UNGA 2020: A global leaders' summit on Covid-19 in November would bring hope

Pandemic recovery plans must be built around women's health and resilience

María Fernanda Espinosa Graces, ex-president of UN General Assembly Pawan Singh / The National  
María Fernanda Espinosa Graces, ex-president of UN General Assembly Pawan Singh / The National  

A former president of the UN General Assembly has called on the body to set up the first high-level summit of global leaders since the coronavirus pandemic began before the end of the year.

As it marks its 75th anniversary, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces said a huge task facing the UN was to defend the gains under its leadership in global health, particularly the situation of women, and equality. To do so, she said the impact of the pandemic has to be addressed and a November summit would be an optimum moment for leadership on the crisis, including ensuring universal access to a vaccine.

"The multilateral system is really not self-operating machinery. It depends on human decision-making and we are at the crossroads," she told The National. "We need to take the right decisions and this calls for our leaders of both the executive branch of the UN but also the political branch -- the UN General Assembly -- to play a very important role this year.

"Their convening power is key and there must be a high level meeting on Covid-19 in November. After all these months you hope a global summit on coronavirus would promote the inclusive multilateral system and build a narrative of hope."

After decades of progress in maternal and other measures of women's health, the pandemic has inflicted a sharp setback that the UN must put at the heart of its agenda.

"The 75th anniversary is to actually look specifically at that issue of the role of the UN in progressing health, and in particular progress in women's health because it isn't a landmark achievement of the overall body," said Ms Espinosa.

"The particular role of the UN now is obvious," she added. "It's got a lot of infrastructure around healthcare around the world but it's also got the power of issuing declarations, it has the language to directly address the issues facing women. Those words are important in themselves."

She said that countries led by female political leaders had performed better in the crisis, proven by fewer outbreaks and per capita deaths, and shorter lockdowns.

"You know these women leaders possess different qualities by and large -- empathy, better communication, transparency in information, listening to science and taking informed decisions," she said. "I think it has been a combination of all of the above, connecting directly to families and households, pushing people to change their daily life behaviour, to protect themselves and protect others.

"The critical issue has been making informed decisions, listening to science and scientists. So women bridge this connection between knowledge, science and decision-making and it is a formula for success. It is not a secret: we keep saying it but women in leadership positions can lead to improving solutions."

The former Ecuadorian minister for defence said the economic recovery must be structured in a way to reverse the disproportionate adverse consequences suffered by women during the downturn.

"We need, for example, to make sure that all these recovery packages that are put together place women at the centre," she said. "To ensure, for example, that investment in maintaining shelters for victims of domestic violence or access to sexual and reproductive health services are secured."

With many countries dramatically scaling up spending in healthcare, seeing it as a key measure of resilience in society, Ms Espinosa said there was a role for the UN in promoting universality of access to healthcare, ideally by a target date of 2030.

"Countries with stronger health systems have been more resilient to the pandemic," she said. "For this reason, we need to deliver on the universal health coverage by 2030.

"It is, I think, an essential prerequisite for global health security after so many lives have been lost to Covid-19. We have these unique opportunities of building back better, particularly if this policy is gender responsive.

"Longer-term there is a gender triple dividend. That is better health security. economic empowerment through access to better job creation and accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals."

Updated: September 24, 2020 02:42 PM

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