UN General Assembly's opening featured a single female speaker

President Zuzana Caputova is the first female leader of Slovakia. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The global challenge of promoting female leaders was highlighted starkly on Tuesday (Sept 22) at the United Nations General Assembly gathering, where only one of the 34 heads of government speaking was a woman.

In a video message to global leaders, Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova used part of her speech to focus on gender and human rights issues: calling on the world to stand up for the plight of Afghan girls and women at risk from the country's new Taliban government.

"Over the past two decades, girls and women in Afghanistan could exercise their legitimate rights," she said, describing an initiative by her and other female leaders including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Iceland Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.

"These must not be taken away."

The dearth of female leaders globally won't be fixed quickly.

As of Sept 1, only 24 of 193 UN member states have a woman serving as either a head of state or head of government. Those countries include Germany, Bangladesh, Norway and Moldova. According to a December report published by UN Women, 119 countries have never had a woman leader.

At the current rate, gender equality amid the world's highest positions of power wouldn't be reached for another 130 years, UN Women said.

The 48-year-old Caputova, who became known for her efforts to combat a toxic landfill before her rise to the presidency, is the first female leader of Slovakia. Her election in 2019 was widely considered a victory for liberalism and democracy for both the nation and Central Europe.

According to the UN's schedule of events, Caputova will be one of just three female heads of government to speak at the General Assembly this week.

The presidents of the Republic of Moldova and the Republic of Estonia, Maia Sandu and Kersti Kaljulaid, are scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

Many other leaders are delegating their speeches to foreign ministers or other officials.

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