Remarks in the UN General Assembly Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, & Cultural) on the Advancement of Women

Laurie Shestack Phipps
Adviser for Economic and Social Affairs 
New York, NY
October 15, 2012


Thank you, Mme. Chair, and I would like to thank Assistant Secretary-General Puri, Deputy Executive Director Albrechtsen and Ms. Ameline, the Vice Chair of the CEDAW Committee, for their informative presentations this morning.

Mme. Chair, distinguished delegates, the United States is pleased to be part of the Third Committee’s important discussions on the advancement of women. Empowering women is a priority in our foreign policy and international development efforts, and the Third Committee has a crucial role to play in this area. Today I would like to focus on several issues essential to women’s advancement that we hope the Third Committee will make a priority during this session.

First, we are pleased that the Third Committee’s omnibus resolution under this agenda item will focus on Violence Against Women and that the Commission on the Status of Women will address this topic at its next session. Gender-based violence against women and girls cuts across ethnicity, race, class, religion, education level, and international borders. One in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. Violence against women includes rape as a weapon of war, so-called “honor” killings, and dowry-related murder. An estimated 10 million girls are married every year before they reach the age of 18. They are deprived of critical educational and economic empowerment opportunities and are more vulnerable to violence and poor health outcomes. The United Nations estimates that two to three million girls and women each year are subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting. In addition, millions of girls and women are bought and sold into prostitution – which can fuel the demand for sex trafficking – or forced to work as indentured servants or sweatshop workers. The United States is committed to addressing this through a new comprehensive strategy to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls globally, which President Obama directed the U.S. government to implement through an Executive Order issued in August.

We are grateful for the constructive suggestions in the Secretary-General’s reports on trafficking in persons and on female genital mutilation/cutting. The United States is pursuing numerous initiatives to combat human trafficking and female genital mutilation/cutting, and we share many of the approaches the Secretary-General’s reports recommend.

In our global efforts to combat human trafficking – or, more accurately, modern slavery – the United States looks to the U.N. Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons as a guide and we urge other countries to do the same. Among other things, the United States is funding projects to protect survivors, a pressing need identified in the Secretary-General’s report on human trafficking. President Obama recently signed an Executive Order to strengthen the U.S. government’s zero tolerance policy on human trafficking in federal contracts overseas. These measures help address concerns that we share with the UN Special Rapporteur about how businesses may be linked to trafficking in sectors where migrants are exploited through unscrupulous recruitment systems. The United States also shares the Secretary-General’s emphasis on the importance of a strong law enforcement response in combating human trafficking. We are committed to strengthening training and harnessing technology so law enforcement officials are better able to act and treat victims as victims, not criminals; so inspectors and educators can better spot the signs of trafficking and serve those who are vulnerable; and so young people have better tools to avoid online trafficking predators.

The United States is also helping countries respond to female genital mutilation/cutting. This year the United States supported the establishment of the Kenya Centre of Excellence at Nairobi University, which performs medical training and supports education and research across Africa, helping to strengthen the base of people committed to ending the practice of FGM/C. We are also supporting projects at the country level that prevent FGM/C and which take cultural sensitivities into account and are integrated with health, economic, social, or democracy and governance programs. We also involve community and religious leaders, women’s groups, men and boys, and youth.

Because violence against women and the threat of violence prevent women from participating fully in their societies and inhibit economic prosperity and good governance, efforts to end such violence must be central to initiatives to empower women economically and politically. The United States together with 12 other founding members launched the Equal Futures Partnership last month. Founding members have committed at the highest level of government to new actions – including legal, regulatory, and policy reforms as well as programmatic initiatives – that will advance women’s political and economic participation, including commitments to address violence against women and girls. We welcome other member states joining the Partnership by making new commitments to action in these areas. We look forward to sharing progress at our next meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership, which will be hosted by the World Bank in April 2013.

In closing, we would like to highlight another critical aspect of women’s empowerment that member states must take into account in our work to advance women’s issues in the UN. Reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health services – including universal access to reproductive health and family planning – are critical to ensuring women’s health and the health of their families, empowering women to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their pregnancies, and promoting women’s full participation in their societies. The United States is committed to dramatically improving the availability and quality of maternal health care, including by addressing obstetric fistula, and we look forward to this session’s resolution on the issue. More broadly, we were deeply disappointed that this year’s Commission on the Status of Women and Rio Conference on Sustainable Development could not reach consensus to include language on reproductive rights in their outcome documents. The Cairo Program of Action and the Beijing Platform for Action enshrine the principle of reproductive rights, and we hope that language reaffirming these rights will be readily adopted in future UN deliberations.

Thank you for your attention. The U.S. delegation looks forward to helping develop strong resolutions on the advancement of women, which will in turn secure greater prosperity and security for all.


PRN: 2012/227