Remarks at a Side Event on Defending and Empowering Women in the Home and in the Public Arena: Addressing Violence against Women

Courtney Nemroff
Deputy Representative to the Economic and Social Council
New York, New York
March 11, 2021


Thanks so much Annika for the kind invitation to join this discussion and to Natalia and ELA for their co-sponsorship of this morning’s program.

It’s truly a pleasure to participate in such an important and timely event coming on the heels of International Women’s Day, which we celebrated on Monday, and as we look forward to the start of the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women next week. I see this as an opportune time to reflect and recalibrate on the important work we can do together to empower women, address violence against women during this time of COVID-19 and beyond, and ensure women’s voices are heard at the UN.

As our Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield recently said in celebrating the State Department’s International Women of Courage awards, “courage is contagious” and “women make the world more peaceful.” I am therefore humbled to be part of such an incredible panel with remarkable individuals fighting for women’s rights around the world from Afghanistan to Nigeria and many countries in between. But I am also energized and renewed.

The Biden administration has identified the effective use of multilateral tools as an important part of its recommitment to a U.S. foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality. Our continued engagement with non-governmental organizations and civil society is one of the best ways to realize this commitment. And as we all know, a vibrant civil society is a key element in democracies that thrive. NGOs have been absolutely critical in shaping the current global policy framework on women’s empowerment and gender equality, and they continue to be vital partners in women’s advancement. For this reason, UNDEF is of immeasurable importance and that is why I usually take every opportunity that Annika offers to speak about the important work UNDEF does and our support for its programs. In fact, the United States is one of UNDEF’s top donors, having contributed over $66 million since its founding.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the risks facing women and girls, and we have seen alarming and unprecedented spikes in gender-based violence globally. Women in positions of visible leadership – including peacebuilders, human rights defenders, journalists, and public officials – are increasingly subject to threats, harassment, intimidation, and gender-based violence. For women to have meaningful participation in building democratic institutions, we must strengthen efforts to ensure their safety. The United States has prioritized activities to protect women and girls from violence in humanitarian emergencies, including robust support for gender-based violence prevention and response activities. We are also committed to championing gender equality and protecting and promoting the human rights of all women and girls. We are particularly concerned about women and girls who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including women and girls with disabilities, LGBTQI women, women of color, and indigenous women, among others.

The safety and economic well-being of adolescent girls and young women is not only critical to their own health, but also to the health of their communities, nations, and the entire globe. On January 28, President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum on Protecting Women’s Health at Home and Abroad, as part of his broader commitment to advance gender equality and protect women’s health. Women’s and girls’ empowerment, including protecting their sexual and reproductive health and rights, is a central part of U.S. foreign policy and national security. We are therefore taking the necessary steps to restore funding for the United Nations Population Fund. UNFPA’s programming on family planning, maternal health, and gender-based violence are absolutely critical to advancing our policies, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In global humanitarian crises, access to these services can be a question of life or death.

Together, it is important that all of us support democracy and the active participation of civil society. Together, we can work to ensure that women around the world participate in the democratic process and have the capacity to become leaders, improving not only their communities but also the world. And together, we can work to ensure that women and girls have a safe environment in which to do this work. The United States is committed to these issues and we look forward to our continued engagement with UNDEF. We know we are stronger when we work with our partners and friends through strengthened and revitalized multilateral institutions.

Thank you.