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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

Statement at the 48th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women
Washington, DC
March 4, 2004

Thank you, Madam Chair. I welcome the opportunity to speak at this 48th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Last year in this forum, I outlined initiatives the United States is undertaking to advance the human rights and political, economic, and civil freedoms of women around the world. One of the initiatives I mentioned was a new U.S. proposal for responsible development assistance called the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). The three-year goal of this initiative is to increase, by $5 billion, the amount of U.S. development assistance going to countries that govern justly, invest in their people – particularly their women and children – and promote economic freedom.

Since I gave those remarks, this initiative has been signed into law, the U.S. Congress has appropriated $1 billion for Fiscal Year 2004, and the Bush Administration has asked for $2.5 billion for Fiscal Year 2005. This program, with its focus on education, health, freedom, and justice, offers hope—especially for women, who often lack the skills and resources necessary to better their own lives. Noteworthy in the law is the requirement that the United States, in developing a compact with recipient countries, seek local input from the “rural and urban poor, particularly women.”

Today, I would like to address four additional areas in which the United States seeks to improve the lives of women and girls. These are: preventing trafficking in persons, promoting the role of men in advancing women’s standard of living, addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis, and enabling women’s political empowerment, particularly in post-conflict societies.
 
Trafficking

Trafficking is the silent tragedy our President hoped to focus worldwide attention on when he spoke at the United Nations last fall. It affects hundreds of thousands of women and children – both girls and boys – every year, depriving them of basic human rights and inflicting unspeakable physical and emotional harm. In post-conflict societies, women are particularly vulnerable. Faced with the lack of opportunities at home, they are easily lured by false promises of well-paying jobs abroad. As the annual U.S. Department of State trafficking report illustrates so well, many are then coerced into lives of prostitution, domestic servitude, or other types of forced labor.

The United States is committed to ending this scourge. In his speech before the General Assembly, President Bush committed an additional $50 million to accelerate efforts to rescue women and children from exploitation. U.S. anti-trafficking efforts include providing financial support for shelters and other assistance for victims; training for law enforcement officers; developing public awareness campaigns; and strengthening international cooperation.

Domestically, the President’s Interagency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons brings Cabinet-level attention to the problem to ensure coordination of U.S. anti-trafficking efforts. Under the Trafficking in Persons Protection Act of 2000, nations that are found to suffer from trafficking within their borders must take steps to stem the problem or face possible U.S. sanctions. On March 3, the United States hosted an event at the Commission on “New Approaches in the Fight Against Trafficking.” John Miller, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, moderated the panel. We were fortunate to have panelists from the Swedish government, the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative Regional Center for Combating Transborder Crime (SECI), and International Justice Mission.

Parenting/Role of Men & Boys

One of the Commission’s themes this year is the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality. As we all recognize, men play crucial roles in helping to improve women’s economic, political, and social well being. As fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands, they should be -- and most are -- as outraged as women over the scourge of trafficking, and as concerned about the effects of HIV/AIDS, especially on pregnant mothers and their babies. Men must be part of the solution on HIV/AIDS, not only by changing their own behavior, but also by supporting those, male and female, who are living with HIV/AIDS.

This year we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family. The United States has been working to ensure that this commemorative year rallies worldwide interest in reviewing and implementing policies that will strengthen the family as the basic unit of society. Ensuring that men who become fathers accept their responsibility to their children and support the mother’s role should be part of the effort. As data in countries such as my own well show, there is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of responsible mothers and fathers in a child’s life.

The U.S. delegation looks forward to discussing the role of men and boys in achieving gender equality. We would like to see agreed conclusions that address the institutional and social factors that dissuade men from engaging more fully as responsible, loving, and committed fathers.

HIV/AIDS

Women now account for more than half of new HIV/AIDS infections, which means higher rates of mother-to-child transmission, and greater numbers of children who will find themselves motherless in the future.

The United States, through a new five-year, $15 billion comprehensive program known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, is committed to a multi-faceted approach to combating the disease; continuing bilateral programs; and using multilateral approaches like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The President’s Emergency Plan includes an additional $1 billion to the Global Fund to Fights AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, bringing the total U.S. pledge to that Fund to $1.97 billion.

Statistics estimate that nearly 2,000 babies a day become infected with HIV during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. Most of these children will die before their fifth birthday. As part of the President’s Emergency Plan, at least $500 million will be used for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, funds that will allow 1 million more women to be treated annually and reduce mother-to-child transmission by 40 percent within five years in target countries. 

Women are uniquely vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in societies where they face legal and social barriers to equality of opportunity. One key element in our efforts to reduce this vulnerability is to promote property rights for women. When women have control over their economic assets, they are better able to avoid risky sexual and abusive relationships. Social myths can further exacerbate the link between a young woman’s status (or lack thereof) and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. Sex with young girls does not avoid infection. Sex with a virgin does not cure HIV/AIDS.

Political Empowerment/Peacebuilding

Empowering women economically goes hand in hand with empowering them politically. The U.S. took the lead in the General Assembly last fall to sponsor a resolution on “Women and Political Participation.” Its 110 co-sponsors agreed that a successful democracy cannot exist without the active participation of all its members, including women. The resolution includes practical suggestions on how to empower women to vote, advocate, manage, and govern.

The United States is actively working to promote the resolution’s implementation around the world. It is funding programs that train women in Latin America, Africa, Europe, East Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia to run for office and to lead non-governmental organizations. The U.S. is partnering with NGOs and institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy in private sector programs that target rising women leaders in the political, social, health, and economic spheres.

The United States invests heavily in bringing women into the political equation in post-conflict areas, where their voices and vision are critical. Two important examples are in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since the Taliban was outlawed, the United States has rolled out more than 175 projects in Afghanistan to support education of girls and women, increase their access to health care, help build civil society and create economic opportunities, and increase their political participation. The United States has allocated $2.5 million for construction of Women’s Resource Centers in 14 Afghan provinces, and it is building three other provincial centers to focus on education and health needs, jobs skills, and women’s political training. Through the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, the United States provides an added $1 million in education training at these centers.

In less than two years, Afghan women have achieved notable milestones. Recently, the Afghan Loya Jirga, or Council, approved a new constitution that recognizes the status of women. “Citizens of Afghanistan – whether men or women,” it reads, “have equal rights and duties before the law.” More than 200 women participated in the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga to establish the current government. Two of the nine members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee and seven of the 35 members of the Constitutional Review Commission were women. The government now includes two women ministers – the Minister of Women’s Affairs and the Minister of Health. A woman also heads the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Afghan women will have the right to vote and run for office in the summer elections. As the Secretary-General reports, “despite many obstacles, women are playing a crucial role in building a new Afghanistan both politically and economically.”

Since the liberation of Iraq, women and men have been freed from tyranny. The common goal is to develop a democratic, stable, prosperous and united Iraq in which all citizens enjoy equality in legal and political terms. Now, after years of oppression, women are playing important roles in Iraqi society and government. Ambassador Bremer, during an event at the U.S.-funded women’s center in Karbala, made clear that “We in the coalition are committed to continuing to promote women’s rights in Iraq.”

Conclusion 

As U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, my goal is to see that all women in the world – so many of whom experience shameful, appalling oppression – can fully enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms. In free societies, we may take these rights for granted; but we should never forget women and girls who are exploited and demoralized in other countries. It is time to give all of them hope and a voice, and to unleash their talents, their energies, and their dreams.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

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