– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly
12 March 2019
Distinguished Heads of State and Government,
Esteemed António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations,
Your Excellency, Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, President of the Commission on the Status of Women,
Esteemed Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Representatives of organizations of women and of young women,
I have the honor to inaugurate this High Level Event on Women in Power. We have convened here to foster the agenda of equality and the rights of women, by means of their political participation and from their positions to exercise of power.
Since the very beginning, the history of humanity has been written by both men and women. It could not have been otherwise.
However, this same history has been marked by inequality, violence and discrimination towards women.
Nevertheless, women have been protagonists in the destinies of entire nations, cultures and political thinking, science and innovation and some of the most important social transformations. The protagonists have not been few; they have been thousands of leading and fighting women.
Of many of them, we know nothing. They were made invisible or erased from history.
But of the ones we do know about, the ones who broke the barrier of silence, we must write their names, acknowledge their courage, and their immense contribution to their peoples and all of humanity. Today, we are gathered here for them.
The road of the rights of women has been long. None of the achievements up to this day would have been possible without the fight of indigenous, afro descendant, working, migrant and young women or female artists, scientists, women with disabilities, rural women and diverse women.
We have come a long way to reduce the gaps of inequality between men and women, but we still have a lot of obstacles to overcome, many voids to fill, much to change.
Perhaps one of the best cover letters and advocacy for multilateralism and the UN is the equality and women’s rights agenda.
We have a sound international architecture of agencies, commissions, conventions, compacts, programmes of action, declarations, resolutions and the 2030 Agenda which is, undoubtedly, a powerful weapon for equality. The challenge now is to deliver, to fulfill, to act.
That is why I would like to acknowledge the commitment and the decision of Secretary General António Guterres, who has achieved gender parity in senior positions of the Secretariat, in the positions of Resident Coordinators and in regional committees. This is a milestone in the United Nations and it is a clear sign that, the course of history can be changed when there is political decision and leadership.
Similarly, we must also acknowledge all women who fight for labour equality; women who promote having greater access to quality education; women who dedicate their lives to preserve the lives of other women and girls. Many of those women are here now, in this room.
In the field of political participation, the figures speak for themselves: 90% of Heads of State and Government are men, as are 76% of members of parliament. The vast majority of countries have never been governed by a woman: this is the same in all regions of the world.
If this trend continues, reaching parity would take 107 years: in other words, more than a century. But what makes the situation even more serious is that, only 4 years ago, in 2015, the projection was that this gap would be closed in 30 years. We are clearly facing a regression and this event today is the key to revert the situation.
Therefore, allow me to refer to three aspects to reflect upon during this important meeting.
First: the challenges that women face in politics.
Often, female candidates, women in politics, ministers, members of parliament and community leaders, face great barriers that range from resistance within their own parties to double standards and discrimination in certain media.
Some social stereotypes impose that, whatever women are wearing or how they are wearing it, is more important than their ideas. And when women express themselves or when they are in positions with a high level of responsibility, society is twice as critical. Women must prove, with every step they take, that they are competent, capable and suitable.
Violence against women in the world of politics is a powerful weapon for deterrence and intimidation and it happens more frequently than we know. This situation is real and we must act to fight it.
The absence or under-representation of women in political life directly impacts acknowledging and broadening their rights and also contributes to the perpetuation of inequality in positions of power and decision-making spaces.
This leads me to point number two: the benefits of the participation of women in the exercise of political power and in decision-making spaces are undeniable.
If half of the world’s population if left out of the equation, thinking of a fairer and egalitarian world is a utopia, and we will simply not reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is well proven that gender equality and the participation of women in politics promotes economic stability and contributes to have stronger institutions.
It has also been proven that a greater representation of women in Parliaments guarantees making progress in the reforms to discriminatory laws and increased investment in key areas such as health, education and social protection.
Furthermore, women have a central role in solving conflicts and consolidating peace. In fact, when women participate in a peace negotiation, the possibilities for it to last more than fifteen years increases 35%, according to recent studies.
Lastly, I wish to make a call for action. We must raise awareness and join forces to invigorate the leadership of women in all spaces.
Without women in politics, sustainable development, human rights and peace are seriously compromised.
We need more women in politics, of all ages, from grassroots movements to the highest government levels. This is not an easy task.
But if there is someone who knows about battles and struggles, it is us, women. The rights we have, we have conquered in long and intense battles.
And the battle for the political participation of women is, undoubtedly, the best tribute we can offer to the 25 years of the Beijing Conference.
Today, we have the opportunity to tell the world, with one voice, that this great architecture for equality that we have built must work at full power. Hence, we must move from rhetoric to action, from acknowledgment to transformation.
Only you can say to young and adult women: do not be afraid. Participate in politics. Fight for the spaces that are yours. Break the barriers of silence, of discrimination. Our contribution is critical to build fairer and more humane societies and to run our nations.María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés
Your presence here today must be a legacy.
Although is fundamental to continue mentioning numbers, percentages and demanding our rights and highlighting our conquests, I would like to invite you today to move to action, to foster the political participation of women in all spaces and scales. Let us ensure that the voice of young women is heard. That is why today we have also convened young leaders who must be part of this conversation.
You, as female Heads of State and Government and leaders have an enormous responsibility.
The participation of women in politics must make a difference in the way the government operates, in how work is done for collective interest. This is not only about numbers and statistics, it is a matter of quality, of the power of transformation, of legacy, of leaving a trail that opens the way for the women that will come and the next after them.
What makes us different in exercising politics? What is our particular contribution to development and the common good? How can we, when exercising power, build more inclusive societies? Can and should we contribute more decisively in public matters? Yes, we can and we should.
Dear female Heads of State and Government, dear friends,
This is why your presence here today is so important.
Gathered here today, you represent almost 50% of the female Presidents around the world.
Only you can say to young and adult women: do not be afraid. Participate in politics. Fight for the spaces that are yours. Break the barriers of silence, of discrimination. Our contribution is critical to build fairer and more humane societies and to run our nations.
I invite you to dream of a future of equality between women and men but, above all, I invite you to work to attain that future.
Like the great writer Helen Keller said “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” Let us fly high above and let us fly together to achieve full equality.
Thank you very much for being here.