External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressed the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and said women empowerment was central for a nation’s growth.

1. Congratulated President of UNGA

The external affairs minister began her address at the Assembly first by congratulating Ma Fernanda Espinosa on assuming the position as the President of the 73rd Session of the UNGA. Swaraj reflected that the first woman to occupy this eminent chair was an Indian Smt. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, in 1953.

2. On empowerment of women

  • Swaraj said it is women empowerment that is the key to a nation’s development. “At the heart of PM Modi’s transformative vision is a radical idea: that the upliftment of any nation is best achieved through the all-round empowerment of women,” she said.
  • She highlighted various schemes, in India, that have an agenda for women’s welfare at their core. She named the Ujjwala scheme, through which 50 million gas connections have been provided so far.

The uplift of any nation is best achieved through the all-round empowerment of women,” she said.

  • Swaraj also shared information about schemes such as Skill Development Programme and Mudra Programme which aid in the skill development of citizens and help the poor turn into entrepreneurs. “Over 140 million Indians have taken Mudra loans and 76 per cent of the beneficiaries are women,” she stated.
  • The minister brought in the topic of maternity leave benefits saying that at a time when some developed nations, with huge economies, do not offer more than six weeks paid maternity leave, India is implementing the Maternity Benefit Scheme. This scheme allows women to get 26 weeks of paid leave to care for their newborn. “In India, we have implemented what women across the world need,” she said.

3. On Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, are a universal call by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for action to protect the planet, end poverty, improve health, education and ensuring that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Policy experts and analysts have observed that the global success in achieving the 2030 agenda is highly dependable on India’s performance. Addressing the assembly, Swaraj shared information on various initiatives and programmes launched that live upto the targets of the SDGs.

  • She told the 193-member UN body that under PM Modi’s leadership, India had commenced unmatched economic and social transformation. This, she said, will help the country achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) much before time.
  • “A common refrain, from 2015, has been that we will reach that horizon only if India finds its way to this destination. Otherwise, we shall fail. I assure this august gathering that India will not let you fail. We are totally committed to achieving these objectives for our own people,” she assured.

Schemes

  • Swaraj stated how through the ‘Jan Dhan Yojana’, which is supposedly the world’s largest financial inclusion scheme, over 320 million Indians now have bank accounts. The scheme, she said, has enabled the poor to receive allotments from the government’s welfare programmes into their personal accounts, through Direct Benefit Transfer. This, according to her, has ended waste and corruption in the system.
  • The minister also cited the example of ‘Ayushmaan Bharat’, the world’s biggest health insurance programme. The programme, which was launched on September 23, is a revolutionary scheme, according to her. She shared how 500 million Indians will benefit from it as they will get an insurance cover of Rs. 500,000 per family per year. “We have a prayer in India: Sarve Santu Niramaya, which means, all should be healthy. The Ayushman Bharat Yojana is the answer to this prayer,” she said.

New India

  • Another scheme she spoke of was India’s housing scheme aimed at ensuring everyone has a roof above their heads. The government, under this, she said, has set a target of building nearly 21 million homes by 2022. “So far, over five million homes for the poor have already been constructed,” she stated.
  • Swaraj also shared PM Modi’s vision of building a ‘New India’ by 2022 as the country will mark its 75 years of independence. This ‘New India’, she reflected, will be ‘Swachh Bharat, Swasth Bharat’ (clean India, healthy India), ‘Samarth Bharat, Surakshit Bharat’ (prosperous India, secure India), ‘Shikshit Bharat, Viksit Bharat’ (educated India, developed India), ‘Urjawan Bharat, Shaktiman Bharat'(energised India, strong India). “That is our horizon for India in 2022. We will reach that horizon,” she added.

4. On the challenge of climate change

The biggest challenge of our era, she expressed, comes from existential threats of climate change and terrorism. Swaraj pressed that, together, the nations must save the world from adverse effects of climate change. “The developed nations must lift the deprived with financial and technical resources,” she urged.

5. On cross-border terrorism and Pakistan

  • The external affairs minster did not keep away from expressing anger against Pakistan. She adamantly spoke of how our neighbouring country glorifies killers and thus terrorism. “Who can be a greater transgressor of human rights than a terrorist? Pakistan refuses to see the blood of innocents,” she said. 
  • “We are accused of sabotaging the process of talks. This is a complete lie. We believe that talks are only rational means to resolve the most complex of disputes. Talks with Pakistan have begun many times. If they stopped, it was only because of their behaviour.”

She urged accountability of terrorists and their protectors through international law

  • She cited the instance of Pakistan sheltering Osama bin Laden, America’s most dangerous enemy. “What America perhaps could not comprehend was that Osama would get sanctuary in a country that claimed to be America’s friend and ally: Pakistan,” she reflected.
  • “On one hand, we want to fight terrorism; on the other, we cannot define it. This is why terrorists with a price on their head are celebrated, financed and armed as liberation heroes by a country that remains a member of the United Nations.”

6. On United Nations’ functioning

  • Swaraj emphasised that the importance and value of the institution that UN stands for, is slowly declining. She pressed on the need for UN to start functioning like a family.
  • She urged for better reforms and quick changes that are required in the security council.
  • India, she said, believes that the whole world is one family. “A family runs on love and compassion. United Nation can’t run on ‘I, me, myself’ notion, developed countries should help developing nations,” she added.
  • She concluded by insisting that the UN General Assembly has to be made into a platform of understanding, assistance and true justice where nations understand each others’ pain and work with developed countries to ease and eliminate this pain. “Arrogance has no place in our scheme of things; arrogance is counter-productive and self-defeating. Let us work for the benefit of the less fortunate. Let us work for a world where there is peace, serenity and shared prosperity; a world that is free from terrorism, tension and violence,” she said.

Featured image credit: General Assembly of the United Nations official.

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