The United Nations has defended its choice to pick comic book superhero Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador for its Empowerment of Women and Girls campaign, even as critics have slammed the decision.

Women's rights activists were of the view that there are many real-life women who could become the face of the programme.

Shazia Rafi, one of the leaders of the She4SG campaign – which was initiated to appoint a woman to the post of the UN chief – said: "The campaign for women's empowerment is represented by a cartoon when there are so many real-life women who could have been chosen."

Rafi added that the move should be scrapped and urged the UN chief to skip the official ceremony where the comic character would be designated as the UN honorary ambassador in New York on 21 October.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric defended the decision and said that Wonder Woman was chosen for the campaign as she would connect with the younger generation. "In order to reach young people, in order to reach audiences outside this building, we need to be creative," he noted.

Calling on critics not draw conclusions and wait for the formal announcement, Dujarric said: "I think, to judge the project by the artwork that you will see, the commitment that you will see. And, again, I think this is a new and creative way for us to reach a different audience with critical messages about women's empowerment and parity."

"The project, which we've been working on... which the UN has been working on in close cooperation with UN Women and with UNICEF will go forward. I think... you know, we try from... in our own ways to reach out to the population at large about issues that are of importance to the world, covered by the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], whether it's on human rights, children's rights, or gender issues. And I think, in order to reach young people, in order to reach audiences outside of this building, we need to be creative and have creative partnerships. I know there's been some... you know, some negative coverage of the announcement. I would ask for people to wait for the announcement," he said at a press briefing on 17 October.

The UN programme – called All The Wonders We Can Do – will emphasise on gender equality and empowerment of women, which is one of the global goals for the UN over the next 15 years.

Nonetheless, Razi countered the explanation and said, "Younger women are no longer looking at themselves and think they need to be dressed in cleavage and bustiers to be taken seriously."
DC Entertainment president Diane Nelson and actress Lynda Carter who portrayed the iconic character in the 1970s are expected to attend the ceremony to be held in New York on Friday.