Ambassador Hamamoto: Bringing Down Legal Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment

Ambassador Pamela HamamotoBringing Down Legal Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment
Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto

International Trade Centre, Geneva
Monday, January 16, 2017

Thank you all for joining us this morning.  As Michael Moller mentioned, this is likely my last public event as U.S. Ambassador here in Geneva, and I could not imagine being in better company – sharing the stage with a brilliant and passionate group of leaders who give me hope.  With committed leaders such as the ones you’ve heard from this morning, working together across sectors, changing laws and changing minds, I am hopeful that we can in fact – finally – bend the arc of history toward greater gender equality and the economic empowerment of women around the world.

We’ve been discussing legal barriers and the importance of establishing the right legal frameworks as critical components of our work. As others have discussed, there is a lot currently being done in these areas. But unfortunately, when it comes to overall progress for women, it often seems we take one step forward, and two steps back.

You may have seen the Oscar-winning documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.  It tells the story of an attempted honor killing…of a Pakistani teenager who was shot by her father and uncle and thrown into a river for having eloped with the man she loved.  Fortunately she survived, but thousands of women are believed to die in such killings every year in Pakistan.  The film shines a spotlight on this brutal practice, and helped spark a recent change in legislation.  The new law will see killers face a minimum sentence of 25 years in jail, closing a loophole that allowed convicts to escape sentences if family members of their victims agreed to forgive them.

After the bill passed, Prime Minister Sharif stated, “Women are the most essential part of our society and I believe in their empowerment, protection and emancipation so that they can equally contribute towards the development and prosperity of our country.”  Though laws on paper don’t always reflect realities on the ground, if Prime Minister Sharif holds true to these words, this will be an important step forward, and one that highlights the role civil society can play in helping bring about change.

Meanwhile, forward progress remains in jeopardy in many parts of the world.  For example, a bill decriminalizing domestic violence recently passed its first reading in Russia’s State Duma. The proposed bill would remove the charge of “battery within families” from Russia’s criminal code and downgrade it to a mere administrative offense, thereby making victims of domestic violence even more vulnerable. This is a step backward for women.

It has been forty years since the UN convened the First World Conference on Women and two decades since the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted, and yet here we are today, still fighting for basic protections and fundamental human rights for women around the world.  This pace of change is unacceptable. This is why it is so important we remain vigilant.  This is why breaking down legal barriers and lifting up women entrepreneurs and business owners must remain a priority.

I believe that we will only accelerate the pace of change if we advance gender equality through a holistic approach, with societies placing a higher value on all the contributions of women and girls.  That is what I set out to do with The Future She Deserves, the U.S. Mission’s signature gender initiative, with its over-arching goal of protecting and empowering women and girls through innovative, cross-cutting engagement from all players here in Geneva.

The Future She Deserves focuses on increasing economic opportunities for women and girls, but also on violence prevention and safety, health care, education and leadership, all of which are preconditions for sustainable development, prosperity, and security across societies. And I hope that you will continue to participate in our Mission’s Future She Deserves events over the coming months.

I also believe that we will not move forward if government, civil society and the private sector don’t commit to working together.  Inclusive partnerships built around a shared vision and common goals are essential. I am encouraged by the powerful messages we heard this morning highlighting more cross-sector collaboration on gender issues than ever before.

Many efforts in 2016 laid the groundwork for transformative change: the global adoption of the SDGs; the work of the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment; continued leadership from UN Women and the UN Global Compact; and of course, the critically important and increasing engagement by the private sector. More than ever, we have frameworks and goals, plans and declarations, studies and data. Now, in 2017, we need courage and conviction, and we need concerted action and bold steps.

Our Geneva Gender Champions network is an example of leaders working together and taking action to drive change.  As you’ve heard, the network currently consists of more than 120 Gender Champions from all regions of the world…a diverse group of men and women from international organizations, government, civil society, academic institutions and business…each with different strengths, commitments and resources, but all united under a common purpose.  We know that none of us can do this alone; that we all have a critical role to play in promoting gender equality.

I’m proud of what this network has already achieved, and am confident that it will continue to grow both here in Geneva, in New York, and across other multilateral hubs, and that it will inspire others to act.

To all our Gender Champions, thank you for joining me in making a personal commitment to this important initiative.  As President Obama has stated many times, “Change is never easy. Progress is not inevitable; it is the result of choices we make together.”

You have chosen to put women’s challenges and opportunities in their rightful place – at the forefront of our missions – at a time when it is imperative to include everyone in the next chapter of global sustainable development, and for that I thank you.

Much work remains, and I look forward to continued close collaboration with many of you here today.  Thank you all for your friendship and support, and I wish you all the best in the year ahead.