Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) – Beijing+15 Regional Review Meeting

Geneva, November 2-3, 2009
U.S. Statement

Thank you, Chair.

First, I would like to thank the Secretariat for all the preparations for this meeting, including the excellent background documents.

I welcome the opportunity to speak before the ECE Regional Review Meeting.

The United States looks forward to participating in Beijing+15 next March. We are pleased that it will emphasize the “sharing of experiences and good practices, with a view to overcoming remaining obstacles and new challenges.”

Let there be no doubt—there are plenty of “remaining obstacles and new challenges.” But, it is good that Beijing+15 will be a forum also for sharing experiences and good practices.

In this regard, we note that, during the past two months, the United Nations has taken significant steps to improve the lives of women and girls. On September 30, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1888, which strengthens existing UN tools to address sexual violence as a tactic of war. And, on October 5, the Council adopted Resolution 1889, to increase the role and contribution of women in conflict resolution and peace-building.

The fact that these resolutions are needed demonstrates that women are often victims of horrific human rights violations—particularly in situations of armed conflict—and that they are more often than not excluded from peace negotiations and reconstruction efforts.

But, the fact that these resolutions were adopted with broad support is a positive sign. It demonstrates first that the international community recognizes there is a clear link between maintaining international peace and security and preventing and responding to sexual violence used as a tactic of war, and second that women must be full participants in conflict resolution, peace negotiations, and peace-building.

At the Beijing Women’s Conference, 14 years ago, we proclaimed that “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” It was a powerful moment. Beijing was a catalyst for women’s empowerment. It led to changes in laws, attitudes, and outcomes.

But, despite significant improvements, human rights abuses, discrimination, and challenges continue to impede women’s full participation in political, economic, and social life. Today, there is a growing awareness around the world that the status of women is a global issue that cannot be ignored—that peace, security, prosperity, economic growth cannot be achieved without the full and equal participation of women. To achieve this goal, we need everyone’s contribution and participation—women and men, people of all ages and from all nations and from every walk of life.

Women are drivers of economic growth. Research from the World Bank, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and from major companies—such as Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and Ernst and Young—correlates investments in women with favorable outcomes for economic growth, good governance, and democratic progress.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) reported in 2007 that barriers to employment for women cost the region $42 to $47 billion annually. A further $16 to $30 billion a year is lost through gender gaps in education. This is further evidence that poverty reduction goals cannot be achieved without women’s equality. Clearly, investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.

I would like to talk briefly about three very positive (and relatively recent) initiatives: (1) the role of the private sector, (2) financial inclusion, and (3) the role of non-traditional allies—including men and religious leaders.

Role of the Private Sector:

First, the role of the private sector: The United Nations, individual countries, the private sector, foundations, academic institutions have embarked on a number of partnerships to improve the lives of women and girls. These partnerships range from large to small-scale. To give just one example:

Last year, Goldman Sachs embarked on a significant new initiative entitled “10,000 Women,” which has two goals: increasing the number of under-served women receiving education in business and management and improving the quality and capacity of business and management education around the world. Expanding the entrepreneurial talent and managerial pool in developing and emerging economies—especially among women—is one of the most important means to reducing inequality and ensuring more shared economic growth.

Every investment that is made in an emerging woman business leader in the developing world has a multiplier effect. Beyond the fact that women reinvest up to 90 percent of their income in their families and communities, we know that she will “pay that investment forward” by investing in others. She will be an employer, a mentor, a role model, and an inspiration for others.

Public-private partnerships are the best way to advance women’s roles as economic agents. In these times of scarce resources and mounting challenges, it is even more important to redouble our efforts in working with the private sector, multilateral institutions, and civil society to advance women’s empowerment.

Financial Inclusion

Public-private partnerships are also helping to increase financial inclusion. An estimated 2.5 billion people do not have access to savings accounts and other financial services.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working with a wide range of public and private partners to harness technology and innovation to make safe places to save and other financial services accessible to poor people in the developing world. This will enable them to manage life’s risks and take advantage of life’s opportunities.

