– As delivered –

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

15 July 2019

Your Excellency, Mona Juul, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council,

Ms Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN,

Excellencies, distinguished panelists, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this panel discussion on “Gender Equality and Women’s Leadership for a Sustainable World” – which I am delighted features several members of my Group of Gender Equality Leaders, as well as other distinguished leaders.

All of them are role models who have inspired so many people around the world – including me, may I add! – and who are 100% dedicated to supporting, empowering and lifting up women and girls.

That has been our shared mission this year – not only because it is a crucial end in itself, but because we have no hope of realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development without the full participation and leadership of women. This is an obvious point to make, but it is, sadly, one that we cannot repeat enough.

We have come a long way since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action nearly 25 years ago. The percentage of female parliamentarians has doubled in that timeframe, and as we can see from our list of speakers today, women in power are no longer a rarity.

But it is still  the case that women lag behind on virtually every Sustainable Development Goal. For example, just 42% of countries give women the same rights to land ownership; just 60% give women equal access to financial services. And the gap is even greater for women in rural areas, women with disabilities, indigenous women and older women.

No country has achieved full gender equality and women continue to face discrimination in every region of the world – from suffocating stereotypes to discriminatory laws, harmful practices and violence.

At the same time, we have a wealth of hard evidence of the positive impact that women’s participation and leadership have on economic stability, good governance and investment in areas such as health, education and social protection. For every additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreases by almost 10%. These is just an example of the transformative, society-wide benefits of women’s empowerment.

Today’s discussion is anchored in this crucial link. We will start with a session on women’s leadership, building on the “Women in Power” event I convened in March, which produced a global “call for action”. That call has attracted the support of 18 world leaders – and we are exploring synergies with other initiatives, particularly at the regional level, to take it forward. I invite all leaders to join this initiative.

The second session will focus on “gender equality and inclusive societies for sustainable development”. Many of you will have heard me refer to gender equality as the closest thing we have to a “magic formula” for sustainable development. And it is certainly magical in terms of impact. But there is nothing magical about how to achieve gender equality.

We cannot take for granted the gains we have made. The pushback is real. And women on the ground are working hard – under duress and at great personal risk – to push back against it. They need our support.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

We know what to do to empower women and girls. It is there in the 2030 Agenda. It is there in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, which remains the gold standard for women’s empowerment. What we need, is greater political will; a razor-sharp focus on the most transformative, practical actions; and to widen their scale and impact.


It was feminist leaders – women and men – who ensured that the Charter of this Organization made explicit reference to the equal rights of men and women.

It was a coalition of actors who secured the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995; the Millennium Development Goal on gender; the Security Council’s Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; and the broader base of gender-specific development goals in the 2030 Agenda.

Today, we find ourselves in urgent need of renewed leadership, partnership and mobilization. It is no secret that some of the SDG targets relating to women’s rights were the subject of tough negotiations. And the landscape has become more challenging even since then – as we saw during this year’s Commission on the Status of Women.

We cannot take for granted the gains we have made. The pushback is real. And women on the ground are working hard – under duress and at great personal risk – to push back against it. They need our support.

So, I very much hope that we can use today’s discussion to make progress in the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform next year. This is our opportunity to recommit to women’s rights and empowerment, to rise to challenges old and new, and – reclaim the agenda.

Thank you.