Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Virtual Discussion of U.S. Gender Priorities with the White House Gender Policy Council

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 17, 2021


Thank you very much, Kat, and thank you so much for that introduction. And I want to thank you, a special thanks to the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, to the White House Gender Policy Council, and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor for putting together this remarkable and very timely event. It’s so wonderful to be with fellow ambassadors and civil society representatives to discuss such an important issue.

COVID-19 has been called the great equalizer. After all, it has affected everyone.

But the truth, the truth is, it hasn’t affected us all equally. Instead, it has exacerbated existing inequalities.

Poor communities, and communities of color, are being hit the hardest by the virus, and receiving the least resources.

And women – particularly women from these communities – have faced compounding threats. Higher rates of gender-based violence, more economic hardship, and years of progress erased from our efforts to protect and educate girls.

Today’s event is the official U.S. side event for the Commission on the Status on Women. We chose to focus on how the pandemic is affecting women and girls, because it has the potential to change their lives for a generation to come.

And I’m sure you’ll hear many times today, that the World Health Organization released a report last week, in which it found that one in every three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime.

We’re going to keep repeating this statistic because this is a crisis. It’s a calamity.

What’s more, we know that women and girls of color, women and girls with disabilities, are at even greater – at even higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence. They’re also more likely to experience threats and harassment just for participating in public life.

And I’ll stop for a moment just to comment on the situation in Atlanta, where we saw seven Asian women killed because of who they are. And this is the kind of attacks that have to stop, and we all have to stand up and support each other in these kinds of events. And I do want to send my deepest condolences to the families and to the friends of these seven women.

The pandemic has made the situation even more dire. The social isolation and financial desperation have led to a spike in gender-based violence this past year, especially intimate partner violence and violence against girls.

The United Nations calls this “the shadow pandemic.” It is time to bring gender-based violence out of the shadows, out of the dark. It’s time to shine a light on it. And it’s time to treat this like an emergency, with the urgency that it demands.

For our part, I know the House is voting on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act today. This is a bill the President himself wrote and championed more than 25 years ago, and if passed again, will save the lives of countless women and survivors.

COVID-19 has also exacerbated economic barriers for women around the globe. The McKinsey Global Institute recently found that, although women make up just 39 percent of the global labor force, they account for 54 percent of pandemic-related job losses. That’s significant.

They also estimate that without interventions, the stalled progress on gender equity could cost the global economy trillions – I said trillions – of dollars.

The Vice President has called this mass exodus of women from the workforce a “national emergency.” And I’d add that it’s an international emergency, as well.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 seems to be reversing decades of hard-won gains for girls, whether on malnutrition or access to sexual and reproductive health, as well as to education.

We’re particularly concerned about education, in fact. According to UNESCO, 11 million girls may never go back to school after this year’s educational disruptions.

That’s not just a threat to their advancement. It also puts them at higher risk of adolescent pregnancy, early and forced marriages, and other forms of gender-based violence.

These are issues of justice. And they are also issues of national security.

After all, the evidence is overwhelming: involving women in peacekeeping significantly increases the probability that violence will end.

And by promoting women’s participation and leadership – in politics, in mediations, in negotiations – we promote more security and more peace for women.

And that’s especially true when we include and empower women with multiple identities that face discrimination, including women of color and women with disabilities.

But if putting women in leadership roles makes this world more peaceful and reduces gender-based violence and economic hardship, then threats to women and girls do just the opposite.

So, the United States is stepping up. We are going to take the lead in advancing gender equity.

That’s why President Biden established the White House Gender Policy Council last week. And it’s why we’re hosting today’s event.

We need to put women and girls at the top of the agenda, provide financial lifelines to women, and protect and educate girls.

And I’m looking forward to pushing those priorities forward with all of you from my role as the UN Ambassador, but also from a personal standpoint.

Thank you very much.