Remarks at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
UN Headquarters
New York, NY
March 12, 2015

As prepared

I am here today to reaffirm a simple, but powerful principle: that our collective pursuit of global peace, prosperity, and security will only be successful once we break through the economic, political, and social barriers to gender equality.

Today we remember the milestone that was the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. This year’s 20th anniversary offers an opportunity to place gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of the global agenda. And it’s an opportunity to mobilize political will, engage civil society, and recommit ourselves to the Platform for Action.

As we plan for future action, we also look back at how far we’ve come. On behalf of the United States, I’d like to thank the many organizations, activists, and world leaders who have worked diligently for women’s rights and women’s full participation in society. Because of their efforts, and because of the efforts of many governments here today, we have made commendable progress in advancing the status of girls and women.

Here in the United States, we’ve improved economic opportunities for women and their families. The very first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was a landmark pay discrimination law. President Obama has also broken down barriers for women entrepreneurs, making it easier for women to start and grow their own business. And in his State of the Union he made the case for ensuring access to quality child care and providing support for working families.

We’ve also taken steps to expand access to health care for women and their families. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women can no longer be charged more than men for health insurance just for being a woman, and millions of Americans are getting preventive services such as vaccines, cancer screenings, and yearly wellness visits for free.

Women’s health is an important issue—and so is women’s safety. Two years ago President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The updated law invests $400 million in our efforts to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault. It takes steps to reduce violence against Native American women and ensures that LGBT survivors of violence, and all women, have access to the services they need.

In addition to programs and policies to end gender-based violence, we’re taking action for cultural change. Late last year President Obama launched the “It’s On Us” initiative, an awareness campaign to help put an end to sexual assault on college campuses. “It's On Us” asks everyone—men and women across America—to make a personal commitment to step off the sidelines and be part of the solution to campus sexual assault.

These are some of the measures our country has taken to ensure economic security, safety, and quality of life for women and their families in the United States. But we know there is more to do here at home, and we approach the work of advancing women and girls outside our borders with the recognition that we all have more work to do.

We focus on three key areas that can help us advance women worldwide and ultimately increase peace, security, and prosperity for all.

First, we recognize that gender-based violence is a global pandemic. No country has solved this problem and gender-based violence continues to hinder the ability of women and girls to contribute to their families, communities and societies.

So we’re taking action. In 2012 the Administration launched the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. And we are dedicated to ending sexual violence in conflict by investing in efforts to bring justice to communities and increase access to holistic resources for survivors.

Second, we recognize that women are important agents of change. They are powerful participants, in every realm.

So we’re pouring resources, energy, and expertise into leading the call for women’s participation in decision-making around peace and security. And we are matching diplomatic pressure with corresponding foreign assistance and public diplomacy efforts that mobilize public opinion and advocacy around women’s political and civic roles.

We’re pushing for women’s inclusion in peace talks in places like Burma, Syria, and South Sudan, because we know peace without half the population is no peace at all.

We’re building business networks for women in Africa, the Americas, and Asia, because we know women have boundless potential. We need only unleash it.

And we’re opening women’s entrepreneurship centers in places like Pakistan, Kenya, Vietnam, and Zambia, because we know that one of the greatest exports to come out of the United States is the American entrepreneurial spirit.

We believe that these investments will open doors for women today. But what about the next generation? Today’s adolescent girls are tomorrow’s mayors, business leaders, judges, educators, mothers, and workers. We need to empower them now, while so much is still possible.

We believe that one of the best ways to invest in adolescent girls is through education. We know that a girl with an education can shape her own destiny, lift up her family, and transform her community. That is why President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are championing our efforts to help adolescent girls around the globe attend and complete school through the Let Girls Learn initiative. This new initiative is a government-wide effort that will leverage the investments we have made and success we have achieved in global primary school, and expand them to help adolescent girls complete their education. A key part of Let Girls Learn will be to encourage and support community-led solutions to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing their education.

We also strongly support sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, and reproductive rights. Girls’ health is critical to their future. Yet every year, an astonishing 380,000 adolescent girls and young women are infected with HIV. We’re working to change that. On World Aids Day last year we announced the DREAMS Partnership, a $210 million effort to significantly reduce new HIV infections in adolescent girls and young women.

As we look to the future, we must remember that the path we take is just as important as the destination.

That path needs to include not just some women, but all women. As we advocate for the views and needs of women to be taken into account, we need to pay particular attention to those who are often marginalized: LGBT women, women with disabilities, women from ethnic and religious minorities, older women, and indigenous women and girls. We especially support the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples' invitation to the Commission on the Status of Women to examine the topic of empowering indigenous women.

Our path must also be bold. We’ve seen what’s possible when we commit to progress. We’ve made remarkable and sustained development progress in the Millennium Development Goals these past fifteen years. As we look forward to the next 15 years, it’s clear we have an unprecedented opportunity define a new vision for global development in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

We will not achieve any of our goals, however, if women and girls are not partners in our efforts. That’s why the United States strongly supports gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as a stand-alone goal. And that’s also why we strongly support the integration of gender across all relevant goal and target areas. The United States is committed to using this year’s opportunities – including the Financing for Development conference in Addis this July, and the Sustainable Development Goals – to advance global efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030.

Finally, our approach must be data-driven. Secretary Kerry has often said that what gets measured gets done. We need more data and we need better data that analyzes our efforts to advance women and girls. This data will be critical as the international community decides where and how we allocate resources. It will also help us hold ourselves accountable, reveal how to best target and tailor our efforts, and help make the business case to others.

In 20 years, I hope people look back on 2015 as a second Beijing moment. I hope the history books say this was a year of reflection, of finding big and bold ways to push forward. I hope it’s a year of more research and better data, helping us to improve efforts and change minds. And I hope it’s a year when the whole world realizes progress for women and girls is progress for all.

Thank you.