– As delivered –
Remarks by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly
1 September 2021
H.E. Mr. Maurizio Massari, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations,
Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa, President of the UN General Assembly for the 73rd session,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to join today’s book launch. My sincere appreciation to the Missions of Italy and UN Women for organizing today’s event and for their support to the book in question: ‘4 in 74’.
I would also like to commend my predecessor, Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa, only the fourth woman to have ever led the UN General Assembly.
Madam Espinosa, your leadership during your tenure at the General Assembly led to the ban on single use plastics on premises and boosted the global movement to protect our ocean from plastic waste. This is deeply commendable. I thank you also for your support for, and leadership on, the ‘4 in 74’ book, which simultaneously captures both the successes of four incredible women and the dramatic gap in women’s representation at the highest levels of the United Nations. You have helped shine a light on this important topic.
Colleagues, I want to stop here for a moment and emphasize this point: 4 in 74.
Actually, let’s make that 4 in 76, because that is where we are today. Only four out of 76 Presidents of the UN General Assembly have been women. Less than 1 percent.
While we are here to celebrate the successes of these four women, let us not for a moment think that the UN has any reason to pat itself on the back for this abysmal number. Clearly, much more has to be done.
Here at the UN, we speak a lot about the need to strengthen multilateralism… and this is certainly a priority. But for the multilateralism to be successful, then it must draw upon and work on behalf of both women and men. A strong, inclusive, and successful multilateral system, which is what the world needs, is the only path to tackling the challenges we face.
The onus, if I may be frank, is on Member States and those in positions of power throughout the UN and multilateral system to appoint more women in positions of power. Whether serving as Permanent Representatives, as presidents or vice presidents of the General Assembly, as Under-Secretaries General, or as Special Envoys, women in leadership roles send a strong message to girls and boys the world over and demonstrate that we stand behind our convictions.
On this point, we must emphasize not only quantity but quality. It isn’t enough to say that half of the staff are women, or half of a panel are women – but what role are they in? Can women break through the glass ceilings to the upper echelons of power? Can we remove the barriers to women’s leadership at the highest levels?
Efforts such as the Group of Friends on Gender Equality Parity, as well as Gender Champions, have done a great deal to inspire change. Likewise, the ongoing reform processes throughout the UN have done a good job of emphasizing gender equality and I commend the leadership of the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary-General in that regard.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
As we move to build back better from the pandemic, it is imperative that women are placed at the center of the COVID19 recovery process. This includes amending governance systems and working with public, private, and CSO partners, and ensuring that measures are taken to expand women in leadership positions. The much talked about ‘great reset’ brought on by COVID-19 is an opportune moment to reshape our norms towards one that is more gender empowering.
For my part, as President of the General Assembly, I recognized early on this need to amplify the issues of women and girls at this critical juncture. While I do not pretend to be an expert on gender issues – I am proud of the work we have done. I have taken the moniker of ‘gender champion’ with the humility it requires and have leaned on the expertise and lived experiences of my Gender Advisory Group to ensure that the challenges faced by women and girls are reflected at each moment, from high-level meetings to trips abroad. Small steps to be sure, but steps in the right direction.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The launch of this book holds special significance for my office. I have the pleasure to have as a member of my team a young woman from Fiji who is featured in this book. Along with our four distinguished former Presidents, Nehali gives her perspective on what she would do if she were a President of the General Assembly.
I am also pleased to note that a female diplomat from Liberia – home to Angie Brooks, the 2nd woman PGA – serves as my gender focal point. Thank you, Gail, for your hard work and determination, and for carrying on the legacy of your compatriot.
Before closing, allow me to thank the chairs of the Group of Gender Parity and the women Permanent Representatives for their support to my work.
I thank you for allowing me to speak today and I look forward to hearing the thoughts of others as we discuss this book and its far-reaching implications.