Monday, 26 June 2023 19:17

When the President of the General Assembly Was Given a Seat at a Summit — a Back Row Seat

Credit: United Nations


UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 (IPS) — When the United Nations commemorated ‘International Day of Women in Diplomacy’ last week, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) Csaba K?rösi rightly pointed out the woeful absence of women to hold that position in the UN hierarchy.

“Women have played a central role in the history of the United Nations ever since the signing of the UN Charter,” he said, “but out of the 78 people elected to my role, President of the General Assembly, only four have been women.”



So far, the only four women elected as PGAs in the 78-year history of the UN were: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit from India (1953), Angie Brooks from Liberia (1969), Sheikha Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa from Bahrain (2006) and Maria Fernando Espinosa Garces from Ecuador (2018).


The 193-member General Assembly (GA) is described as the highest policy making body at the United Nations – and according to a longstanding diplomatic protocol, the PGA is virtually treated as head of state at international conferences.


At a dinner hosted by a UN ambassador years ago, one of the former women PGA’s told a group of reporters she was at a summit meeting of world leaders in a Middle Eastern capital where all the heads of state were, rightfully, accommodated in the front rows of the hall.


But she was deprived of that honor because she was a woman --- and was offered a back row seat – in a country which did not obviously believe in gender empowerment.


“Gender parity?”, one of the journalists at the dinner table remarked, “it’s always a losing battle”.


K?rösi told delegates only one in 4 Permanent Representatives (PRs) are women – “even if some of them are spearheading this session’s major, and very complicated, negotiation processes”.


He said the latest ‘Women in Diplomacy Index’ shows that, in 2023, only one fifth of all ambassadors in the world are women.


“I extend my gratitude to the women PRs for their strong leadership of some of the most challenging talks, including on the SDG Summit, Financing for Development, or Universal Health Coverage, just to mention a few.”


“In my own Office”, he said,” women account for two thirds of the team, with the same proportion in the management of the OPGA (Office of the President of the General Assembly).“


“For it is only by working together that we will achieve a sustainable future for both halves of humanity”.


According to a new report from the World Economic Forum it will take about 131 years for women to attain gender parity with men – and not until 2154.


Speaking during the commemoration of ‘International Day of Women in Diplomacy’, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield shared a little history.


She said: “US Ambassador Madeleine Albright (1993-97), who was our representative at the Security Council, told me that she created this group called the G7. And it was all of the women that I thought were on the Security Council and I was amazed that there were seven women at that time”.


“And so, I went to see her after I started here, and I said there are only five women on the Security Council now. And she said that’s fantastic – because I was the only woman on the Council (during 1993-97).


Her G7 were all the women in the General Assembly—seven out of 193 ambassadors.


“So, we have made progress. But there’s still more to be made. And I think as women, we are able to bring out those issues that really highlight and amplify women in the Security Council”.


“We ensure that there are women speakers who come to brief the Council. We ensure that issues related to Women, Peace, and Security are amplified in our discussions. And it’s not that men don’t always do it, but they don’t do it enough. As women we’re constantly aware and constantly looking for opportunities to raise women up,” she said.


According to the UN, women have been playing a crucial role in global governance since the drafting and signing of the United Nations Charter in 1945.


“Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and, therefore, also half of its potential. Women bring immense benefits to diplomacy. Their leadership styles, expertise and priorities broaden the scope of issues under consideration and the quality of outcomes”.


“Research shows that when women serve in cabinets and parliaments, they pass laws and policies that are better for ordinary people, the environment and social cohesion. Advancing measures to increase women’s participation in peace and political processes is vital to achieving women’s de facto equality in the context of entrenched discrimination”.


Out of the 193 Member States of the United Nations, only 34 women serve as elected Heads of State or Government.


“Whilst progress has been made in many countries, the global proportion of women in other levels of political office worldwide still has far to go: 21% of the world’s ministers, 26% of national parliamentarians, and 34% of elected seats of local government.”


According to a new UN report, at the current pace of progress, equal representation in parliament will not be achieved until 2062.


The UN General Assembly (UNGA) is the world’s largest yearly meeting of world leaders. While the UNGA has been the setting for several historic moments for gender equality, much has yet to be achieved regarding women’s representation and participation.


The 15-member UN Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. “While women currently represent slightly over a third of the Security Council’s members — far higher than the average — it is still far from enough”, says the UN.


“Historically, diplomacy has been the preserve of men. Women have played a critical role in diplomacy for centuries, yet their contributions have often been overlooked. It’s time to recognize and celebrate the ways in which women are breaking barriers and making a difference in the field of diplomacy”.


At the UNGA’s 76th Session, the General Assembly by consensus declared the 24th of June each year to be the ‘International Day of Women in Diplomacy’.


By its resolution (A/RES/76/269), the Assembly invited all Member States, United Nations organizations, non-governmental groups, academic institutions and associations of women diplomats — where they exist — to observe the Day in a manner that each considers most appropriate, including through education and public awareness-raising.


According to UN Women:


  • There are 31 countries where 34 women serve as Heads of State and/or Government as of January 2023.
  • Of the five United Nations-led or co-led peace processes in 2021, two were led by women mediators, and all five consulted with civil society and were provided with gender expertise.
  • In 2022, the Security Council held its first-ever formal meeting focusing on reprisals against women participating in peace and security processes.
  • In multilateral disarmament forums, wide gaps persist in women’s participation and women remain grossly underrepresented in many weapons-related fields, including technical arms control — only 12 per cent of Ministers of Defense globally are women.
  • Countries where there are more women in legislative and executive branches of government have less defense spending and more social spending.


Meanwhile, the Related “UN Observances” on Women include


  • Gender equality
  • International Women’s Day
  • International Day of Women Judges
  • International Day of the Girl Child
  • International Day of Rural Women
  • International Delegate’s Day
  • International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace
  • International Day of Women in Multilateralism
  • Women Rise for All


IPS UN Bureau Report