In his proclamation for Women’s History Month on March 2, President Obama said, "Our nation's commitment to women's rights must not end at our own borders, and my Administration is making global women's empowerment a core pillar of our foreign policy."
At this year’s session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the United States demonstrated that commitment, with a high-level and engaged delegation and with bold leadership across a range of issues. We focused on the most glaring challenges women still face: the lack of economic empowerment, equal rights, violence against women and maternal mortality.
As Ambassador Susan Rice noted, every year, an estimated 530,000 women die from largely preventable complications during pregnancy or childbirth. This means that somewhere in the world, a woman dies from pregnancy-related conditions once every minute. The U.S.-led resolution, the cornerstone of our work at the 54th session, calls for the elimination of maternal mortality and morbidity through the empowerment of women. It urges leaders to tackle this problem through renewed political will, increased resources and access to women’s sexual and reproductive health services, and a shared determination to confront the underlying causes of gender inequality, including sexual violence against women.
On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of top diplomats and delegates detailing the global progress that has been made since the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. Secretary Clinton highlighted ways in which women and girls around the world have heeded the call to action issued in Beijing – from bringing peace to Liberia, to taking a stand against child marriage in Yemen, to founding microcredit cooperatives throughout the developing world. But, she noted that inequalities, discrimination, and oppression still exist. Secretary Clinton spoke about the way in which we are integrating women throughout our foreign policy – in our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in our work to prevent violence against women and girls in conflict, and in our Global Health Initiative, food security program, and response to the crisis of climate change. And she urged that we must say with one voice that "women’s progress is human progress and human progress is women’s progress, once and for all."
Also at this year’s Session, the United States was steadfast in pushing for the creation of a more robust, efficient and effective agency at the UN to advance women’s equality and opportunities. Ambassador Rice said the new agency must be "swiftly established, well staffed, and sufficiently resourced. A key component will be the prompt appointment of a dynamic, high-level person as Under-Secretary-General to head it…we are working diligently to make it happen."
We were fortunate to have a high-level and top notch team to advance our efforts during CSW, led by Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice. The team included Melanne Verveer, Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues, and Deputy Heads of Delegation Ambassador Rick Barton and Ambassador Meryl Frank. The U.S. delegation also included five experienced public delegates: Beth Brooke, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young; Ellen Chesler, distinguished lecturer at Hunter College; Connie Evans, President and CEO of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity; Geeta Rao Gupta, President of the International Center for Research on Women; and Asifa Quraishi, founding member of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers. We were also joined by key advisors: Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President; Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women; and Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
As Ambassador Rice summarized, our work at CSW was driven by the goal of realizing "a world where women and girls everywhere can fulfill their potential, free of fear, free of want, and with the opportunity to live their own dreams. Many in this country may take those opportunities for granted. But when women are held back anywhere, the world is held back."
Jennifer Simon is a Senior Advisor to Ambassador Susan Rice, and serves as the Ambassador’s representative on the White House Council on Women and Girls