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58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Remarks at the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
UN Headquarters
New York City
March 11, 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the United States on the occasion of the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Today I stand before you to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to the full and effective implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, and to the simple but foundational statement that was so groundbreaking almost 20 years ago.

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

These words are just as true today as they were two decades ago, when then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke them for the first time at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

And just as she did then, today each of us speaks for the women and girls around the world who continue to be denied the opportunity to gain an education, to live free from violence, to obtain employment and escape poverty, or to enjoy equal access to health care, simply because of their gender.

For almost 30 years, this Commission as well as the broader United Nations community has sought to promote gender equality. And thankfully, the progress and commitments we have made together are significant.

By setting blueprints such as the Program of Action adopted during the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, and the landmark 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we have made clear our shared commitment to women’s autonomy and empowerment.

And since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals 15 years ago, and through our specific focus on gender equality through MDG 3, we have helped lift millions of women out of extreme poverty, send millions of girls to primary school, and seen a slow rise in women’s political participation.

But unfortunately, like many blueprints, too many boxes and too many aspirations remain unchecked and under-achieved.

Of the more than one billion people living in extreme poverty today, the majority are women. In fact, poverty continues to increase for women in rural areas. While we have seen unprecedented progress in achieving access to universal primary education, a majority of the 123 million young people unable to read or write today are girls. Secondary education continues to be only an aspiration for far too many girls and young women. The quality of education also remains a serious problem.

Worldwide, we continue to see women overrepresented in informal, unstable sectors of the labor market, and underrepresented at all levels of government.

One in three women worldwide will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, most often by an intimate partner. Some of the most vulnerable women, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender women, experience levels of violence many times greater.

Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.

Addressing early and forced marriage is another profound challenge. There are more than 60 million child brides worldwide, and one in nine girls around the world is married before the age of 15, often facing severe health consequences as a result.

And as we all know, despite a specific “to-do” list we set for ourselves through MDG 5, the least progress has been made on reducing maternal mortality and providing universal access to sexual and reproductive health information, education, and services, including addressing the unmet need for family planning.

Fully meeting the ambitious goals we set for ourselves almost 15 years ago will require a careful review of what has worked and what has not. It will also require us to acknowledge that a tremendous amount of work remains to be done.

We know that countries where women can reach their full potential are more stable and more prosperous. And that is why the United States cannot imagine a Post-2015 development agenda that does not include the equality and empowerment of women and girls as one of its central goals. Furthermore, we believe gender-specific targets should be integrated into other relevant goals.

The United States has made important progress with respect to the MDGs, and we will continue to prioritize these efforts. As Secretary of State John Kerry has said, “gender equality is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability, and peace, and that is why investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing U.S. foreign policy.”

In 2011, the Administration launched our National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Now in our second year of implementation, we have taken concrete actions to institutionalize and better coordinate our efforts to advance women’s inclusion in peace negotiations, peacebuilding activities, conflict prevention, and decision-making institutions.

In 2012, the Obama Administration launched the first-ever U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. And this year, Secretary Kerry launched Safe from the Start, a joint initiative with USAID to strengthen the humanitarian system to prevent and respond to gender-based violence at the very onset of emergencies.

We continue to support programs to improve the quality of clinical care for sexual assault survivors in both refugee camps and communities, to improve data collection on gender-based violence, and to identify best practices on safe shelter to protect survivors.

Through our PEPFAR support, there are now more than 4 million women receiving anti-retroviral treatment. In the last four years, we’ve also provided post-rape care for more than 115,000 survivors to prevent HIV contraction.

The United States also continues to be a leader in providing international family planning assistance.

And of course, the United States fully supports the efforts of the UN to promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls—from the creation of UN Women in 2011, to the establishment of a UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, to demanding accountability when UN personnel engage in sexual exploitation and abuse, to empowering women as equal partners in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Two years ago, we were proud to launch the Equal Futures Partnership at the General Assembly – a multilateral platform to break down barriers to women’s political and economic participation. Today, we are proud to stand with 24 member countries, the European Union, UN Women, the World Bank, and private sector partners in making a committed effort to identify those barriers so we can systematically break them down.

Through our programmatic efforts, we have made great strides in helping others achieve the goals set out 15 years ago. By investing in women’s entrepreneurship through networks like the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, we are providing the skills, training, and tools necessary for women to start and grow their businesses.

Funding has increased women’s leadership of small and medium-sized enterprises, and to higher education programs that cultivate women leaders in business, academia and research. New and innovative efforts have strengthened the skills and capacity of women members of legislatures, and supported the creation of a new female parliamentarian network.

However, each of us recognizes that we have much more to do. A blueprint and a checklist are not enough. We must implement our blueprint, and hold ourselves accountable. We must continue to prioritize women’s and girls’ empowerment as we look to the next 15 years.

We need action, not just by governments but by all parts of society, including the NGO community, religious and faith-based leaders, grassroots organizations, research institutions, and the private sector. And so we are especially thankful for those representatives from civil society with whom we all work. We must also recognize that full gender equality will not be achieved without the support and participation of men and boys who are critical partners in this effort.

The United States looks forward to forging a robust set of Agreed Conclusions that recognize and reaffirm the bold statements of almost 20 years ago. Women and girls are not just a line on our to-do list: they are our mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, and neighbors. They are each of us, and so today, and every day, we speak out and we speak up for each and every one of them.


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