New UNGA President to focus on gender equality, youth empowerment

The President of the 76th session of UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid says he will focus on gender equality, youth empowerment, climate change and equitable access to vaccines in his one year presidency.

The 76th session of General Assembly opened on Tuesday, Sept. 14 with the inauguration of Shahid from the Maldives after handing over from the President of 75th session, Volkan Bozkir.

Shahid said that he would bring his experience as foreign minister in the Maldives to bear on the presidency as he began with a gender balanced cabinet.

“Many of the senior positions were held by women and I also had given the commitment, and once again I pledge that I will not sit on any panel that is not gender balanced.

“I also intend to make sure that I talk about this more and more. I want to make the United Nations not only the gold standard setter, but also the gold standard practitioner.

“In that context I intend to speak to the Secretary-General and the Secretariat and make the United Nations more family -friendly. That is a task that I intend to undertake,’’ Shahid said.

According to him, investing in multilateralism is what the UN should do now as COVID-19 has once again shown us now that multilateralism is the only way forward.

He said the best investment in multilateralism is investing in young people, adding that he would continue with the advisory group on women that the former president Bozkir had constituted.

“I also intend to have regular sessions with the women PRs [Permanent Representatives] who are resident here so that I will benefit from their viewpoints.

“I intend to make sure that the issue of gender continues to be one of my top priorities during my presidency.’’

The President said his priorities for the coming year included leading by example to help the UN reach the “gold standard” on issues such as gender equality.

He said that meant participating on panels with equal numbers of women and pushing for a more family-friendly UN, for mothers who are breast-feeding or taking care of small children.

Speaking on ways to make UN family-friendly, Shahid said there should be a family room where children could be taken care of.

“During my campaign, I met a female ambassador, she shared with me the horrific story that on a day when her babysitter got cancelled at the last minute.

“She had no choice but to bring her two little children, but to leave them in her car in the UN garage with a driver.

“There should be a family room where children should be able to be cared for; these are issues that we should sort out,’’ he said.

On youth empowerment, Shahid said he would give opportunities to young diplomats from under-represented countries, noting that was why he launched a President of the General assembly Youth Fellowship Programme.

“I intend to bring a number of young diplomats from under-represented countries, give them the opportunity to work in my office and with the countries they represent at the missions so that they will be able to experience what happens here.

“Their work will be coordinated from my office and at the end of the year they will be given a certificate to prove that they have performed their duties well.

“But, who knows maybe one of these young diplomats, who gets through the fellowship, may become the President of the General Assembly at a future date.

”The best investment in multilateralism is investing in young people.  And that is what I am going to do”.

In addition, he said, hope was desperately needed for those billions around the world struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, devastation, and strife.

He added that on issues such as climate change and equitable access to vaccines, he would “never give up hope that humanity will rise to the occasion.”