17 September 2019
UNGA Gender Equality Meeting Sends Message to September Summits
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
story highlights

An informal, high-level UNGA event capped a series of gatherings on women's leadership.

UNGA President Espinosa called for women to have a prominent role in SDG acceleration, fighting the climate crisis, and unleashing resources for equitable, safe and resilient societies.

Italy called for instituting gender equality through legislation, and Finland cautioned against a maternity leave "penalty" in the UN system.

12 September 2019: High-level representatives of governments, the UN system and civil society participated in a high-level event capping the “women in power” series of gatherings convened by the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) during the 73rd session. Discussions considered measures to weave gender equality and inclusion into the “organizational culture” in all spheres of society, involve men in promoting gender equality, mentor young women to participate in politics, and create synergies among networks advancing these issues.

The informal UNGA event titled, ‘Women in Power – Call to Action and Women leaders voices for change and inclusion: Joining forces and redoubling efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment for all,’ took place on 12 September 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Opening the event, María Fernanda Espinosa, UNGA 73 President, reminded participants that the Call to Action launched at the UNGA’s 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. This has been supported by 26 women in power so far, she reported, as well as by the informal Group of Gender Equality Leaders established during UNGA 73.

Espinosa emphasized that “empowering women and girls is the closest thing we have to a ‘magic formula’ for building a safer, fairer and more sustainable future.” She added that women must have a prominent role in the commitments to be announced during the series of high-level meetings in September 2019, including on accelerating the implementation of the SDGs, fighting the climate crisis, and unleashing the resources needed to build more equitable, safe and resilient societies.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, UNGA 74 President-elect, announced that he will become an International Gender Champion. He committed to work on gender equality during his presidency, as well as to ensure gender parity in the composition of his office.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, said that, since no country has achieved gender equality, it is imperative to use synergies between different sectors and stakeholders to accelerate progress. She saluted the UN Secretary-General’s strategy on gender, which enabled gender parity at the UN’s top level, and said gender parity now must be achieved at the other UN levels.

Thilmeeza Hussain, Permanent Representative of Maldives, said social media can provide examples of role models for women and girls and stir their dreams in directions that have not been traditionally presented as being available to them, such as politics, engineering or finance.

Susan Papp, Women Deliver, identified three challenges to gender equality: lack of funding for women’s organizations; discriminatory policies and laws that limit women’s full participation in economy, government and society; and shrinking civil society space. She proposed as solutions “capacity sharing,” not only capacity building, and creating supportive networks, inclusive of both governmental and non-governmental actors.

Katalin Bogyay, Permanent Representative of Hungary, and Circle of Women Ambassadors, said each century has its moral imperative: slavery was the moral issue tackled in the 19th century; totalitarism was the moral issue of the 20th century; and gender equality is the moral issue that needs to be addressed in the 21st century. She reported that the Circle of Women Ambassadors now has 49 members and invited more ambassadors to join.

Alya Bint Ahmed Al Thani, Permanent Representative of Qatar, and Co-Chair of the Group of Friends on Gender Parity, said the Group of Friends has published the book, ‘Her Story,’ which captures success stories of UN women leaders. The Group was created by the former Permanent Representative of Colombia.

Jacqueline O’Neill, Ambassador for Women Peace and Security, Canada, said even though there is gender parity in her country’s Cabinet, only 27% of women have been elected in the House of Commons. She reported that indigenous women in Canada face three times more sexual violence and abuse than non-indigenous women.

Annelies Verstichel, Permanent Mission of Belgium, and Women in International Leadership Development (WILD), said WILD’s membership includes Under-Secretaries-General, Assistant-Secretaries-General and Ambassadors, as well as entry-level professionals in the UN system and UN Permanent Missions, and discussions are underway on opening the initiative to civil society. Through regular private meetings, events and interactions, WILD aims to provide a support system for women in the UN system, she said. She also announced the upcoming launch of a mentoring program.

Michael Kauffman, White Ribbon Movement, stressed the need to involve men in women’s empowerment movements and initiatives, both to ensure they do not block change but also to promote healthy definitions of masculinity. He called for mobilizing men to speak to their peers and brothers as supporters of gender equality and women empowerment. Speaking about the cultural barriers to women empowerment, he highlighted that culture should serve people, not that people should serve culture.

Other speakers included Susana Malcorra, Women Leaders – Voices for Change and Inclusion, and Isabel Saint Malo, Former Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, and Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC).

In the ensuing discussion, Costa Rica, Slovenia and others expressed confidence that progress on women empowerment and gender equality will continue and accelerate. Italy called for gender equality, including in governance, to be instituted through legislation. Finland stressed the need to make sure that maternity leave will not be a penalty in the UN system.

The meeting also addressed the results of the strategy developed by UNGA President Espinosa to push forward the gender equality and empower of women agenda in the work of UNGA, and build momentum for the preparation of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action (Beijing+25). [UNGA President’s Remarks] [Meeting Webcast] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [Summary from UNGA President’s Office]

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