The status and role of women and girls was featured prominently in official events throughout the week in New York, during the opening of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly. Ambassador Rice was pleased to welcome Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council of Women and Girls
, to UN Headquarters to participate in several key events such as meetings with the newly-nominated UN Congressional and Public Delegate teams, roundtables on public-private partnerships, and dinners with key groups to discuss women's and girl's development.
These events build on significant developments which have taken place at the UN in recent weeks. Of particular importance is the UN General Assembly's unanimous vote on September 14th to combine several UN offices and agencies into a new, more powerful agency for women – an initiative which was strongly backed by the United States, under the leadership of Ambassador Rice. Not only will the new agency streamline women's and girl's issues into one agency, but it also raises the office to be a part of the Secretary General's core team – elevating women's issues to their rightful status.
We are excited by this announcement and congratulate the General Assembly on taking this important step in promoting women's rights. Dedicated UN staff are doing great work on behalf of women and girls all around the world – fighting for equality, advancing educational and economic opportunities, and working to prevent domestic violence, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. However, there is always room for improvement to better support those in the field. We need to be more focused, coordinated, and efficient – so that the programs and initiatives that support women can be more effective.
The General Assembly's decision to combine four existing offices into one greater office was a first step in this direction – but it is only a first step toward making a strong women's agency what it needs to be. The General Assembly's vote requested that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon produce a comprehensive proposal over the next year on the new agency's mission, organization, funding, and management. We now need to dig in and work hard to make the vision a reality on behalf of all of the world's women and girls.
As President Obama said in his speech to the General Assembly
earlier this week, "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.'" And the President 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 office fits with our broader interest in making sure that the UN is able to deliver on this vital part of its mandate. 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 newly created women's agency is an important part of this broader vision.
Jennifer Simon is a senior advisor at the State Department and serves as Ambassador Susan Rice's liaison to the Council on Women and Girls