– As Prepared-
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly
15 April 2019
Your Excellency, Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the UN,
Your Excellency, Jürg Lauber, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN,
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN,
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women,
Excellencies, dear friends,
I am delighted to address the Circle of Women Ambassadors again – it feels like a lifetime since I spoke with you in September 2018, at the start of my presidency.
Thank you, Katalin, for hosting us today and for your advocacy on gender equality, and on women, peace and security.
Our focus today – upholding the rights of women and girls with disabilities and fighting sexual harassment – brings together two issues that are priorities for my presidency.
One is gender equality – where I have focused on boosting the number of women in leadership positions, and tackling the barriers to participation, including sexual harassment. The other issue is the rights of persons with disabilities – which I have worked on for many years.
Both issues are essential to our work. We cannot deliver the Sustainable Development Goals unless we harness the contributions of the one billion people who have disabilities. We cannot build sustainable peace if women are not involved in peace processes. And we cannot combat all forms of violence against women if we do not have strong education and legal systems in our societies.
Feminism is not the preserve of females alone – that has been demonstrated time and again by #HeforShe champions such as Ambassador Lauber, Permanent Representative of Switzerland and, of course, the Secretary-General, H.E. António Guterres. But we cannot make progress on gender equality without decision-makers who have experienced firsthand the challenges facing women.
And there is still a huge representation deficit. I was struck the other day by a gif that UN Women shared on Twitter – showing the percentage of female CEOS in Fortune 500 companies inching up from zero percent in 1995 to 6.4 percent, and then back down to 4.8 percent last year.
At the UN too – where we should be leading by example – only a quarter of Permanent Representatives are women. Only one of the General Assembly’s main committees is chaired by a woman. I hope that we, in this Circle, can encourage our colleagues to nominate more women to leadership positions in the General Assembly, and across the UN.
On the rights of persons with disabilities, we must build on the progress we have seen in recent years. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – CRPD – was the fastest human rights treaty to be negotiated.
It is excellent that 177 Member States are party to the Convention. We should now strive for universal ratification. In February, I wrote to Member States that are not yet party to the CRPD and encouraged them to ratify or accede.
I have also launched – with Antigua and Barbuda, and the Republic of Korea – a steering committee on accessibility of the UN. The committee will present its recommendations at a High-Level Luncheon I will convene on 12 June during the CRPD Conference of States Parties.
Let me now turn to the nexus of these two issues: women and girls with disabilities. An estimated one in five women lives with disabilities – a higher prevalence than for men. This is partly due to gender-based violence, the lower economic and social status of women and other discriminatory practices.
And yet, these women and girls are often invisible. They remain at the margins of decision-making. They face multiple barriers to inclusion. They are not well represented in data collection.
Where data does exist, we can see that they are often doubly disadvantaged. For example, data from 51 countries shows that only 20 percent of women with disabilities are employed, compared with 53 percent of men with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization, children with disabilities are almost three times more likely to be victims of sexual violence. For children with mental or intellectual impairments, this rises to 4.6 times the risk.
It is imperative that we address this issue through multiple approaches – promoting and empowering women and girls, promoting and empowering persons with disabilities, and taking further action to combat sexual harassment and violence in all its forms.
At the UN too – where we should be leading by example – only a quarter of Permanent Representatives are women. Only one of the General Assembly’s main committees is chaired by a woman. I hope that we, in this Circle, can encourage our colleagues to nominate more women to leadership positions in the General Assembly, and across the UN.María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés
Last December, the General Assembly adopted its first-ever resolution on sexual harassment – we now need to work towards implementation.
Last month, I convened a High-Level Event on Women in Power, which saw current and future women leaders issue a call to action to ensure women’s full and effective participation at all levels of decision-making.
And in June, the CRPD Conference of Parties is another opportunity to push for universal ratification of this crucial convention.
You are already important advocates for these issues – thank you so much. I hope I can count on your support going forward, as we strive to realize our vision of a safer, fairer and more sustainable world, where no one is left behind.