stands to make the United Nations anachronistic, irrelevant and unfit to handle the most pressing global crises.

“Whatever the selection process for the next secretary general is, historically there’s been no attention paid to the representation of half the world’s population,” Louise Arbour, a Canadian jurist who was the United Nations high commissioner for human rights from 2004 to 2008, was quoted as saying by the Times. . “It is geography; then it is horse-trading on state interests, much more than the personal qualities of the candidate.”

Few countries have announced their nominations, and in keeping with the protocol of giving different regional blocs a chance, Eastern Europe is angling for its turn, though nothing in the United Nations Charter requires it, it was pointed out.

Because of the calls for female nominees, many more of the names being talked about are of women than ever before. They include Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, director general of UNESCO; President Michelle Bachelet of Chile; Kristalina Georgieva, another Bulgarian and a vice president of the European Commission; and Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand who heads the United Nations Development Program.

One of the men whose name has come up is Danilo Turk, a former president of Slovenia.

Among the ambassadors for the permanent members of the Council, only Britain’s, Matthew Rycroft, has explicitly said his government would favor a woman among equally qualified contenders, the Times said. The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, has warned that men should not be discriminated against.

More than one-fourth of the ambassadors representing their countries at the United Nations, including Pakistan’s Maleeha Lodhi,  are women.