United Nations, June 6 (IANS) Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces has been elected president of the UN General Assembly. She is only the fourth woman to achieve the position in its 73-year history.
With her election on Tuesday, she follows in the pioneering footsteps of India’s Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the first woman to hold the position in 1953, in an organisation struggling to achieve gender parity.
In keeping with its symbolism, Espinosa declared that she dedicates her election to all the women in the world.
Espinosa received 128 votes to defeat another woman, Honduras Permanent Representative Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake, who got 62 votes.
The Assembly presidency rotates among various groups at the UN and this year it was the turn of the Latin American and Caribbean bloc.
In a rare departure from tradition of unanimity, two candidates from the region contested the election.
Speaking to reporters after her election, Espinosa said that she will assess the work done for the Security Council reform process and the situation it is in.
The reform process has been going for about 25 years and “this is very much a pending issue of the organisation,” she said.
“Of course, the depth and the pace of the reform process is going to depend entirely on the political will of the member states,” she added.
Speaking at the Assembly after her election, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres drew attention to the poor record of the Assembly in electing women as president with only four in its 73-year history.
After Pandit, it took 16 year before another woman, Angie Brooks of Liberia was elected in 1969 and another 37 years for Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa of Bahrain to be be elected in 2006.
“No woman from my continent, east or west, has ever held the post,” Guterres said.
All four women presidents are from developing countries.
In 2016, it was widely expected that a woman would be elected secretary-general with several strong women candidates in the field, but it went to a man for the ninth time.
Espinosa said that with her election she hoped the UN will make progress and men and women will have the same opportunities.
Dedicating her election, she said it was for “all the women in the world who participate in politics today and who face media and political attacks marked by machismo and discrimination” and for “women who struggle everyday to access jobs on equal terms.”
There was a political undercurrent in the election with Espinosa receiving greater support from developing countries.
Left-leaning Ecuador has had a tumultuous relationship with the US, while Honduras is close to Washington.
Honduras was one of only nine countries to vote with it in the Assembly in 2017 against a resolution opposing the US decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and this cost it a lot of the votes of developing countries.
Although its relations with the US have been improving since President Lenin Moreno’s election in 2017, Ecuador continues to give refuge in its London embassy to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whom Washington wants extradited.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])