As officials and diplomats from across the planet convene in New York for the 69th UN General Assembly (UNGA) this week, some may not be thinking about how to solve challenges faced by women and girls. But they should be. With data clearly showing the important role women and girls play in peace and prosperity, organizers have planned several high-level events to tackle issues facing women and girls. We face an historic opportunity to make change and we must capitalize on it.
The challenges to women and girls are well known. Daunting barriers still prevent women’s full participation in the political and economic life of countries across the globe. In too many places girls are being denied the same education opportunities as boys. And when instability or conflict erupts, they face threats of rape, abuse, sexual exploitation, and even slavery. For these reasons, women’s issues must be integrated into all areas of our foreign policy and inform our engagement with leaders, the development community, and the broader public all over the globe. The challenges faced by women and girls must also be fully addressed if we hope to attain the UN’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
Secretary Kerry began the week by hosting the Call to Action, a meeting that will bring together government ministers, UN officials, and NGO leaders. He highlighted new funding for his Safe from the Start initiative to prevent and respond to gender-based violence from the very outset of humanitarian emergencies. The effort, announced at last year’s UNGA, addresses a massive gap between the many threats to women and girls in emergencies and the resources that currently exist to help vulnerable persons. Progress on Safe from the Start shows the U.S. is delivering on our commitment to the Call to Action. We will also hear updates on progress from other governments and humanitarian agencies at this event.
At the Equal Futures Partnership ministerial dialogue later on Monday, Secretary Kerry is meeting with world leaders striving to increase opportunities for women in the public and private spheres. These countries -- from Japan to Mexico to Tunisia -- recognize the importance of women to economic growth, stability, and peace.
With Equal Futures entering its third year, the United States is excited to welcome new partners. We now stand with 27 partners committed to expanding women’s political and economic participation through innovative policy, legal, and regulatory reforms. We’ll hear from Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, on U.S. domestic initiatives aimed at ensuring that women and girls enjoy equal opportunities. We will hear from some of the new members, such as Chile, Switzerland and the United Kingdom about why they have joined Equal Futures. We’ll exchange lessons learned and best practices from governments that have worked together to provide opportunities for women and girls so that they can realize their full potential.
Our job -- as U.S. diplomats and as citizens of the world -- is to ensure that our collective efforts this week result in more than just words. We need action if we hope to meaningfully address gender-based violence, sexual violence in conflicts, reduce poverty. and provide opportunities for economic growth. We have to pool our resources to effect positive change. Our planet’s peace and prosperity depends on it.
About the Authors: Catherine M. Russell serves as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and Anne C. Richard serves as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.