Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 8, 202
Thank you, Madam President, and welcome. And thank you for convening us here today to discuss this critical issue. I’d like to welcome all the ministers and other guests who have joined us here today; and it’s also great to see so many women around the table at this event. Thank you to our briefers for your powerful, and insightful, and enlightening remarks.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to talk about the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda today without – as was noted by IMF Managing Director Georgieva and Foreign Minister Coveney – without acknowledging the horrific consequences for women of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable war of choice against the people of Ukraine. As in other conflicts, women are being forced to make unimaginable choices – being forced to flee their homes due to threats of imminent violence while they continue to support their communities, families, and loved ones.
We must attest to, in particular, the extraordinary pain of mothers during this terrible time. Mothers who have been forced to give birth in bomb shelters. Mothers who have been forced to pass their children, alone and terrified, onto crowded trains leaving the country. The mother chasing after the blue, bloodstained blanket that held her 18-month-old, now dead from Russian shelling. You’ve all seen the images of their pain.
Of course, many women are bravely coming together to defend their homes, their communities, and their country – and we stand with them today, as every day. And women are leading Ukraine’s efforts through the new humanitarian catastrophe Russia has unleashed, just as they have been critical to building a burgeoning democratic society over the last eight years in Ukraine.
If Russia ever chooses to return to dialogue and diplomacy, women must be meaningfully and consistently involved. After all, we know that women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation is not just a moral imperative – it also increases the likelihood of securing a long-term and sustainable peace.
Madam President, women’s participation is essential for growing economies. Our approach to women’s economic empowerment must take into account the evolving context for work and we must collaborate with the private sector, along with other partners, to ensure full and meaningful access for women today and in the future.
You simply cannot expect to compete with the world without half your workforce. And yet, women are still forcibly kept out of the workforce. This attitude should be a relic of the past – and one that I remember seeing first-hand. When I joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1982, it was at a moment when the State Department was facing two lawsuits that directly applied to me – one for excluding Black people, and the other for excluding women. Nearly 40 years later, the State Department actively recruits and encourages Black and female applicants. The results are remarkable – and we are so much stronger for it.
Despite this obvious truth, today women around the world still face economic exclusion. This exclusion is particularly severe in fragile and conflict-affected countries – precisely the nations and economies that most need the full, equal, and meaningful participation of their entire workforce. Research has shown that about 30 million fewer women than men of working age are in paid employment globally. Women who are in paid work are often engaged in low-paid and low-return activities. And very few women have the access and opportunities to become entrepreneurs and business owners.
Not only are women critically underrepresented and excluded from economic opportunities in fragile and conflict-affected countries, but their access to financial institutions also remains extremely limited. And this has become more apparent with the impact of COVID over the past two years. These practices block women’s access to capital. They often make women dependent on others for access to funds – and even funds they themselves generated.
These discriminatory practices against women’s economic inclusion not only deny women their basic rights, they also fundamentally undermine efforts to create strong, safe, and prosperous societies. When you give women access to capital, financial services, and job opportunities, it’s not only the right thing to do, it creates societal wealth and resilience, and that, in turn, generates long-term peace and security. For example, in Senegal, we have promoted economic resilience and resistance to radicalization by economically empowering 5,000 rural smallholders – 60 percent of whom were women. These were women who were exposed to violent extremism but were better able to resist it because they saw a better path forward. This is the kind of approach we need to take on a larger scale, and we should pair these programs with clear-eyed plans to address gender-based violence and enhance the safety and equal access to relief and recovery assistance and opportunities for women and girls.
This is all the more pressing, given the conflict into which so many women have been plunged in Ukraine. And even while we focus on Ukraine, we cannot take our eyes off the challenges women are facing elsewhere – like Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Since the Taliban’s takeover, Afghan women have seen decades – decades – of hard-fought progress rolled back almost overnight. We know they are subjected to increased threats of violence; that their ability to engage in work and education has largely been stamped out; that shelters, and protection service, and survivor support services are being shut down. And in Ethiopia and elsewhere, women have become the explicit target, and rape even being used as a weapon of war against them. We cannot ignore this horrific tactic.
So, the United States remains fully committed to advancing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as a matter of international peace and security. Exclusion – economic, social, or political – is antithetical to peace. We must continue to press the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda forward. Because it is the right thing to do. And because it is core to our charge of maintaining international peace and security for all.
Thank you, Madam President.