United States Mission to the United Nations
March 18, 2023
AS SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD
The United States commends Argentina and UN Women’s CSW Bureau on their commitment to multilateral diplomacy and congratulates them and my Member State colleagues on the successful adoption of the Agreed Conclusions aimed at advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls in all their diversity in innovation, technology, and education in the digital age. Promoting gender equality is a matter of human rights, justice, and fairness. It is also a strategic imperative that reduces poverty, promotes economic growth, increases access to education, improves health outcomes, advances political stability, and fosters democracy.
The United States is particularly pleased to have secured strong language related to this year’s important priority theme, the first time this esteemed body has specifically focused on addressing the gender digital divide, prevention of and response to technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV), the acknowledgment of the unique challenges in the digital space faced by women and girls, including indigenous women and girls, migrant women and girls, and women and girls in remote, rural and island areas, and the additional accessibility and barriers women and girls with disabilities face.
We are disappointed that the Agreed Conclusions did not include new language on the importance of or commitment to comprehensive sexuality education, or references to sexual and reproductive health and rights, which are under threat around the world. We also believe the text should have included a direct reference on sexual orientation and gender identity, as we acknowledge the importance of added references to diverse conditions and situations of women and girls.
Digital technologies hold immense potential to amplify the voices of all women and girls. At the same time, the misuse of social media platforms and other digital technologies has given rise to new, pervasive, and widespread forms and manifestations of gender-based violence (GBV). We regret that some Member States were unable to support the use of the term technology-facilitated gender-based violence, which is the most accurate and encompassing terminology for this form of GBV. However, we were pleased to include language on the continuum of violence, as survivors experience multiple, recurring, and interrelated forms of GBV that take place both online and offline, and often simultaneously. We also note with appreciation the strong references to the need for regulatory frameworks, transparency, and accountability for the technology sector, regarding their role in promoting human rights and freedom from violence for women and girls online, noting that these mechanisms must be consistent with respect for human rights.
We welcome the call for meaningful, cross-sectoral action to establish protection, prevention, and accountability to prevent and respond to GBV, but regret that the text does not include more language on access to justice and in particular a focus on accountability for survivors of gender-based violence, given the many barriers that survivors face. The United States is committed to preventing and responding to all forms of GBV, and we will continue to work with other member countries through the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse to prevent and respond to TFGBV.
We welcome the text’s emphasis that women leaders, politicians, activists, human rights defenders, and journalists are disproportionately affected by TFGBV. Increasingly, this violence is wielded deliberately by illiberal actors around the world, including state-sponsored and extremist groups, who seek to halt democratic movements and shore up their own political power.
Around the world, women and girls, including adolescent girls, disproportionately lack digital resources, physical tools, and access to skills training, including accessible digital resources for women and girls with disabilities. We are pleased to see language recognizing these challenges and our collective call to identify and eliminate all prejudice, discrimination, and obstacles that limit the access of women and girls with disabilities to information and communications technologies.
We are also pleased to see specific references to indigenous women and girls and the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination they face, women and girls in rural settings, and women and girls with disabilities, and the unique challenges they face in getting access to technology, quality education, and lifelong learning opportunities, including digital literacy, vocational and entrepreneurial training, and decent work and quality jobs.
The United States supports language reaffirming the need to ensure equal access to inclusive and equitable quality education, including digital literacy, to allow all women and girls to adapt and thrive. We are pleased to see the recognition of the critical role women and girls in all their diversity, as well as members of other often marginalized groups, play in leading and implementing innovation and technology transformation. We strongly support language calling for the inclusion of women and girls in all levels of decision-making related to information and communication technologies, including policies and programs to promote women’s and girls’ ability to securely use digital technologies and to address any potential negative impacts of the misuse of technologies, as well as language recognizing the importance of women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in decision-making processes and in leadership positions at all levels.
The United States welcomes language on the importance of birth registration for the realization of human rights and the need to increase birth registration for members of marginalized communities, to include Indigenous women and girls; women and girls with disabilities; migrant women and girls; women and girls in remote, rural, and island areas; and women and girls belonging to national or ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities.
The document acknowledges the need for and the benefit of women’s ability to access markets, including financial markets, credit, accessible digital technologies, and networks which remain central to increasing women’s entrepreneurship and job creation. We reiterate the need for appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks to ensure that all women can securely and safely access and use technologies.
Once again, we thank our Argentine colleagues for leading the negotiation process for the Agreed Conclusions this year. We welcome the adoption of a comprehensive and actionable text aimed at achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all their diversity.
