– As delivered –

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

12 September 2019

Your Excellency, Tijjani Muhammed-Bande, President of the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly,


Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women,

Ms. Susana Malcorra, Women Leaders Voices for Change and Inclusion,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to this informal High-Level Event – the last in the series of “Women in Power” events I have convened during this session, and one that is focussed on consolidation.

Today, is about reaffirming our collective commitment to gender equality. It is about building on the work of this session and building momentum ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action next year.

It is about shoring up the legacy of the many inspiring women and girls I have had the pleasure to work with during the past 12 months. Some are here in this room. Phumzile, your tenacity and creativity have helped UN Women to be at the heart of “pushing back” against the pushback on women’s rights. Susana, your leadership  has ensured there is a counter-narrative to the anti-feminist, anti-multilateralist headwinds we are facing.

Others are spread across the world: the WILD network; the African Women’s Network; the gender champions, the youth leaders I met in Finland and Portugal; the women’s groups in Nigeria, Jordan, Pakistan, Cuba and elsewhere; and the entrepreneurs, inventors, activists and experts who took part in the high-level events held this session. Special thanks to my fellow colleagues of  the Circle of Women Ambassadors, to the group of friends of gender parity, and all gender champions.  I appreciate and highly value your support during my tenure.

All of them are part of a growing global movement that I hope will become an unstoppable force for change.

Dear friends,

The “call to action” launched at the March 2019 Women in Power event set out eight priorities to advance female leadership: mentoring, gender champions, synergies and networks, legal frameworks, girls’ education, measures to address violence against women, policies to ensure equal economic participation, and the creation of an enabling environment in all spheres of society.

To date, this call has been supported by 26 women in power, as well as by the informal Group of Gender Equality Leaders I established this session.

In the context of International Women’s Day, 47 female leaders joined together to form the Women Leaders Voices for Change and Inclusion. By working together, I firmly believe that these two networks, along with others around the world, can make a tangible difference on the ground and at the international level.

You will have heard me say many times: this is not only a matter of doing what is right, of ensuring that half the world’s population is not left behind, again. This is about realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Empowering women and girls is the closest thing we have to a “magic formula” for building a safer, fairer and more sustainable future. There is a wealth of evidence that women’s political, economic and social participation leads to positive outcomes – in social investment, in peacebuilding, in GDP growth, and in the health and education of their communities.

The meetings during High-Level Week must focus on the most transformative, scale-able actions we can take in the coming year: advancing gender equality must feature prominently among them. Women have to have a prominent role in the commitments to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs, to fight the climate crisis, to unleash the resources needed to build more equitable, safe and resilient societies.

We cannot accept that it will take 108 years – more than a century – to close the global gender gap, and 202 years to achieve economic parity. We cannot accept that there only 22 of 193 UN Member States have female heads of state or government.

We cannot accept that 35% of women experience physical or sexual violence, or that over 70% of trafficking victims are female. We cannot accept that women still lag behind on virtually every development indicator, especially if they are older, have a disability, or are from a rural, ethnic minority or indigenous community.

We cannot accept that it will take 108 years – more than a century – to close the global gender gap, and 202 years to achieve economic parity. We cannot accept that there only 22 of 193 UN Member States have female heads of state or government.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly


It is vital that we do not lose the momentum built during the 73rd session, and I am convinced that my successor, dear Tijjani, will carry forward the torch for women and girls, as he did so encouragingly in his vision statement.

I hope that he, and indeed every leader present, will become an International Gender Champion. As I reflect on the achievements of this session, I am most proud of the efforts my team has put into “walking the talk” on the commitments I made.

Together, we organised not one but three events on women’s leadership. We have promoted gender equality in all activities of the General Assembly. And we have surpassed the 50% mark in female speakers at high-level events, in female co-facilitators and in members of my Cabinet.

Dear friends,

I will close with a short poem by Mexican writer Carmen Boullosa called “Axe”:

We are hatchets of steel and fire.
We live to reap and illuminate.
With the metal,
we fell the trunk.
With the flame,
we illuminate the cut,
the felling of what we are.

Let us all go forth and illuminate the cut that is still experienced by women and girls the world over, and plant in its place a tree of equality.

Thank you.