Remarks by Elizabeth Cousens,U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council, at the UN Women Executive Board

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
January 20, 2014


Thank you, Madame Chair, and thank you, Madame Executive Director Mlambo Ngcuka for your statement and to all of your colleagues at UN Women for their exceptional dedication and good work. Let me also congratulate the Bureau and the new Members of the Board. On behalf of the United States, I am pleased to have this opportunity to join you in discussing UN Women’s vital role as a champion for women’s equality and empowerment.

I am gratified, in particular, to have a chance to reflect on the question before us about the role that women can play in advancing peace and security and the leadership of UN Women, especially in implementing Security Council Resolution 1325. The voice you provide is indispensable. More than a dozen years have passed since resolution 1325 was adopted, and we have made important gains, due not least to your steadfast efforts.

During the past year, women were included in every formal peace negotiating process led or co-led by the UN. Gender experts were present in eighty-five percent of delegations, and representatives of women’s civil society groups were regularly consulted. Women are playing a more prominent role in crisis prevention, most notably in Darfur and the Great Lakes. Since 2009, gender crimes investigators have been a part of all UN missions of inquiry. The Secretary General has established – and my government vigorously supports – a policy of zero tolerance toward sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN personnel.

Less impressive is the level of women’s participation in police and military deployments. The figures of ten and three percent respectively remain well below the modest target of twenty percent that has been set for this year. Just as disappointing, only four of the more than two dozen peace-related UN field missions are led by women.

We can do better and we must do better. In crises now underway, we are witnessing scenarios we have seen before. Violence shatters law and in a climate of lawlessness, women are vulnerable to exploitation, rape, theft, hunger, and the loss of their homes. In the Central African Republic, women and girls have been and are being raped with impunity. In South Sudan, over half a million – many of them women and children – have been forced to flee their homes. In Syria, more than 38,000 women sought help from the UN last year due to gender-based violence, and we all hear stories of women too malnourished to produce milk for their children and unable to obtain a formula substitute to nourish them.

I don’t have to tell this group that such realities are unacceptable. My government applauds the efforts by UN Women to combat these realities, and I would particularly highlight your initiatives with the women of Syria through recent conferences in Amman and Geneva. The new Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy has the potential to play a pivotal role in the future of that country.

Beyond the most acute crises, women’s participation in the political and economic life of their societies must be integrated at all levels-- local, provincial, and national. It must become an accepted practice, not an extraordinary one. That’s why the efforts of UN Women are so important, not only in implementing Resolution 1325, but in pushing ahead on the Millennium Development Goals and in helping to improve women’s health, girls’ access to education, and women’s access to all the tools for economic empowerment and better livelihoods. It’s essential, also, that we defend the right of civil society, and women in particular, to organize and speak out on behalf of social inclusion, economic empowerment, and civil and political reforms.

To cite just one example, consider the leadership of Marguerite Barankitse. Twenty-one years ago, when civil war broke out in her country of Burundi, she established a House of Peace where Hutu and Tutsi orphans could grow up together. Today, the House of Peace has expanded from one home to three thousand, and now includes a vocational training center, a farm, schools, a hospital, micro-businesses, and an overarching commitment to inter-ethnic pluralism and mutual respect. This is an example of courage and leadership we must all strive to emulate.

By historical measures, the conversations we regularly have today about women’s empowerment might be considered revolutionary. What we must continue to strive for is a world in which, far from being extraordinary, women’s full equality and empowerment is simply a matter of fact.

The practical steps taken by UN Women stand to make vital contributions to that end. We applaud your leadership in advancing the UN’s System-Wide Action Plan for gender equality and women’s empowerment. We also commend your creative use of partnerships, such as with the Justice Rapid Response initiative, social media, and platforms like the Knowledge Gateway. We further acknowledge with appreciation your commitment to transparency, evaluation, and learning.

The movement to advance the rights and status of women must be waged on multiple fronts, through a variety of means, in each country, every day. UN Women has become a nerve center for this history-making endeavor, and is richly deserving of our continued encouragement and help. Thank you.


PRN: 2014/009