We note that these Agreed Conclusions do not change the current state of conventional or customary international law and do not create new legal obligations. For further points of clarification with respect to U.S. policy and legal positions on these Agreed Conclusions, please see below.
Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
We support references to GBV as the most accurate and inclusive terminology, rather than the binary and less inclusive “violence against women and girls (VAWG).” We note that VAWG is a form of GBV. We also support the use of GBV over the term “sexual and gender-based violence” (SGBV). The United States demonstrated our commitment to preventing and responding to all forms of GBV, including sexual violence, in the recently released U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. We also believe it is important to address the gendered nature of sexual violence, and that this is not accurately conveyed when separated from GBV in the term SGBV.
We support references to intimate partner violence. It is important to recognize that violence often takes place within families and also in situations in which individuals in a relationship live together in close quarters.
Women’s and Girls’ Participation
We disagree with the delegations who suggested that girls should not have full, equal, and meaningful participation and leadership in decision making processes. We also note that some member states appoint youth advisers to UN sessions, including our own youth delegate, Luna Abadia, who joined the U.S. delegation to this year’s session of the CSW. The United States strongly supports the leadership and agency of girls in all their diversity.
Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)
Women and girls are being held back without the ability to make decisions about their bodies and futures. We must do better to enable them to exercise their bodily autonomy, access sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive sexuality education, and be given the opportunity to pursue decent work with social and labor protections. We must acknowledge that respecting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people and achieving progress towards Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5, including targets 3.7 and 5.6, are foundational to achieving sustained and inclusive economic growth.
Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)
Comprehensive sexuality education is essential to ensure that every young person understands what happens to their bodies during puberty, can better protect themselves from violence and coercion, develops communication and interpersonal skills that promote gender equality, and can make informed decisions that affect their futures. The investments we make in all adolescents now will determine the opportunities they have in the coming years to contribute to and lead their communities.
International Conventions and Conferences
These Agreed Conclusions do not change the current state of conventional or customary international law or imply that states must join or implement obligations under international instruments to which they are not a party. We understand abbreviated or imprecise references to certain human rights to be shorthand references for the more accurate and widely accepted terms used in the applicable treaties, and we maintain our longstanding position on those rights. This text does not create or elaborate any new rights under international law. Moreover, we do not read references to specific principles, including proportionality, to mean that States have an obligation under international law to apply or act in accordance with those principles.
References to Human Rights “Violations” in Connection with Non-State Actors
The United States notes that generally only States have obligations under international human rights law and, therefore, the capacity to commit violations of human rights. References to human rights “obligations” in connection with non-State actors, or “violations” of human rights by such actors, should not be understood to imply that such actors bear obligations under international human rights law. Nevertheless, the United States remains committed to promoting accountability for human rights abuses by non-State actors.
We understand this text to be consistent with long-standing U.S. views regarding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and interpret it accordingly. In this regard, we reiterate the appropriate standard under Article 17 of the ICCPR as to whether a State’s interference with privacy is impermissible is whether it is unlawful or arbitrary; we welcome the text’s reference to this standard.
Freedom of Opinion and Expression
The United States strongly supports the condemnation of harassment, intimidation, gender-based violence, and other acts that can amount to human rights violations or abuses, but believes it is important for the Agreed Conclusions to accurately characterize these terms, consistent with U.S. law and our international obligations. In U.S. law, the term “violence” refers to physical force or the threat of physical force. The United States also strongly supports the condemnation of gender stereotypes and hate speech. However, ideas and words alone, even when offensive and hateful, are generally protected by freedom of opinion and expression. The United States robustly protects freedom of opinion and expression, both online and offline, because the cost of stripping away individual rights is far too great.
“Right to Development”
We note that the “right to development” is not recognized in any of the core UN human rights conventions, does not have an agreed international meaning, and, unlike with human rights, is not recognized as a universal right held and enjoyed by individuals and which every individual may demand from his or her own government. Indeed, we continue to be concerned that the “right to development” identified within the text protects States instead of individuals.
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
As the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) provides, each State Party undertakes to take the steps set out in Article 2(1) “with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights.” We interpret references to the obligations of States as
applicable only to the extent they have assumed such obligations, and with respect to States Parties to the Covenant, in light of Article 2(1). The United States is not a party to the ICESCR and the rights contained therein are not justiciable as such in U.S. courts. We note that countries have a wide array of policies and actions that may be appropriate in promoting the progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights. We therefore believe that this text should not try to define the content of those rights, or related rights, including those derived from other instruments.
