Maria Fernanda Espinosa, United Nations leader

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In the 73 years that the United Nations has been existence, only four women have taken on the role of President of the General Assembly. In 2018, Maria Fernanda Espinosa became the fourth woman to be elected as such. During her tenancy, she not only tackled important global issues our world faces today, she's inspired the next generation of Latinas who want to have a voice on the world stage. "I organized, for the first time ever, a summit with the female heads of state and government with the purpose of mentoring younger women that are interested in politics and doing international work," she tells HOLA! USA. 

Maria Fernanda Espinosa is only the fourth woman to take on the role of President of the General Assembly

Before becoming the president of the UN, Maria had a long illustrious career in politics. She was the Minister of National Defense of Ecuador for two years from 2012 to 2014 and then served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under President of Ecuador Lenín Moreno from May 2017 to June 2018. She was then requested by several countries to put her name forward for the GA Presidency and received the overwhelming majority of votes from the 193 member states. In September 2019, her term will end, but she leaves an incredible legacy.

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Keep reading to find out more about the woman who has the power to rally different nations and inspire people across the world...

HOLA! USA: What’s the most challenging thing about being President of the GA?
"The General Assembly is what I call the parliament of humanity. It brings together 193 member states, and your role as president is to lead the agenda and to make sure that the 193 member states agree on the fundamental issues of the agenda. As president, you receive more than 50 mandates to organize high-level events and ministerial meetings on the most diverse issues of the international agenda—a conference on migrants and refugees, administerial level meetings on climate change, a gathering of the multilateral financial institutions with middle-income countries, to name a few. I have to be a facilitator, a bridge and a leader to find agreement on the most compendious issues. Being only the fourth woman in the 73 years of the organization, it was perhaps a very special challenge for me to be successful and to do the work right."  

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your tenure?
"I would say the current challenges we face, that humanity faces. Climate change, migration and refugees, conflict, peace and security challenges and terrorism. All of these major challenges require multilateral action, collective action and greater cooperation. I was able to experience firsthand why the UN is irreplaceable and why the multilateral system is needed more than ever and that we do need greater cooperation and a strong system to address these global challenges."

Amal Clooney has stood before the General Assembly before—did you build a relationship with her?
"I did meet her briefly, and I think she does outstanding work. She’s one of our key spokesperson, especially for women in conflict and for violence against women. She’s among the many voices of the UN that we really are very thankful for. Other notable names that are devoting time, energy and supporting the work of the UN are Angelina Jolie who does extraordinary work with refugees and Leonardo DiCaprio who works with climate change, oceans and the environment. I have myself teamed up with Adrian Grenier for a global campaign I ran against plastic pollution and for saving the oceans. It is very important that the work of the UN captures the interest and the imagination of public opinion and celebrities and people like them are of great help."

Being only the fourth woman in the 73 years of the organization, it was a very special challenge for me to be successful and to do the work right," she tells HOLA! USA

Who is the most surprising person to step into the UN and take an audience?
"We received a group of young Palestinian refugees that depend on the UN's support to go to school and they came to ask for funds because their schooling and food depends on the humanitarian support that the UN provides. We have also had young artists, music players, pianists and people from around the world that visit the UN and bring this reality perspective to the work that the UN does."

What will you most cherish about your time there?
"I would say the opportunity to experience firsthand how the UN can transform the lives of people and can protect people in very difficult situations. What we do on the ground really protects the lives of millions. And that has really enriched me in both ways. Even spiritually I have to say, it has been an incredible human and political experience." 

Specific place that has had an impact on you?
"Several. One is my meeting with internally displaced persons in Lake Chad. That was extremely touching to see how these refugee women, or displaced women, have to deal with violence and security everyday. But inspite of that, they are very much connected to agriculture—they provide food for their families and kids and they are involved in handcraft projects. They are productive and they work together as women."

Do you have any advice for young Latina women who are considering a career in politics?
"Oh absolutely, we need more women in decision-making positions and we do need more women in politics. Countries are multi-cultural, multilingual, like this very country and we need this diversity to be represented at the highest level of politics. It is about commitment, it is about passion, it is about really wanting to change and improve society, to fight inequality, to fight racism. Women have proved that we are fit for purpose, that we can really make the difference. It is not only about numbers, about quotas, it is about the possibility of a different leadership that cares about women's rights and that cares about human rights. So a strong core for young women to really, really be in the spaces where they are needed. And that requires commitment, audacity and hard work. But it is not impossible. We can do it."

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"I’ve published several poetry books. Each book has a theme. I started my first phase as a poet writing about the tropical rainforests"

You’re an essayist—what do you enjoy to write about?
"I do write essays, but I’m more well known as a poet. I’ve published several poetry books. Each book has a theme. I started my first phase as a poet writing about the tropical rainforests. That’s where I lived and worked with indigenous people at the time. My last poetry book is called Tortured Geography and it’s very much about travel. It’s like a collection of postcards written in poetry in a way, so that’s my last book. And it is about the world—the difference and the diversity—but also about the suffering of people around the world." 

What’s next for you after your term ends in September?
"I haven’t taken a final decision yet, but you know, whatever I do, I hope it will be connected to the work of the United Nations, and how to strengthen the multilateral system from wherever I am in whatever position. I think that’s going to continue to be my responsibility, my path, my option for the future."

What is your hope for the future?
"The UN is an institution that we created ourselves after the second World War with the basic objective to build a peaceful world and not to repeat the World War horror that humanity experienced. So I think that I am a stubborn optimist because we need to continue to work towards a better future, a better world, a better society."

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