In a timely overlap with National Hispanic Heritage Month (celebrated from September 15th to October 15th), the international community welcomed the first female President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to be from Latin America and the Caribbean. Maria Fernanda Espinosa became the fourth woman to ever be President of the UNGA and is hosting the Heads of State for the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly.
The President of the UNGA is voted by the representatives on an annual basis and holds a respectable, highly-regarded position in the international body. The General Assembly consists of representatives from all Member States, each of which has one vote. Commonly, a two-thirds majority is required for decisions to be made.
The National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the largest minority in the US, which is only second to Mexico in having the largest Hispanic population in the world. By 2060, the Census Bureau estimates that Hispanic people will make up 28 percent of the total population, or 119 million residents. Additionally, the Latino population has been the “principal driver of US demographic growth, accounting for half of national population growth since 2000,” according to the Pew Research Center. That said, this Month raises important discourse about “one endless voice to enhance our traditions,” a theme that the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM) announced in partnership with federal agencies and affinity groups.
In her acceptance speech earlier this month, Espinosa fittingly addressed the weight of her role as a minority and as a female. “I want to support those women who have entered politics; who are demanding equality in the workplace; those women and girls who are victims of violence and those girls and adolescents who demand access to quality education.”
Echoing her sentiments was the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: ““May today’s choice pave the way for accelerating the progress towards gender equality, within and beyond the United Nations.”
The session this year focuses on gender equality, migration and refugees, decent work for all and the role of youth in peace and security, according to the UN. In alignment with the plenary, Espinosa stated her commitment to “bringing the UN closer to the people and the people closer to the UN in order to make the [UN] more relevant to everyone.” In fact, she adopted a slogan “D.A.R.E.,” which stands for Delivery, Accountability, Relevance and Efficiency. Furthermore, she said that she would keep an open-door policy during her tenure and “act as an impartial, objective and open facilitator.”
Espinosa has a track record of breaking gender norms in high-level positions in politics; she was the first woman to be named the Permanent Representative of Ecuador at the UN. Espinosa is not the only Latin American woman to become an important icon for minorities and women. Earlier this year, the Association of Latino Professionals for America published its second annual list of the “50 Most Powerful Latina Women” in corporate America, which was topped by Geisha Williams, the CEO and President of PG&E, one of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the US, according to Fortune.
A surprising fact about Espinosa? She’s a poet.
“As you know, I am also a poet as well as a politician,” she told UN News. “As such, I am fully aware that no view is useful if we do not see, and no word has value, if we do not listen. I will be ready to listen to you all and work… with you.”