While we respect the importance of promoting access to sanitation and water and that efforts to do so can involve distinctive approaches, we understand this text’s references to human rights to water and sanitation to refer to the right derived from economic, social, and cultural rights contained in the ICESCR. We disagree with any assertion that the right to safe drinking water and sanitation is inextricably related to or otherwise essential to enjoyment of other human rights, such as the right to life as properly understood under the ICCPR. To the extent that access to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living, it is addressed under the ICESCR, which imposes a different standard of implementation than that contained in the ICCPR. We do not believe that a State’s duty to protect the right to life by law would extend to addressing general conditions in society or nature that may eventually threaten life or prevent individuals from enjoying an adequate standard of living.
The United States supports the goal of equal access to education, including women’s and girls’ access to inclusive and equitable quality education, particularly at the secondary level where girls’ access drops precipitously. In strongly supporting these Agreed Conclusions, we are also mindful that educational matters in the United States are primarily determined at the state and local levels and understand that, where the text calls on States to strengthen various aspects of education, including access to inclusive and equitable quality education, curriculum, teacher training, and learning environments, this is done in terms consistent with our respective federal, state, tribal, and local authorities.
Equal Pay for Equal Work or Work of Equal Value
The United States understands the intention of the inclusion of “equal pay for work of equal value” to promote pay equity and nondiscriminatory compensation. The United States implements it by observing the principle of “equal pay for equal work.”
“Human Rights-Based Approach”
There is no internationally agreed upon understanding of the term “human rights-based approach.” To the extent the term is used, the United States reiterates that such uses do not create obligations under international human rights law or other international commitments, including with respect to particular actions States may take in fulfilling their obligations.
We regret that edits were not permitted on a paragraph addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on women. We note that, three years into the pandemic, vaccine access has improved greatly and while we continue to address COVID-19, we are also focused on preventing, detecting, and responding to future health threats. Recognizing that women make up 70 percent of the health workforce, and less than a quarter of leadership positions in this sector, we are focused on strengthening health systems, advancing women as decision-makers, and supporting health workers.
Economic and Trade Issues
The term “illicit financial flows” has no agreed-upon international meaning. We prefer to focus on the underlying illegal activities that produce these financial streams. Technical experts with the appropriate expertise and mandate should lead on how best to identify and combat revenue streams from illegal activities. It is not appropriate to consider illicit financial flows generically in the CSW.
All sources of finance should be used effectively to accelerate the achievement of equality between women and men and the empowerment of women and girls, so Official Development Assistance (ODA) should not be singled out. The United States recognizes as precedent the language on commitments and targets in ODA in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, paragraph 51, and reiterated in the 2022 Second Committee Financing for Development resolution. We understand the language in this text to refer to commitments made by each country. The United States has not committed to a particular target with regard to ODA to gross national income.
The United States believes that each Member State has the sovereign right to determine how it conducts trade with other countries, and that this includes restricting trade in certain circumstances. Economic sanctions are a legitimate means of achieving foreign policy, national security, and other objectives. The United States uses sanctions in a manner consistent with international law, including the UN Charter, with specific objectives in mind. These include using sanctions as a means to promote a return to rule of law or democratic systems, to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, or to prevent threats to international peace and security. We again register our concern that language in this document in effect seeks to call into question the ability of members of the international community to respond effectively and by non-violent means against threats to democracy, human rights, or international peace and security. In sum, we believe that economic sanctions can be an appropriate, effective, legitimate, and peaceful tool to respond to threats.
The United States firmly considers that strong protection and enforcement of intellectual property provides critical incentives needed to drive the innovation that will address the health, environmental, and development challenges of today and tomorrow. The United States understands that references to dissemination of technology and transfer of, or access to, technology are to voluntary technology transfer on mutually agreed terms, and that all references to access to information and/or knowledge are to information or knowledge that is made available with the authorization of the legitimate holder. The United States underscores the importance of regulatory and legal environments that support innovation.
Quotas, Affirmative Action, and Temporary Special Measures
With respect to quotas, affirmative action measures, temporary special measures, and other measures intended to achieve parity for women and girls, the U.S. position is that each country must determine for itself whether such measures are appropriate. We do not believe it is a useful exercise to urge the use of quotas and rigid numerical targets, particularly in the context of political representation and government employment, without consideration for domestic anti-discrimination legal frameworks and obligations under international law to ensure every citizen has an equal right and opportunities, without discrimination, to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The best way to improve the situation of women and girls is through legal and policy reforms that end discrimination and promote and provide equal access to opportunities.