Remarks at Leaving No One Behind: Agents of Change for Achieving SDG 5 and the 2030 Agenda

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
United Nations
New York, NY
September 23, 2016

As prepared

It is one thing to read about the challenges facing civil society around the world. It is another to witness it first-hand. But that’s what happened when I traveled to Sudan earlier this year.

Deep in a dusty market in Khartoum, I walked into a small building that housed an organization of women who sell tea on the side of the road. In Sudan, these entrepreneurs are called tea-sellers. And they face incredible challenges—from discrimination to harassment—that make it hard for them to support their families. The organization I visited brings these tea-sellers together so they can join forces and tackle these challenges.

But within two minutes of getting to their office, it was clear something was wrong. We were greeted by a group of men who were part of the security forces. And according to them, we had to leave. So we traveled to another part of the market to meet these women. Not only did the security forces follow us. They pulled out their cell phones and recorded our entire meeting.

I wanted to bring that image—of struggling tea-sellers, silenced—to our gathering here today. But I also want to bring a second image, from another part of my trip. In Khartoum I toured a trauma center for victims of sexual violence. And in the back of that center, in a small office, there’s a sign hung on a bulletin board. On it is the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – in Arabic.

The fact is that these goals will not be achieved so long as local organizations are silenced. The United States is committed to supporting civil society organizations around the world—especially organizations that are by and for women and girls. And we cannot stand by quietly and watch the space they work in get smaller and smaller. Thank you.