– As delivered –

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

16 July 2019 

H.E. Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General,

H.E. Hala Zayed, Minister of Health and Population of Egypt

Natalia Kanem, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA,

Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, DESA


Representatives of civil society,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to convene this commemorative meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.

I am delighted to see in the room Thoraya Obaid, who ran, UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, for a decade from 2000 to 2010, and who has been a tireless leader for the implementation of the ICPD and a model for women’s empowerment everywhere.

In 1994, 179 governments embraced a bold vision that put individual rights and well-being at the heart of sustainable development. The historic ICPD Programme of Action has since been reaffirmed by Member States many times, including through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As we celebrate the contribution of the ICPD to the progress we have made over the past 25 years, we acknowledge the wisdom and boldness of the leaders who gathered in Cairo that September 1994.

Civil society groups, especially women’s groups, played a critical role in the visionary outcome of the Cairo conference and that outcome recognized their crucial role in implementation.  It is great to see these stakeholders represented here today. I welcome you as partners to a well-deserved celebration.

And we can be proud of the progress we have made:

  • On reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, which decreased to 10% in 2015 from 36% in 1990;
  • On reducing maternal morality by 44% since 1990;
  • On halving the under-five mortality rate since 2000;
  • On parity in primary education in a majority of countries;
  • And on halting the spread of HIV/AIDS – to give just a few examples.

We have also taken major steps towards the ICPD’s vision of people-centred development; anchored in sound data to ensure no one is left behind.

This imperative is even more important today.

Despite the progress we have made, many of the challenges outlined in 1994 persist. One in 10 of us still lives in extreme poverty. Inequalities are widening. If you are a woman, an older person, a person with disabilities, or from a rural, indigenous or minority community, you are less likely to have benefited from the gains of the past 25 years.

At the same time, the scale and pace of shifts taking place in demography, technology, industry and human mobility are greater than imagined 25 years ago.

For instance, between now and 2050, the world will see its largest-ever share of under-30s, and then its largest-ever share of over-60s. Our global population is also growing more mobile and urban.

We need to put in place now adequate education, labour and social protection frameworks to manage these transitions – and to accommodate technological advances, such as automation, which bring great opportunities but could put an estimated two-thirds of jobs in developing countries at risk.

We must also push through significant changes to our industries to build the green economy we need to avert the worst impacts of climate change.


As we contend with these challenges old, we must continue to be guided by the ICPD’s emphasis on human rights and gender equality.

Empowering women and girls has been one of my priorities for this session. Indeed, I often refer to it as the closest thing we have to a “magic formula” for sustainable development, given the wealth of hard evidence on the benefits for economic stability, good governance and investment in areas such as health and education.

To give just one example: earlier this month, I met with women in Cairo and discussed the impact that women’s equal economic participation would have on Egypt’s GDP: a rise of 34%.

And still, women are still denied their basic rights and needs in every region – from land ownership to financial inclusion to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Moreover, we cannot take for granted the gains we have made – as we are seeing a pushback on these issues across the world.

Yesterday, I convened a high-level event on gender equality and sustainable development, which saw leaders from different sectors discuss how better to support the women – and men – working on the ground to empower women and protect their rights. This should be a priority for us all.

My presidency will strive to bring the United Nations closer to the people, through effective, dynamic and meaningful communication that has relevance to the public, and which strengthens their sense of ownership and support for this Organization.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly


I was delighted that in April, the Commission on Population and Development reaffirmed by consensus the Cairo Programme of Action, making clear that its achievement complements the SDGs. The November Summit in Nairobi, co-convened by the Governments of Kenya and Denmark, along with UNFPA, will be a crucial moment to turn these commitments into concrete next steps.

And there will be many more in the coming months, as we mark not only the 25th anniversary of the ICPD, but also the 50th anniversary of UNFPA, and the lead-up to the commemoration of Beijing+25 next year.

We must use every opportunity to ensure that we lift up women and girls, their families and communities, and create a better world with rights and choices for all.  We must commit the resources necessary to implement fully the Programme of Action. 

As we convene for the High-level Political Forum, I urge you to keep the promise of Cairo in mind: the notion of people-centred development grounded in human rights and dignity is even more important – and urgent – today as it was 25 years ago.

Thank you.