– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Tijjani Muhammad Bande, President of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

18 December 2019

H.E. Ambassador Penelope Beckles, Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations,

H.E. Ambassador Samson Itegboje, Chargé d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations,

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour,

H.E. Ms. Bandana Rana, Vice-Chair of CEDAW,

Executive Director of UNFPA,

Executive Director of UN Women,

Ms. Krishanti Dharmaraj, Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership,


Distinguished Delegates,

I thank the organisers of today’s event, namely UNFPA, OHCHR, UN Women and the Missions of Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria, for convening this conversation on an important date. It is a day to celebrate.

The fortieth anniversary of the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).  This seminal treaty is one of the United Nations’ most broadly endorsed human rights treaties and has significantly improved the lives of millions of women in the last forty years.

As the so-called ‘women’s bill of rights’, CEDAW sets the foundation for all successive milestones in our path to gender equality; in particular, the International Conference on Population Development in Cairo and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  Moreover, Member States have utilized its language and recommendations to amend constitutions, discriminatory laws and policies and shape criminal justice systems.

I would also like to take this opportunity to highlight the significant work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Since 1982, the Committee has worked with dedication to facilitate international standard-setting for women’s human rights, providing guidance to Member States in their implementation of the Convention.

Member States in their implementation of the Convention.

Sadly, discrimination on the grounds of gender persists today. One in three women will experience gender or sexual based violence in their lifetime.  We must take action now in line with General Recommendation 19 of the Committee, which refers to “violence against a woman because she is a woman”. In 2019 this is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, many countries lack domestic violence legislation. Alongside aligning our legislation and policies with our shared values, we must change mindsets. It is unbefitting of our era to think of power as a negative force – of men exerting power over women, or of women in power being a threat to men.

We all benefit from gender equality. In purely financial terms, the loss of income attributable to gender-based discrimination has been estimated at $6 trillion or 7.5% of global GDP. I am encouraged by the leadership of Member States in the Human Rights Council who instigated a resolution on equal pay. Yet at our current rate of progress it will take 217 years to reach pay equity. Women must take their rightful place at the centre of all economic activity.

In terms of agriculture, women make up 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Yet globally, women represent only 13% of agricultural landowners. Forty years after the creation of this treaty, many countries have inheritance laws which discriminate against women.

In a world where we are battling a climate emergency and hunger is on the rise, we must empower all farmers – women and men – to be resilient to climate shocks and to be have decision-making power over their food production.    

We will not make progress on Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development in its entirety if we do not make progress on SDG 5. As we enter the Decade of Action and Delivery, I call on all stakeholders – including men and boys – to promote gender equality.

Girls around the world need to see women who look like them in positions of power. Boys around the world need to understand that a woman in power is not a threat. On the contrary, we all benefit from equal representation.

Tijjani Muhammad Bande

President of the UN General Assembly


Four decades after CEDAW came into existence, less than one quarter of parliamentarians are women. At the General Debate I was shocked that only 16 of 195 speakers were women. This has to change. As President of the General Assembly, I have made inclusion a priority for the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly. We will not have a United Nations that excludes.

Girls around the world need to see women who look like them in positions of power. Boys around the world need to understand that a woman in power is not a threat. On the contrary, we all benefit from equal representation. This of course comes through education, another key priority for the seventy-fourth session.

The fact is, one billion women and girls today do not have the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly developing world. We must keep our girls in school.

When we celebrate the 75th anniversary of CEDAW, the girl who is in the classroom today will be in this conference room, in the private sector boardroom, at the peace process negotiating table. We must facilitate the full and equal participation of women and girls at all levels of decision-making. 


I call on all Member States to uphold the rights of women. This begins with universal ratification of CEDAW and its full implementation. We must ensure that our efforts achieve substantive equality and that we look beyond breaking the glass ceiling, towards effective implementation at every level of society.

I leave you with the words of a powerful writer from my own country, Nigeria, Ms. Chimmamanda Ngozi Adichie,

 “Gender is not an easy conversation to have…

Because thinking of changing the status quo is always uncomfortable.”

I urge each of us to get uncomfortable, to have the necessary meaningful conversations, and to change the status quo.

I look forward to working with you all to deliver a better future for women and girls, everywhere. Let us strive together, men and women, for gender equality.

I thank you.