"Push back against the pushbacks!" The slogan resonated in the United Nations General Assembly hall, chanted by representatives attending a high-level event on Women in Power held Tuesday.
This expression was from the remarks by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the gathering of women leaders from around the world, in calling for further efforts to overcome obstacles at the United Nations to achieving gender parity across the system.
The version was repeated by the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and chanted by the participants of the event following her lead.
Speaking to some 150 women leaders in the audience, Mlambo-Ngcuka pointed to the progress in women leadership, saying "we have women who are now astronauts; women are judges; women are innovators; women are leading human rights institutions."
At the same time, she said women are still underrepresented while urging the women leaders to use their power to make changes. "We have an obligation to stand up and to work in order to make lives better for other women, because the positions of leadership that we have are not a right to us. They are a privilege."
Women in Power was initiated by UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces as a highlight of her work in gender equality, one of her priorities she set out upon taking office in September 2018.
Espinosa invited all female presidents and prime ministers to the event. The presidents of Lithuania, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago, Croatia and Estonia, as well as the prime minister of Iceland attended the gathering.
Bringing together women leaders from governments, the UN system, private sector and civil society, the event aims to identify barriers that hinder women's participation in leadership and share best practices that can accelerate women's empowerment.
In her speech, the UNGA president highlighted the benefits of women's participation in politics.
"It has been amply shown that gender equality and the participation of women in politics promote economic stability and contribute to strengthening institutions," she said.
A greater representation of women in parliaments can help continue the reform of discriminatory laws, and increase investment in such key areas as healthcare, education and social protection, she added.
Espinosa also recognized the work by UN Secretary-General Guterres, "who has achieved gender equality in the high ranks of the UN secretariat, in the posts of resident coordinators and in regional commissions."
In response, Guterres said it had been possible to achieve gender parity quickly at these levels of the UN system because "those are the people I can appoint myself without limitations."
He vowed to "push back against the pushbacks," reaffirming commitment to a parity across the board at the UN.
Asked about gender parity under her domain, Espinosa told Xinhua that 60 percent of her cabinet and UNGA co-facilitators are female. In addition, she is working together with the secretary-general "not to have only parity in senior positions but go a little bit down," and encouraging member states to appoint more women to higher positions.
On global gender inequality, Espinosa called for attention to be paid to a worrying regression. "If the current trend continues, achieving equality will take us 107 years ... (But) only four years ago in 2015, it was projected that that gap would be d in just 30 years."
At a press conference related to the event, Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdottir said her country's parliament saw a fall in 2017 in the percentage of women lawmakers to below 40 percent from nearly 50 percent.
She blamed the political parties in Iceland for the drop. "The majority of Icelandic political parties have quota system ... (But) you can actually see from the results of the elections how it goes for women."
Echoing Jakobsdottir, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told the press conference that the problem is more on the political parties' "implementation of the legislation."
"We have the quota system in the parliament. However ... the parties will rather pay fines than respect the quota," she said, lamenting the fact that Croatia's last polls produced fewest elected women ever since its independence.
According to UN figures, as of November 2018, only 10 percent of UN member states have a female head of state or government. Globally, only 24 percent of parliamentarians are women.
Similarly, among the 2018 Fortune 500 companies, only 24 have women CEOs and 12 companies have no women at all on their board.
At the press conference, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid recalled "the special treatment" she received, including being asked more frequently about her age than her male counterparts.
Kaljulaid expressed the hope that gender would not be such a issue in future politics, saying being a female president for her means when Estonian children draw a president, "sometimes they draw a woman in skirt."
"It takes time for these things to change," she said.