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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Remarks > 2001-2005 International Women's Issues Remarks

Fighting International Trafficking, Oppression, Illiteracy and Impoverishment of Women

Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S Representative to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women
Remarks at the 59th Session of United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Geneva, Switzerland
April 10, 2003

Thank you Madame Chair. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the human rights of women at this 59th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

It is my honor to represent the United States in forums that address the social, educational, economic, and political status and concerns of women. Women make up over half the population in countries around the world. But in too many places, they remain oppressed, subject to violence, and denied the education and economic opportunities necessary to improve their lives. The United States is committed to the principle that women and girls must have equality of opportunity for success.

Strong communities, strong economies and progress towards true democracy depend on the full participation of women. Families are better served and children better nourished and educated when women's equal rights and fundamental freedoms are secure.

President Bush has repeatedly said that respect for women is a non-negotiable demand of human dignity and a foreign policy imperative. Respect for women is not only in keeping with the deeply
held values of the American people, it is -- as Secretary Powell has emphasized -- strongly in the U.S. national interest.

The United States has a long and successful record of advancement of women and girls, particularly in education, economic opportunity, health and safety, and political participation. We know the problems
that women face in these areas. The real challenge is to find solutions.

As a former teacher I know that education is the foundation for success. Unfortunately, as Secretary Powell noted last year, two thirds of the one billion illiterate people in the world are women and
girls. Depriving girls of an education has many serious consequences. In Secretary Powell's words, "dramatically increasing literacy among women and girls must be a major global priority, and placed at the top of national development agendas."

Indeed, among the first major initiatives undertaken by President Bush when he took office was to gain passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. He wanted to ensure that schools were meeting the needs of every child in the United States. U.S. programs in many countries teach basic literacy skills, improve teacher training, and provide educational uses of technology. By rejoining UNESCO in October, we
hope to work with that organization to advance child literacy internationally, as well.

While maintaining central roles in their families, women are increasingly breaking new ground and assuming leadership positions in many fields. Yet they can still be subjected to gender discrimination
and violence.

Trafficking in women, domestic abuse, harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, so-called "honor crimes," rape, forced abortion and sterilization, and other horrific acts threaten
the health and lives of women and girls. Such violence often goes unchecked due to indifference of state officials and failure to investigate and prosecute cases seriously.

In the United States, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and of 2000 to address domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in a comprehensive way. Local governments also are passing tough laws. Women who are victims can find shelters and counseling
provided by the private sector, including non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups and community groups.

The United States assists other countries by providing funding and training for police, lawyers, judges, medical personnel, crisis center personnel and government officials on overcoming domestic violence. We also support shelters for abused women overseas.  Women who are beaten in their homes or attacked on the streets, raped, trafficked, or subjected to other forms of violence cannot participate
effectively in the political process, the economy, or the social life of a country. Trafficking, in particular, violates human rights and denigrates the dignity of women by treating them as commodities.

Recognizing the magnitude of the global problem, the U.S. is committed to working with other countries to eliminate trafficking.  The U.S. Congress has recognized this scourge and its effect on women
and children, passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. As Secretary Powell said on the release of the 2002 Trafficking in Victims Report, "Trafficking leaves no land untouched, including our
own. Approximately 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year. Here and abroad, the victims of trafficking toil under inhuman conditions -- in brothels, sweatshops, fields and even in
private homes."

Recently, the U.S. Department of State hosted a major international conference on new strategies in the global fight against trafficking in women for sexual exploitation.  Because many victims are entrapped by traffickers' false promises of better jobs, the United States is encouraging nations to foster economic opportunity at home by promoting free markets, property rights, and equal access to education and employment for women and girls.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 highlights the plight of women suffering in conflict situations and the beneficial role they can have in decision-making processes. Participation of women is necessary in
all activities, from design and implementation of programs in conflict and post-conflict situations to making sure they are beneficiaries of those programs.

A major obstacle to development that affects all, but particularly affects women, is HIV/AIDS. Violence against women especially contributes to their vulnerability to the infection. Women who are trafficked, raped by, or have intimate partners who are infected are at high-risk for contracting HIV.  Over two million women living with HIV/AIDS give birth each year, passing on HIV to over 700,000 newborns. Reducing mother to child transmission is a major U.S. priority. That is why President Bush
announced his $500 million International Mother to Child Transmission Initiative, which dedicates funding specifically to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to their newborns.

In addition, President Bush announced in his State of the Union address an "Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief," a five-year $15 billion initiative to help heavily afflicted countries in Africa and the Caribbean to wage and win the war against HIV/AIDS.  Expanding women's political participation around the globe is also an important goal. Promoting women's rights through political participation improves not only the lives of women, but also those of their families, communities and societies throughout the world. A
country cannot become a true democracy if over half its population are purposefully silenced. To build well-organized civil societies, women's collective voice must be heard in the political process.

The United States supports initiatives in many countries that expand women's political skills and their ability to run for and serve in public office. Women who do not know how to vote and run for office
need to be given the necessary tools. One way the U.S. seeks to provide such tools is through public-private partnerships such as the U.S. Afghan Women's Council. This partnership brings U.S. women from government, business and other sectors together with Afghan women to help them obtain education and leadership skills long denied them.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 highlights the importance of involving women in helping their societies recover and rebuild after devastating civil strife. But it is unlikely to happen
unless they have already learned the basic elements of participatory democracy and understand the beneficial role that they can have in the decision making process.  Women and their children have the best chance to thrive in societies where fundamental freedoms, human rights, property rights, equality,
and freedom from violence are ensured. As a delegate to the UN Commission on Human Rights and as the U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, my mission is to strive to ensure that women -- who in many countries are horrendously oppressed -- have full access to economic, social and political rights. These rights, which we take for granted in free societies, allow all individuals to go as far and as fast as their energies and talents will take them. 

Thank you Madame Chair.

Released on April 10, 2003

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