Every year, representatives from United Nations member states, UN bodies, and civil society organizations gather in New York for the two-week session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year I attended my first CSW and was privileged to co-lead the U.S. Delegation with our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power. We were also joined by our Deputy Head of Delegation, Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens, the U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The CSW seeks to improve women’s political participation, economic opportunity, social development, health, and education. The 2014 CSW reviewed challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for 2015and to help define Post-2015 Development Agenda.
I spent the first week of the CSW meeting with representatives of other governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector to advance U.S. foreign policy priorities on women and girls. We were especially proud to co-host an event on the Equal Futures Partnership with the Government of Denmark. The panel discussion, which also included representatives from the governments of Australia, Peru, and Tunisia, as well as from the World Bank and UN Women, took a hard look at how gender-based violence impacts the ability of women to participate politically and economically in their societies. One of my favorite parts of CSW was meeting with dynamic young women and girls from across the United States who had come to the CSW to ensure that challenges shared by girls worldwide are addressed in a comprehensive and meaningful way in the new Post-2015 Development Agenda.
After lengthy negotiations the member states of the CSW reached consensus on the Commission’s principal outcome document, known as the “Agreed Conclusions.” This document notes that the MDGs have made some good progress -- including on primary education enrollment, decreasing child deaths and maternal mortality, and slowly increasing women’s representation in government. Disappointingly, the Commission failed to agree to language recognizing the unique challenges faced by members of certain groups, including LGBT women and girls.
The Agreed Conclusions recognize that more progress must be made on issues such as violence against women and girls, including child, early, and forced marriage; universal access to sexual and reproductive health services; and women’s economic empowerment. The conclusions also acknowledge the significance of ensuring that women and girls have access to comprehensive sexual health education, equal pay for equal work, and participation in decision-making so that women and girls are fully able to enjoy their human rights.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon noted when he opened the CSW: “We cannot achieve a world of dignity for all until we end gender inequality in all its forms.” The United States could not agree more, and that is why we strongly support a stand-alone goal for gender equality, as well as the integration of gender throughout the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We recognize that until gender equality and women’s empowerment is fully met, progress will be slow and uneven across the board. This means continuing our work on the unfinished business of the MDGs -- including by expanding girls’ access to education at all levels. We must also tackle those issues, such as ending gender-based violence, not originally addressed in the MDGs that we know hinder gender equality. Ending gender-based violence is high on this list.
The United States remains fully committed to advancing the status of women and girls and promoting gender equality across all of our U.S. foreign assistance efforts. These commitments build on approaches institutionalized in the State Department Gender Policy Directive, USAID’s Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, the U.S. Government’s Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence, the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and other essential gender strategies embedded across our programs and investments, like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
The United States will continue to work through multilateral bodies, such as the CSW, and collaboratively with other governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector to make certain gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is at the forefront of the new Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Agreed Conclusions and the CSW were a critical step to making this a reality.