Basic financial services can be a foundation for rising incomes, investments in education and health, and a means to cope with sudden financial shocks. In addition to improving overall quality of life, financial services are a means towards economic citizenship for millions of people.

If we are serious about making shared prosperity and social inclusion our priorities, we must ensure that women are gaining access to the opportunities to become part of the formal financial system and to participate in trade and other income-generating activities.

Role of Non-Traditional Allies:

Third, the role of non-traditional allies—including men and religious leaders. It is not just organizations that are moving forward. It is individual men and women, and what we may once have thought of as “non-traditional” partners — religious leaders. In September 2008, leaders of the world’s religions, on the occasion of the UN High-Level Event on the MDGs, pledged to help stop violence against women. Recognizing this commitment as a moral imperative rooted in their respective religious traditions, they called on governments to take effective action to eliminate violence against women—and noted that violence against women is linked to HIV/AIDS, poverty, and armed conflict.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has formed a Network of Men Leaders who will work to inspire men everywhere through their commitment to eliminating violence against women and girls. There are already success stories. Instituto ProMundo, a Brazilian NGO, works to engage men—particularly young men in Rio’s favela communities—in promoting gender equality and preventing violence against women, youth, and children. Because of its success, it has been replicated in more than 20 countries.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference, we must harness this burgeoning worldwide recognition of the critical importance of women’s empowerment. At Beijing+15, we should look at creative ways to increase these new partnerships with the private sector, religious leaders, and men to mobilize greater support for the advancement of women.

Political Will:

We must also muster up political will in our own countries. The United States remains committed to improving the lives of women and girls. Earlier this year, President Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls—headed by a Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President, and including as its members all Cabinet-level officials—to provide a coordinated Federal response to issues that have a distinct impact on the lives of women and girls.

In addition, President Obama created a position of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues—recognizing the imperative of integrating women’s issues into U.S. foreign policy. As Secretary of State Clinton said: “The United States must be an unequivocal and unwavering voice in support of women’s rights in every country on every continent.”

De Jure and De Facto Equality

The unfinished agenda of the Beijing Platform for Action includes the gap between de jure and de facto equality. Many states have passed laws to end discrimination against women, but oftentimes those laws have not been enforced. At Beijing+15, we must commit our governments to vigorously implement and enforce those laws.

At the most recent session of the Human Rights Council, the United States co-sponsored a resolution entitled “Elimination of Discrimination Against Women,” which brings attention to the fact that fifteen years after the Beijing Conference, legal discrimination against women still remains prevalent. We believe that the Council should create a mechanism to address this very important issue, and we hope that the resolution we adopted last month is the beginning of a process that will result in its creation. We will continue to work with others in the HRC to take strong action to promote and protect the rights of women.

UN’s Institutional Arrangements to Support Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women:

Finally, we must strengthen the UN’s capacity to support gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The United States welcomes the General Assembly “System-Wide Coherence” resolution to create a composite entity, led by an Under-Secretary General, to support gender equality and the empowerment of women. We now need to work hard to make this vision a reality on behalf of the world’s women and girls. We urge the Secretary General to appoint a qualified, capable, energetic, experienced person to be the new leader of the organization and to get the planning underway immediately. To build on the momentum of reforming the UN’s gender institutions, we look forward to intergovernmental deliberations beginning soon so that member states can work out the many details, including questions of staffing, funding, governance, and reporting lines. The United States will work with other Member States towards the goal of adopting a resolution by March that will establish the composite gender entity and of having the entity up and running by next fall.

As President Obama said in his speech to the General Assembly, “this Assembly’s Charter commits each of us ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.’” President Obama made a point of specifically citing among those fundamental rights “the opportunity for women and girls to pursue their own potential.” Streamlining work on women’s rights and equality into a single empowered unified entity fits with our broader interest in making sure that the United Nations is able to deliver on this vital part of its mandate. At the same time, we should ensure gender is mainstreamed and stays on the agenda in the Security Council and throughout the UN system. We are facing increasingly interconnected global challenges – poverty, disease, climate change, violence, conflict – that demand a top notch UN, one that is able to make real differences in people’s lives around the world. The new composite entity will be an important part of this broader vision.