Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 15, 2023
Thank you, Madam President. And thank you to UN Women, other Member States, members of civil society, women human rights defenders, and all those who have joined us in person and online. It is really an honor for me to lead the U.S. delegation to the 67th Commission on the Status of Women.
This month, we lost an iconic human rights defender and disability rights activist: Judy Heumann. Judy was an unwavering champion – both inside and outside of government – for disability rights for all persons. Her lifelong advocacy made the world more accessible and inclusive. She was a rolling warrior.
Today, let us draw inspiration from Judy’s tenacity and sense of urgency. Because the sad fact is, in the 12 months since we last met, women and girls around the world have been under assault.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have banned women from working with NGOs. They have limited half of the population’s ability to participate in public life and the economy. And they have prevented women and girls from attending secondary school and universities. The international community must continue to push back against these archaic attacks on universal human rights.
In Ukraine, women and girls are facing dramatic increases in trafficking and gender-based violence. We must not rest until Russian forces are held accountable for their atrocities.
In Iran, we have watched the Iranian people – led by courageous women – take to the streets under the banner of “woman, life, and freedom.” I think of Iranian women like Hadis Najafi, who shared this message on social media: She said, “I hope in a few years when I look back, I will be happy that everything has changed for the better.” Shortly after sharing that video, she was shot dead – reportedly at the hands of Iranian security forces. Hadis’s story is a painful reminder of the intersectionality between physical and digital attacks on women.
Because so much of the abuse, harassment, and violence that women and girls face is facilitated by the Internet. It’s estimated that over eight in ten women and girls have experienced some form of online harassment and abuse. Let’s not sugarcoat it: the global community has neglected this global issue for far too long.
But this year’s CSW – with its theme of innovation, technological change, and education in the digital age – is a chance to change that. To focus on the digital challenges, and opportunities, that women and girls face. To bring our approach to gender-based violence into the 21st century. And to bridge the gender-digital divide: because technology and digital platforms can also be a source of empowerment for women and girls.
I also want to call attention to the importance of evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education. These efforts help protect against online gender-based violence and attacks on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. In this vein, we must continue to improve access to quality contraception, help women deliver their babies safely, prevent and respond to all forms of gender-based violence, and advocate for bodily autonomy.
There’s no question that we have our own challenges in the United States. A woman’s right to make intensely personal choices free from the interference of politicians has been stripped away from far too many. I have traveled the globe advocating for women’s rights, and it hurts to know that so many in my own country want to undo fundamental rights.
But let me be clear: the Biden Administration remains deeply committed to protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls at home and around the world – including at the UN and in our foreign assistance. The United States has stood up a task force for addressing online harassment and abuse, which is establishing programs, reports, hotlines, surveys, and research centers to counter digital violence.
Last month, the White House Gender Policy Council released publicly its first progress report to President Biden on the U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality. Reflected in that strategy are many of the core elements we are seeking to address in this year’s agreed conclusions, such as defending access to reproductive healthcare, addressing online harassment and abuse, and advancing gender equality in crisis and conflict settings. This year, we will also release the first-ever U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.
Of course, we are committed to this work in the multilateral space. The United States is proud to be a part of the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse, which was launched at last year’s CSW. We all know an issue of this scale and gravity demands international cooperation. So we must come together around concrete solutions – not just during this year’s CSW, but in the months and years ahead.
At this critical inflection point, the eyes of the world are on us. The eyes of history are on us. Will we stand idly by as women and women’s rights face a barrage of assaults? Or will we do everything in our power to protect, support, and uplift women and girls around the world?
I know we can build a better world for my granddaughters, and for all the little girls who are counting on us. Judy Heumann once said, “If I didn’t fight, who would?”
We must take up this fight. We must meet this moment with urgency. And we must work together to build a more just, more secure, more equitable future for all. Thank you.