At a gathering of women leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, the number of attending heads of state or government reflected the sparse distribution of women in power globally.
But while “they may be small in number … they pack a punch,” said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was chairing the event.
As the hashtag #womenleaders glowed on screens around the chamber, multiple speakers cited the same sobering statistic: Given the current rate of female representation at the highest levels of power, it could take the world 130 years to reach gender parity.
Speaking first, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland urged nations to consider lessons learned in her country, where female officials served in primary roles in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Iceland chose not to shutter preschools, primary schools or domestic abuse shelters in order to maintain vital services that primarily affect women, she said. Jakobsdóttir also noted that incidents of rape in Iceland dropped by 43% during the pandemic, which she attributed to the closure of bars and clubs.
Aruba’s Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes, in contrast, directed the chamber’s attention toward the future. After acknowledging that leaders are grappling with simultaneous challenges from Covid-19, climate change, and conflict, she said, “I’m asking myself — are we preparing enough female leaders to take over?”
“We climbed to the top … and there will come a time when we have to take the elevator back down. Are we doing enough in our positions now to prepare women? We cannot leave it to chance,” she said.
Hungarian President Katalin Novák focused on family, calling on leaders to make it possible for women to have both children and fulfilling professional lives, citing examples of Hungary’s financial incentives for women who have multiple children.
“If we give up on having children, we won’t have daughters to fulfill what we started,” she said, describing the need for a world in which her daughter “won’t have to prove at every moment that she is capable.”
Novak also reflected on the event itself: “I hope that in later years that this room will be filled with women leaders,” she said, adding that perhaps one day there might no longer be a need for a separate event for women leaders at all.