After all, over the last year we’ve watched as the Obama Administration built an entirely new gender architecture, from its creation of a White House Council on Women and Girls, to the endowment of Melanne Verveer as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and the physical and symbolic relocation of the State Department office dealing with those issues from a satellite building to headquarters. We even have a new Congressional subcommittee in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to address, among other things, gender. At a briefing to the US delegation Verveer called this work an unprecedented manifestation of an emerging philosophy that the status of women and girls is “critical to the conduct of our foreign policy. Our efforts for security, the environment, the economy and governance cannot succeed without women fully participating.”
Tremendous! The prayers of civil society have been answered. The pleas and prods of feminist activists have been heard. A global superpower has moved to mainstream women into its efforts to support human rights, development and good governance in the world, both at home and abroad. So, what’s next? What legacy will be born in the house Barack built? I went to the 54th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women hoping to find out.
At the briefing held at the United States Permanent Mission to the United Nations (it seems even governments have found it impossible to secure space for their events at CSW this year), Ambassador Verveer set out the new American gender agenda. Priorities she outlined include food security and agriculture; health; peace and security; violence against women; strengthening U.S. and international gender infrastructure; and climate change.
Food Security and Agriculture: Recognizing that the majority of the world’s poor depend on agriculture, the President has prioritized an investment in agricultural development. The Ambassador underscored that 60-80% of the world’s smallholder farmers are women, and hence the U.S. strategy for food security and agriculture will work to empower them and ensure their access to resources, training and markets.
Health: The Ambassador deplored the global lack of progress on goals to improve women’s health, acknowledging that this is the Millennium Development Goal that “has not moved.” She pointed to a U.S.-sponsored UN resolution that is being proposed to fight HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, and maternal mortality.
Peace and Security: Citing a strong commitment to the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the Ambassador pointed specifically to U.S. plans to support the social, economic and political empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan.
U.S. and U.N. Gender Architecture: The Ambassador expressed support for well-funded, new United Nations gender entity lead by an Under-Secretary General with a seat at the highest decision-making table within the UN framework. She further expressed her own dedication to see through the U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an accord to which all but seven UN member states are states-parties. Finally, she noted that President Obama has declared the Millennium Development Goals, two of which focus explicitly on women, as the United States’ development goals as well.
Violence Against Women: The Ambassador acknowledged that violence against women remains an endemic problem prohibiting the full participation of women in their communities, economies and societies, naming rape as a tool of war, child marriage and honor killings among a number of enduring challenges. “This is a security issue; it is a productivity issue; and it is foremost a human rights issue,” she said.
Climate Change: As the U.S. confronts emerging challenges presented by global climate change, the Ambassador recognized that women bear the brunt of its negative effects. But, she noted, “women are not just the victims but the solutions.” She pointed to emerging initiatives, such as a carbon exchange bank focused on women’s needs, the U.S. is developing to minimize the negative impact of climate change on women and to empower them as part of the solution to this global challenge.
As we look forward to the work ahead of us in this historic year, a year that holds the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals and the 10th Anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, U.S. engagement on these important issues is not only welcome, it is imperative. I look forward to seeing it realized in the days ahead.