In one of her first interviews since being voted in last June as United Nations General Assembly president, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Ecuador’s former foreign minister, says it’s both an ‘honor and a great challenge’ to take on the post.
Espinosa says that she has seven main priorities for her year as president which include gender equality, the environment and climate change, migration, and increasing opportunities for persons with disabilities.
As only the fourth woman and the first Latin American female to lead a general assembly session, Espinosa says: “gender equality (and) women’s empowerment in politics … is going to be on top of my priorities.”
The new president says she wants “women as architects of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the general assembly’s 17-point guiding plan signed in 2015 where the 193 members agreed to eradicate poverty and gender inequity and to provide access to quality education for all, among other tenets. Espinosa has congratulated former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet for integrating women's rights within the U.N. council agenda and intends to continue the trend.
Also critical for Espinosa and the 193 member states is the environment. She says there are “two areas of work basically: the assessment of the three years after the Paris Agreement (on climate change and) … a campaign to avoid plastics. A ban on plastics is something that we think that the General Assembly has a very important role to play on environmental action.”
Chile and Panama both passed laws this year to ban the use of plastic bags.
Migration and refugees are a high priority in Espinosa’s 73rd assembly session. She and member countries will meet at a December summit in Marrakech, Morocco "in order to follow up on the Global Compact on Migration and work for the rights of migratory people,” said the U.N. official.
The U.N. documents say there are currently 258 million migrants in the world caused mainly by liberal “trade, rising inequality, demographic imbalances, and climate change.”
Espinosa, along with outgoing U.N. General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak, say that peace is a high priority for the council.
In his outgoing speech on Monday, Lajcak said, “The stakes are high — we need to take the right road.” He said there needs to be a global discourse toward peace. Discourse needs to move away from a reactive approach to one of “sustaining peace.”
“We have a lot of work ahead. Sustaining peace cannot be just a concept, or an aspiration. Rather, it should be seen more as an operating manual. Something that guides the real work we do on the ground, every day,” Lajcak said.
President Espinosa will take over responsbilities at the first 73rd regular session of the General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, a week before the high-level meeting of members states leaders who will address the assembly.