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As the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, comes to an end, there are important lessons and actions to highlight from this week, that not only affirm our path towards a more equal and inclusive multilateral system but have re-echoed from some world leaders supporting our cause to increase gender equality in international organizations and establish gender alternation in the Presidency of the UN General Assembly. 

UNGA78, whose theme was “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all”, reinforced the urgency of collective and redirected efforts towards accelerating implementation of the SDGs, fostering gender equality and ensuring a safe planet where the most impacted thrive.

1. ‘We the peoples’ does not mean ‘we the men’:

We are just seven years from 2030, and the SDGs’ progress report shows that current advancements are insufficient to close all gender gaps. Gender equality continues to be an imperative, requiring immediate action. “Women’s share of workplace management positions will remain below parity even by 2050”, the study says. 

Moreover, the geopolitical climate and current crises on different fronts, from climate to governments, are a constant threat to leave gender equality as an afterthought, as SDG#5 is crucial to achieving the rest of the SDGs. 

Therefore, during the 78th United Nations General Assembly session, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres stressed the importance of gender equality: “Just four women signed our founding document. One look around this room shows that nothing has changed. We the people does not mean we the men. Women are still waiting for equal opportunities and equal pay, for equality under the law, for their worth to be valued, and for their opinions to count”, he said. 

The Secretary-General highlighted the importance of achieving equality within the multilateral system. “Gender equality is the solution. It is not a favor to women it is a fundamental condition to ensure a better future for all,” he explained. Along the same lines, GWL Voices’ President and co-founder, Susana Malcorra, advised on what to do to increase equality within the UN system, during a fireside chat with Devex and UNAUK: “We need to raise awareness, and we need to put pressure. That is why we need to establish gender alternation at the United Nations General Assembly. It would be a very symbolic movement. It would mean for many women that the UN system is trustworthy”, she said during her final remarks.

Watch António Guterres’ video hereWatch Susana Malcorra’s participation in the Devex Dialogue here

2. The need of a woman-led global governance design: 

As customary during UNGA, there were several plenaries and events with discussions on how to reform the UN system to better adapt to the current times and needs of our societies. The current multilateral system only accounts for some people, considering the diversity of scenarios and it needs to be able to act as fast as possible in some cases. Besides, the existing system was developed in a different context. As innovation and inclusion came to the table on several occasions as tools to improve the system, another critical pillar for consideration was the feminist perspective. In that regard, GWL Voices’ Executive Director, María Fernanda Espinosa, explained during the SDGs Action Weekend. “It is clear that any new global governance design should not be gender blind. It should be women-led”. 

GWL Voices’ member Arancha Gonzalez Laya highlighted the importance of cohesive action between local and global organizations, stating, “We need to think about who we bring to the table. Sovereigns cannot do it alone,” she said at the Coalition for the UN We Need. 

However, to have a multilateral system that helps us all, it is essential to consider the voices of younger generations, who will be responsible for applying the changes in the future. In support of the above, GWL Voices and The New School of New York held four fireside chats on Geopolitics with students of the university. “To put gender equality at the center of the decision-making and use our collective responsibility and conscience to make sure that institutions take charge and actually ‘walk the talk’”, said GWL Voices’ member, Fatiha Serour,  while moderating the conversation. 

Meanwhile, GWL Voices’ member, Flavia Bustreo encouraged students to be more active in sectors with few women, such as health. “The constitution of the World Health Organization doesn’t mention gender […] The COVID task force had only one woman. When difficult times come, women are not there. How can we change it? Approach it with a justice lens. Sit at the table, ask the difficult questions,” she said during the Geopolitics fireside chat.

3. Gender Alternation in the Presidency of the UN gains support:

Finally, the 78th session of the UN General Assembly was a pivotal moment to move forward with GWL Voices’ Gender Alternation UNPGA campaign. The evidence was clear, there were 194 representatives from different countries as well as the UN speaking at the General Debate, between September, 19th to the 26th. Only 21 were women, which is 10,8% of the speakers far from what could be equal. During the sessions, GWL Voices’ received support from three countries’ heads of state: Botswana, Slovenia, and Spain. These three countries are taking the lead on gender equality within the multilateral system by supporting the campaign and questioning why the system does not ensure that the next Secretary-General is a woman. While some countries did not mention gender equality,  others argued that having  30% of women was enough.  World leaders from these three countries are showing that they are actually ‘walking the talk’ on gender and are willing to take concrete actions to make changes: 

  • Botswana’s President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi said that the current scenario shows the need for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. “Would you not agree with me, that the time is now to have a female Secretary-General?” he asked as the plenary applauded him.
  • Slovenia’s President, Nataša Pirc Musar, mentioned the “Women in Multilateralism 2023” flagship report data and the GWL Voices “Gender Alternation UNPGA” campaign. “We are all painfully aware of the fact that only four presidents of the General Assembly have been women. Only four in this entire history; 74 were men. We should be living up to our own declarations on gender equality and materialize that in the work of the General Assembly as well. This would be a vivid and symbolic way to demonstrate our commitment,” she said. 
  • Spain’s President, Pedro Sánchez, said that this commitment to gender equality should also be reflected in multilateral relations and in top positions of these institutions. “In this multilateral field, it is important that this consideration is taken into account in the next appointments made in the United Nations’s system, including this General Assembly,” he stated.

The 78th session of the UN General Assembly’s theme “Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and the sustainability for all,” is impossible to achieve in the absence of gender equality. 

While UN Women and UNDP progress report on the SDG5 show that “the gender gap in power and leadership positions remains entrenched, and, at the current rate of progress, the next generation of women will still spend on average 2.3 more hours per day on unpaid care and domestic work than men,” the study states. GWL Voices’ mission to achieve gender equality in multilateralism is more needed than ever. To reinforce their stance and commitment, GWL Voices co-founders, executives and members presented a thorough statement expressing the urgency to act on gender equality and ensure the participation of women and girls, as they are the most affected by all current crises and geopolitical challenges our society faces. 

Read the full statement here

The UNGA dialogues are over, and it’s time for action. We remain unwavering in using our voices to foster change and inclusion together.

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