Coronavirus

Over the past week 130 world leaders spoke at the UN – where were the women?


Amina J. Mohammed, UN Assistant Secretary-General attends the Global Citizen Concert in New York, U.S., September 23, 2023. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Over the past week 130 world leaders and more than 50 ministers addressed the annual high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, but fewer than 12% of those to stand at the lectern were women.

“We have to be courageous enough … to call people out, delegation by delegation, when you meet them,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told reporters on Tuesday after the last country had spoken in the 193-member General Assembly.

“It’s clear and abundant in the hall, when you’re sitting at the podium and you’re looking down, it’s true – I’m searching for the women and that has to get better,” she added.

Only four countries did not address the six day meeting – Niger, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Madagascar, diplomats said.

Of the 189 member countries who spoke there were 88 heads of state and 42 heads of government, said senior U.N. official Movses Abelian. The remaining speakers were made up of deputy leaders and ministers, along with six ambassadors.

Among the speakers were 21 women – six heads of state, four heads of government, one vice president, nine ministers and one vice minister, Abelian told reporters.

In his speech, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa drew applause on the first day of the General Assembly when he said that women made up 50% of South Africa’s cabinet and that he had been accompanied to New York by an all-female delegation.

“It should be a matter of concern to us all that the majority of people who are sitting in this assembly are men,” he said. “The question we have to ask – where are the women of the world? The women of the world have a right to be here.”

Within the United Nations there is gender parity among the top level of under-secretaries-general, according to U.N. data. Throughout the entire U.N. system, women make up 44% of international staff.

* The longest speech, at 38 minutes, was given by Burkina Faso’s Minister of State and Civil Service Bassolma Bazie, while the shortest, at about 10 minutes, was Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Abelian said.

* While 190 countries spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic during the high-level General Assembly in 2021, only about 40 countries did this year.

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