Statement by Ambassador Elizabeth M. Cousens, U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council at the High-level Event: The Contributions of Women, the Young and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, ECOSOC Chamber, March 6, 2014

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
March 7, 2014


On behalf of the United States, let me first thank the President of the General Assembly for his leadership in convening this timely and important event. Thank you also for the powerful presentations by this morning’s panel.

Our speakers this morning could not have been more clear, and we could not agree more, that women and girls, youth, and civil society are fundamental to the post-2015 development agenda. Their needs and interests need to be reflected and their contributions need to be recognized and harnessed. If we are serious about seeing through the unfinished business of the MDGs, if we are serious about tackling inequalities and exclusion, and if we are serious about a truly transformative development agenda, we need women, girls, and youth to be at the heart and soul of our work.

We are gratified to hear so many delegations today reinforcing that women, girls, and youth are not just beneficiaries of development but need to be empowered as development actors. They are essential to development solutions and durable outcomes, and they are vital agents of change. We must always also keep in mind that civil society and our citizens are full partners in this endeavor and must have the freedom and space to operate – indeed it is on their behalf that we all serve.

Let me speak first to women and girls. We have made considerable progress since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in access to education and some health outcomes. However, progress has been uneven and women and girls are among those most falling behind. Women make up the majority of young people unable to read or write, they lack equal access to jobs and livelihoods, and they face persistent discrimination and inequality in many areas, in every country, in both public and private spheres.

Women and girls face all-too-familiar challenges, including inadequate and unequal access to productive assets, early and forced marriage, health risks from childbirth, under-representation in political decision-making and institutions, and of course, the pervasive scourge of violence.

Nearly 1 in 3 women globally are beaten, coerced into sex, or physically abused in some other way – most often by someone they know. One in three – that is one-sixth of the world’s population or nearly 1.2 billion people. We know the devastating consequences – the toll such violence takes on health, education, economies, and the resilience and vibrancy of communities.

We owe women and girls the highest level of our ambition in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Investing in women will be a powerful driver of multiple development benefits we value. A child born to a mother who can read and write is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5 – that alone should compel us to action.

In our Post-2015 Development Agenda that means some very specific actions that many delegations have urged. It means a standalone goal on the equality and empowerment of women and girls. It means strong gender-specific targets in other areas, and it means addressing issues like equal access to productive assets and the tools to be empowered economic actors; equal rights and meaningful participation in political decision-making and institutions; access to quality education, especially beyond the primary level where attrition for girls is especially high; eliminating sexual and gender-based violence, including early and forced marriage.

It also means sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Empowering women to control their own reproductive decisions, including determining the number, timing, and spacing of children is essential to reducing maternal and child mortality and to enabling women to be empowered to contribute fully to their families, communities, economies and societies.

The equality and empowerment of women and girls is, in sum, central to healthy, peaceful, and prosperous societies for all of us. Investing in women and girls is a universal issue, relevant in all of our countries and both the right and smart thing to do.

Let me turn to youth who, as many have already noted, make up more than half the world population, yet far too many live in conditions of insecurity, poverty, or vulnerability that limits their prospects. Our future development agenda will need to embed their needs, perspectives, and interests in practical and specific ways. We need to craft a clear goal and strong targets on education, including addressing the issue of vocational skills. We need to address the challenge of youth unemployment, which is reaching a crisis point in many regions with upwards of 75 million youth unemployed globally. And we need to identify and promote opportunities for youth participation and engagement in economic and political decision-making at every level.

Special attention must be given to ways to amplify the voices of the most traditionally marginalized– including adolescent girls, the disabled, LGBT youth, and indigenous youth, so that they are heard, their needs can be met, and they can make their own powerful contributions to the development of their communities.

Finally, the bedrock of our efforts, and the source of virtually all of the best ideas, is civil society in the many forms it takes across our societies. Our governments and institutions are stronger when our citizens have a voice in public policy debates and decision-making that affects them. The space for their ideas, voice, and action needs to be preserved and indeed expanded with respect for basic rights, freedoms, and the rule of law. We have seen impressive innovations in open governance in many countries that provide individuals the tools to be active and responsible citizens, allowing our governments and public institutions to be responsive and responsible, in turn. If we care about advancing a shared development agenda, we must continue to press for a safe and open environment for civil society and citizen action.

Mr. Chair, let me thank you again for the opportunity to reinforce the support of the United States for the robust inclusion in the Post-2015 Development Agenda of women and girls, the concerns of youth, and the institutions that enable and promote healthy civil societies. These are high priorities for us and we look forward to working together in the days ahead to craft a future agenda that reflects them. Thank you.


PRN: 2014/040