Disruptive Women Hit #UNGA73 in New York

The 73rd UN General Assembly sweeps mid-town Manhattan each autumn in New York, blocking roads to accommodate visiting Heads of State, notwithstanding long security queues to get into the UN HQ Building. The usual whirlwind week for New York – but with Canada PM Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and our WGH team all convening at the same venue.

UNGA 73 has finally shone a spotlight on global health issues, hosting two health-related High Level Meetings (HLMs) in 2018. Previously, only two health-related HLMs had been held in total - HIV/AIDS in 2000 and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in 2011. Health advocates and practitioners were in full attendance at the HLMs for the fight to end Tuberculosis, as well as the comprehensive review of the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros, launched WHO’s Investment Case, as well as the countdown to next year’s UNGA HLM on Universal Health Coverage.

WGH Team Participation

Our team representation from Women in Global Health at UNGA73 this year included Executive Director Roopa Dhatt and Programming and Gender Director Kelly Thompson. WGH participated in UNGA for the first time since we registered as a non profit in the USA in 2017.

WGH was also invited to participate in the UHC2030 Forum, our first HL event, ensuring women’s leadership and gender equality are central to the #LeaveNoOneBehind #healthforall agenda. Dr. Roopa Dhatt also attended the first UNGA consultations on the topics of women’s leadership, health workforce, and SRHR. Lastly, we had our very first WGH Meet and Greet for UNGA in New York. With two team members of WGH in town, 200 + new social media followers, and 100+ new connections, our movement continues to grow with more gender equality advocates and supporters.

Global Gender Representation – UNGA and Beyond

We are pleased to note that the WGH team were not the only Disruptive Women in town this year. Women’s leadership in the UN was highlighted more than ever before with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ commitment to achieve gender parity in the highest leadership positions. As such, we applaud the appointment of Michelle Bachelet to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. WGH was also excited to see Maria Fernanda Espinosa from Ecuador leading as President of UNGA this year. In the 73-year history of the UN, Espinosa is only the fourth female President of the General Assembly.

But perhaps the most popular gender representative at UNGA was Neve Te Aroha, the baby daughter of gender advocate and New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Neve’s presence illuminated a key message: we must empower working parents by enabling systems of work-life balance, even in politics. Prime Minister Ardern’s role as a gender advocate is particularly urgent, and her words reflect our current reality. While the visibility of gender equality at UNGA73 is promising, Acern reminds us that action-orientation and resource allocation is vital to promote true change.

Photo credit: UN Women

Over the weekend of September 21-22, female Foreign Ministers met in Canada for the first summit to discuss feminist foreign policy – leading a transformative movement. 17 of only 30 female Foreign Ministers globally attended that meeting, yet only 10 of the Heads of State and Governments who addressed UNGA this year were female. Although several male heads of state, such as France’s President Emmanuel Macron, made strong statements in favour of gender equality, the gender imbalance in political leadership continues to be a global obstacle to progress.

Photo credit: UN Women

Initiatives and Movements

A number of high level women’s rights-focused events were held over the UNGA week. Congratulations to the International Gender Champions for launching a Gender Responsive Assemblies Toolkit that we will all use as best practice for other high level political meetings, including the World Health Assembly.

The #HeForShe Impact Summit made a splash for women’s empowerment with Black Panther actor and activist Winston Duke challenging men to do better for gender equality.

“Imagine a society where all women had fair opportunities and outcomes. Imagine what kind of man you would be.” - Winston Duke, Actor “Black Panther”

African Union countries committed to extending and deepening their work to end child marriage by 2023, which will positively impact mainly young girls who are forced to marry and bear children and end up risking their health and blighting their life chances. The Spotlight Initiative, an action to end femicide (gender-related murder of women and girls) was launched by 5 Latin American countries. Significant commitments were made by several countries to #SheDecides, a movement to enhance girls’ and women’s rights to their own bodies, and the Every Woman, Every Child (EWEC) Accountability Committee met to continue to monitor delivery on all important commitments on the health of women and children.

Photo: Women in Global Health's Executive Director Roopa Dhatt attends WGH’s first #SheDecides Meeting in New York during #UNGA73. The meeting was held with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, and was organized by Tikhala Itaye (Chair, SheDecides), Lilianne Ploumen (Vice Chair), and Ulla Tornaes (Minister for Development Corporation, Denmark)

Finally, amongst the many meetings around #UNGA73, a high-level group of feminist gender experts met to discuss on a report ‘Beijing, 25 Years On: Unfinished and New Business’. Beijing, of course, refers to the last UN World Conference for Women in 1995 in China (attended by WGH’s Ann Keeling and Brenda Killen). WGH supports the conclusion of that report, understanding that the next UN World Conference for Women is urgently needed to set a global framework to drive collective action, deepen impact and increase accountability on gender equality and women’s rights.

Joanne Sandler, women’s rights expert, said it best: “We need a big retirement party for the patriarchy.” WGH will bring the cake and balloons.

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