Remarks on Agreed Conclusions on "Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girl," 58th Commission on the Status of Women

Terri Robl
U.S. Deputy Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
April 2, 2014


The United States welcomes the adoption of the Agreed Conclusions on the theme of Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls. This agreement underscores the central and transformative role of women in economic development and stresses that empowering women and girls and advancing gender equality are integral to achieving sustainable development.

Mr. Chairman, we applaud your skillful leadership in chairing this session, as well as the bureau, the Secretariat, Ms. Christine Löw’s tenacity in guiding members to overcome differences and reach consensus, as well as UN Women, UNFPA and others who contributed their support and expertise to guide our work.

These Agreed Conclusions help chart the course toward integrating women fully into the challenging but essential work of development. They reaffirm the critical role of civil society in advocating for and carrying out development-oriented initiatives, especially in such areas as health, the environment, and education. We welcome their recognition of the role of courageous women human rights defenders and their affirmation that the protection and promotion of human rights must be an integral part of the national development agendas of member states.

And we are pleased that the Agreed Conclusions delineate specific measures states and other actors can take to address some of the most profound challenges facing women and girls, such as: violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage; maternal mortality and obstetric fistula; lack of equal access to jobs, livelihoods, education, assets, and resources, including land and property; and persistent discrimination in many areas.

We are pleased that the Agreed Conclusions clearly acknowledge the importance of investing in and protecting sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights by reaffirming the ICPD Program of Action, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the outcomes of their review processes. Reproductive rights and the full implementation of these international commitments provide a foundation for our global efforts to empower women. The United States reaffirms our continuing commitment to protect and promote reproductive rights. The United States also welcomes the text’s language on HIV prevention, care and treatment for women and girls. HIV is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in low and middle income countries, and the United States reaffirms our continued commitment to reaching an AIDS-free generation.

While delegates have shown flexibility in reaching an outcome we can all be proud of, we lament that some important aspects were left out.

We regret that the Agreed Conclusions did not explicitly acknowledge the vulnerabilities confronting women and adolescents as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Women and girls should not suffer violence or discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

On the subject of families, while different family structures exist, these different structures can and should share a common trait of providing a supportive, nurturing environment. As our colleague from El Salvador said so eloquently, we would have preferred if this resolution made specific reference to the diversity of families or various forms of the family.

We are also concerned about certain elements in the final document and would like to clarify some of the references. The U.S. government underscores its deep opposition to prostitution and any related activities. These inherently harmful and dehumanizing activities contribute to the scourge of trafficking in persons and cannot be considered legitimate forms of work.

While sustainable development is a goal we all aim to achieve, the concerns of the United States about the existence of a “right to development” are long-standing and well known, and the “right to development” does not have an agreed international understanding. Work is needed to make it consistent with human rights, which the international community recognizes as universal rights held and enjoyed by individuals – and which every individual may demand from his or her own government.

We are also joining consensus today on the express understanding that some of the recommendations in the text are not appropriate for the United States to act upon. In this regard, we underscore that the United States is committed to providing equal access to education and that we hope our strong statutory commitment to ensuring non-discriminatory access to education may serve as an example of the initiatives these Agreed Conclusions recommend. We firmly believe in the importance of quality in education for all students, including for women and girls, and of continuing to call attention to this critical need.

At the same time, we remain concerned about efforts to add to the right to education vague components that are difficult to define and quantify. We also note that within the federal structure of the United States, education is primarily a state and local responsibility. We therefore join consensus on the understanding that the United States will continue to address the goals and recommendations of these Agreed Conclusions consistent with U.S. law and the federal government’s authority.

In several places, the Agreed Conclusions take up the issue of the resources to promote gender equality. Increasing gender equality will require efforts from all sources, including official development assistance, domestic resources and other private flows, and analysis of how they can be best deployed. Furthermore, we reiterate that states are responsible for implementing their human rights obligations. While technical and other assistance may help a state promote human rights domestically, the lack of it can never justify a state’s failure to fulfill its human rights obligations.

We also take this opportunity to clarify some of the references in this document to enhancing women’s participation in informal sectors. While the grey economy is a reality in many countries – and in some cases a matter of basic subsistence – we stress that the goal of the international community, as well as U.S. policy, is to transition women and girls out of the grey economy and into the formal economy while promoting protections that prevent their exploitation. Nothing in this text should be read as a U.S. endorsement of the grey economy or of “informal trade.”

Further, the international community needs to be cautious in addressing economic inequality. There is an emerging consensus that we need to consider factors in addition to aggregate growth statistics when examining the health of economies and the state of development to avoid leaving anyone behind. However, the relationship between income distributions and a country’s growth rate and impact on economic development remains under discussion. We should avoid interpreting any language in this document as calling for compression in income distributions as an unqualified or inherent good.

Finally, we must once again caution that the UN has no mandate over trade negotiations; there is some troubling language in these Agreed Conclusions. The UN can seek to encourage women’s empowerment in the context of trade, but it cannot promise to “ensure” it. The UN should encourage elimination of gender-based barriers to economic opportunities, which limit women’s ability to engage in trade.

Today the Commission on the Status of Women has affirmed its commitment to fighting discrimination and prejudice, which for too long has denied many women and girls the ability to contribute fully to economic growth and development. It has outlined practical measures states can take to improve the status of women and girls. The members have worked constructively to form common ground on complex and varied topics.

The United States welcomes the contribution the Commission on the Status of Women has made in issuing these Agreed Conclusions and looks forward to working with members on new initiatives to promote human rights and gender equality, and empower women and girls.

Thank you.


PRN: 2014/069