Remarks at Women Deliver 2016 Plenary Session, "Making the SDGs Work for Girls and Women: Regional Perspectives

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Copenhagen, Denmark
May 18, 2016

Recently, I traveled to Sudan, where I visited a trauma center that works with both children and adults who have experienced sexual violence. As we toured the center, we passed by a bulletin board that had the usual things you would expect—a brochure, a flyer for an event, inspirational quotes, and so on.

Pinned at the bottom of that bulletin board was a chart of the Sustainable Development Goals—in Arabic.

That is an image I wanted to bring here to Women Deliver. Because it’s a reminder that—while the goals are indeed a global commitment—at the end of the day, they rely on local efforts. For us to succeed, we have to make sure the global goals are local goals.

This morning, we heard about some of the tremendous work happening at the regional, national, and local levels. And we heard how these efforts do not stand alone. They are deeply connected. And they’re surprisingly similar. We heard of the tremendous barriers—the deep, cultural attitudes that stand in the way of gender equality, regardless of the country or region.

Perhaps most importantly, we heard that the Sustainable Development Goals are not a puzzle any one of us can solve—not the UN, not policymakers, not one country or region, and not civil society.

We need everyone at the table, working together, to fully realize the global goals. And as we work, we need to remember that—particularly in a world where borders are increasingly little more than lines on a map—each and every piece of the puzzle matters, even if it’s not our piece.

I know many of you are working on your own part of the chart, your own piece of the puzzle. And because of you, we have made important progress on these issues.

It can be easy to forget about that progress—especially as we read the news, or watch terrible images on TV, and see the challenges facing women and girls today: Women and girls suffering unimaginably at the hands of Boko Haram or ISIL. Women who are trafficked, who live with HIV/AIDS, who lack access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and who suffer violence and abuse. Girls forced into marriage, subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting, or denied an education. And women and girls with no opportunity and even less hope.

But this week offers us a different view. It’s a chance to see that there are 5,000 other people—just like you—working to confront these challenges.

And that’s just at this conference. Around the world, governments, organizations, and individuals are working hard to achieve these goals.

Of course, individual efforts alone won’t get us to the finish line. Coordination and inclusion are key.

One thing I know for sure is that our best chance of making the world a better place for women and girls is to address the challenges facing them comprehensively, and to address these challenges together—with them. And, of course, the success of those efforts will depend on good data.

I want to emphasize that last point, because it is critical. We need more data—particularly gender data that shows us where we are and where we need to go, data that illustrates the experiences of women and girls, both independently and in relation to men and boys.

I’d like to close with a thought that keeps me going when things are tough. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But that bend does not happen on its own. It happens because of you. It happens because women and girls change the course of their own lives. It happens because organizations and individuals around the world hang a chart on a bulletin board and say, “we can do this.” We can do this.

Thank you.