The UN General Assembly is bringing together world leaders this week, all with the hope of making the world a better place for everyone, no matter where they are from.
At this year’s UNGA, one topic is overshadowing events and speeches: COVID-19. The global pandemic has highlighted challenges and inequalities around the world, one of which is gender inequality. The pandemic’s effects could lead to disproportionate impacts on women’s work, girls’ education, and much more.
That’s why we’re highlighting nine female leaders from across the globe who are weighing in on gender equality and COVID-19 during UNGA.
Here’s what they had to say.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a setback, but it cannot be an excuse. Our goal should not be to return to the way things were.”
— Malala Yousafzai, global activist and founder of the Malala Fund
Malal Yousafzai is an activist from Pakistan who advocates for girls’ education. In 2012 at just 15 years old, she was shot in the head by a gunman of the Taliban while on her way to school. Surviving her life threatening injuries, Malala has established a namesake education fund, the Malala Fund, to ensure that girls around the world receive the education they deserve.
“Women lose a lot. We need to make sure women can benefit from social protection systems in their countries.”
— Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the executive director of UN Women who has “devoted her career to issues of human rights, equality, social justice.” Before her role at the UN, Mlambo-Ngcuka was the deputy president of South Africa from 2005 to 2008, where she put a particular focus on women’s issues in her work overseeing poverty fighting programs.
“Twenty five years after the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, no country has closed the gender pay gap.”
— Åsa Regnér, Deputy Executive Director for Normative Support, UN System Coordination and Programme Results
Since 2019, Åsa Regnér has served as the deputy executive director for Normative Support, UN System Coordination and Programme Results. Prior to working at the UN, she was the minister for children, the elderly, and gender equality in Sweden. In this role, she worked on finding “concrete results in the implementation of Swedish gender equality policies.”
“As the world confronts a long-term global economic recovery, one solution must be at the center: making sure women have economic power.”
— Melinda Gates, global advocate for women and girls
Melinda Gates is a global advocate for women and girl’s equality, a philanthropist, one of the co-chairs of the Gates Foundation, and a businesswoman. Her advocacy work focuses on empowering and strengthening women and girls around the world to bring “transformational improvements in the health and prosperity of families, communities, and societies.”
“We don’t want to talk much about what governments should do because governments know what they should do, they have all the frameworks they’ve signed up for, they just need to be held accountable.”
— Aya Chebbi, activist and AU Special Envoy on Youth
Originally from Tunisia, Aya Chebbi is an Pan-African activist, feminist, and diplomat, and in 2018, she became the first African Union special envoy on youth. She has become a main player on the global stage for her work and “commitment to peacebuilding, gender equality, and Africa’s integration.”
“The pandemic has espoused fundamental weaknesses in our system. There are no longer any doubts about the need to build a more equal world.”
— Erna Solberg, Norwegian Prime Minister
Erna Solberg has been the prime minister of Norway since 2013, having been re-elected into office in 2017. She worked previously with the UN as the co-chair to the UN secretary-general’s advocacy group for Sustainable Development Goals in 2016. In this role, she took “a particular interest in access to quality education for all, in particular girls and children in conflict areas.”
“It is our duty to stand up for humanity. Step in and correct things that are wrong.”
— Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist
In 2011, Leymah Gbowee earned the title of Nobel Peace Laureate for her work as a women’s rights advocate, peace activist, and social worker. One standout moment in her career is her work leading “a nonviolent movement that brought together Christian and Muslim women to play a pivotal role in ending” Liberia’s civil war, which lasted for 14 years.
“If we’re going to be realistic about building back better, we have to be honest about what’s broken now. We continue to make policies that serve a select few.”
— Dr. Alaa Murabit, feminist activist
Dr. Alaa Murabit is a medical doctor, women’s rights advocate, and global security strategist. She’s also worked with the UN as a high-level commissioner on health employment & economic growth. She’s known for her work on founding The Voice of Libyan Women, her TED Talks on feminism, and much more.
“This pandemic has shown us the great need for diverse leadership.”
— Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir took office as prime minister of Iceland in November 2017. She is also the chair of the Council of Women World Leaders.