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  • Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa gestures while addressing the media in Quito, Ecuador January 11, 2018.

    Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa gestures while addressing the media in Quito, Ecuador January 11, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 June 2018

Espinosa Garces said that she hopes the prestigious position would help with gender parity. 

The United Nations Tuesday overwhelmingly elected Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa as the president of the 73rd General Assembly. 

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Espinosa the fourth woman to lead the 193-member world body in its 73-year history serving in the high profile position which for the most part ceremonial but carries important procedural functions. 

To secure the coveted position, Espinosa won over Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake of Honduras by 128 votes to 62, with two abstentions in the secret-ballot vote. 

"Frankly, 4 out of 73 is not a record to be proud of, but I'm glad we are getting ourselves on track," the current council president, Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia, said as he announced the results. 

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who defeated several female candidates and continues the male domination of the U.N.'s top post, echoed Lajcak, saying, "We can and we must do better."    

Espinosa Garces said that she hopes the prestigious position would help with gender parity and be a positive influence for "all the women in the world who participate in politics today and who face political and media attacks marked by machismo and discrimination." 

"I would like to pay a special tribute to the women who struggle every day to access jobs on equal terms, to women and girls who are victims of violence, to girls and adolescents who demand access to quality information and education," she said in a statement. "My commitment will always be to them."  

The U.N. body is responsible for controlling the U.N. budget, adopting treaties, addressing global issues ranging from poverty to climate change, and pass numerous resolutions that while not legally binding almost always reflect global opinion. 

The U.N. organ also facilitates countries' talks — and organizes the annual gathering of world leaders in September. 

The selection of the assembly president follows an unwritten system of regional rotation, and it was the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean to preside over the next year-long session which will start before September's global meet. 

Traditionally, the U.N.'s regional groups nominate a single candidate who is then rubber-stamped by the assembly. But this year since Latin American countries couldn't agree on a nominee, an election was contested for the first time since 1991, the U.N. noted. 

Espinosa Garces, the first woman from Latin America and the Caribbean to preside over the assembly starting in September could help get issues from the region the attention they need. "I am a poet as well as a politician," Espinosa Garces said. "As such, I am fully aware that no view is useful if we do not see, and no word has any value if we do not listen. I will be ready to listen to you all and to work for you and with you."   

"I offered an open door presidency and I will hold to that promise," Espinosa Garces added. 

For the first time this year, assembly president Lajcak followed a new practice that was also used to choose secretary-general Guterres.  

He invited both candidates to appear before assembly members for two hours on May 4 to present their vision for the presidency and answer questions from diplomats and civil society representatives.  

The issues discussed ranged from conflict prevention and financing U.N. goals for 2030 to end poverty and planet sustenance goals to transparency in the president's office, U.N. reforms, and gender equality, among others. 

Espinosa Garces said then that she would focus on "delivery, implementation, and accountability" to bring the U.N.'s work closer to people everywhere and convince them that what the United Nations does "touches upon their daily lives."   

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