– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

3 July 2019

Your Excellency, Dr Maya Morsy, President of the National Council for Women,

Your Excellency, Mrs. Ghada Wally, Minister of Social Solidarity,

Your Excellency, Dr Sahar Nasr, Minister of Investment and International Cooperation,

Your Excellency, Dr Nabila Makram, Minister of State for Emigration and Egyptian Expatriate’ Affairs,


Your Excellency, Hala El Said, Minister of Planning and Administrative Reform,

Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind introduction and words of welcome.

I am so grateful to the National Council for Women for hosting this discussion at the Egyptian Diplomatic Club.

And it is fantastic to have an all-female line-up of speakers today!

Of course, we must ensure that men and boys are just as engaged in the quest for gender equality and women’s empowerment – we cannot afford to leave either half of humanity behind. But we know that we will not achieve this, or indeed any other development goal, without having more “women in power”. So, I commend you for setting a positive and inspiring example!

Empowering women and girls has been a top priority for me as President of the General Assembly – both in terms of my work at the United Nations, and in terms of my outreach at the national level.

In New York, I have placed emphasis on women’s participation – through organizing the first-ever High-Level Event on “Women in Power”, for example, as well as in my day-to-day work. I have highlighted gender equality in every negotiation process I have supported, in every bilateral I have held, and in every appointment, I have made.

And wherever I travel, I meet with women – politicians, civil society, private sector, youth – because, quite simply, there is no way we will achieve our vision of a safer, fairer and more sustainable world without the full participation and leadership of women and girls.

This might seem an obvious thing to point out. But, unfortunately, we need to say it over and over again. Because we are still a long way off achieving gender equality.

Nearly 25 years ago, women across the world celebrated the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which remains, to this day, the gold standard for women’s empowerment.

Five years later, we welcomed Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and cheered the creation of a specific Millennium Development Goal on gender equality.

In 2015, we were pleased that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development included a much broader sweep of targets, aimed at improving women’s participation and empowerment beyond school enrolment and parliamentary representation.

All these developments were the result of many years of hard, painstaking advocacy by women – including Egyptian women, such as Mervat Tallawy, who chaired the 1995 Beijing conference – and it is a privilege to have her with us today. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to Ms. Tallawy’s exceptional contribution as chair of this Council and Executive Secretary of UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Council for West Asia).

And there is no doubt that they have yielded progress.

The percentage of female MPs has doubled over the past 20 years – to just under a quarter worldwide. And, as we can see from the Ministers represented here, “women in power” are no longer a rarity

Dear friends, as you well know, this is only part of the picture. I am very proud to be the fourth woman – and first Latin American woman – to hold the position of President of the General Assembly. But that an Organization whose founding document explicitly protects the “equal rights of men and women” has had just four female Presidents since 1945 is a sign of how much still needs to be done – in every organization, and in every country.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

But, dear friends, as you well know, this is only part of the picture. I am very proud to be the fourth woman – and first Latin American woman – to hold the position of President of the General Assembly. But that an Organization whose founding document explicitly protects the “equal rights of men and women” has had just four female Presidents since 1945 is a sign of how much still needs to be done – in every organization, and in every country.

It is still the case that women lag behind on virtually every Sustainable Development Goal and target. The gap is even greater for women in rural areas, indigenous women, women with disabilities and older women.

Yes, it is progress that 24% of parliamentarians worldwide are women. But it is not parity, and we know that women in politics face enormous hurdles, including verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

Yes, we have made progress on women’s economic empowerment. But just 42% of countries afford women the same rights to land ownership. Just 60% give women equal access to financial services.

Yes, we have made progress on women’s education, but enrollment statistics are not everything. We need to look at actual participation – as well as the quality of outcomes. For example, as you will know, Egypt has been improving participation of girls and boys in early childhood education, but it is still among some 40 or so countries where the literacy rate for women is less than 80 percent.

Excellencies, colleagues

It is clear that we must all continue to make the case for the full inclusion of women and girls. It is not a difficult case to make.

There is a wealth of evidence on the positive impact that women’s participation in politics has on economic stability, on good governance and on investment in areas such as health, education and social protection.

For example, studies indicate that if Egyptian women were on par with men in terms of economic participation, this country’s GDP could rise by as much as 34%. Indeed, I often describe gender equality as the closest thing we have to a “magic formula” for sustainable development.

So, I am greatly encouraged by the work that the National Council for Women has been doing in partnership with government ministries; agencies such as UN Women, UNDP and UN-HABITAT, and other national and international stakeholders.

It is excellent that through the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women 2030, there is now a framework for achieving progress in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

I know that the National Council has been actively working to increase the percentage of women in parliament – currently 15% – and to encourage women’s participation in politics through the “Your Vote for Egypt’s Future” campaign.

I have also been inspired by your efforts to boost women’s qualifications and participation in the labour force, and by your partnership with the Central Bank of Egypt to increase the percentage of female-owned bank accounts from the current level of 27%.

And I commend your courage and creativity in tackling some of the hardest challenges we face; such as violence against women and some harmful traditional practices, but also social cohesion and extremism. I was particularly impressed to hear about the “Together” programme, which engages women whose voices have often not been heard.

Your work is already reaping benefits – from the three million women who have graduated from programmes you support, to the units set up at universities to enable reporting of violent incidents.

Sadly, all of us who work in this space know how fragile progress can be. At this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women, CSW it was clear that women’s rights are being contested in all regions of the world. This is evident, too, in the negotiations on commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action next year. It is also the case with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held here in this city in September 1994, nearly 25 years ago. The Commission on Population and Development every year struggles to find consensus on how to support women’s empowerment and gender equality through women’s and young people’s access to health services and education and information. These were issues agreed to 25 years ago.

So, dear friends,

I commend you for all your hard work to date, and I urge you to keep going. Egypt was a crucial player at the original Beijing conference. As you showed by hosting the African Union Ministers’ meeting ahead of the Commission on the Status of Women, as well as the first-ever Arab League-EU Summit this February, you are uniquely placed to play such a role again in 2020, when we celebrate Beijing+25. And we are counting on you to do so.

I thank you once again for the opportunity to address you today, and I look forward to our discussion now.

Thank you.