US Vice-President Kamala Harris told UN diplomats on Tuesday, “The status of women is the status of democracy.”
Harris made the remarks in a statement she delivered on behalf of the Biden administration to the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the UN’s second-largest annual event.
Her statement was pre-recorded because she is on a road tour to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other cities to encourage Americans to receive Covid-19 vaccinations.
Harris addressed the fall in women’s rights and the rise in violence against women during the pandemic, stressing their impact on the overall health of any nation’s political system.
“When women face obstacles to obtaining quality healthcare; when women face food insecurity, when women are more likely to live in poverty, and therefore disproportionately impacted by climate change, more vulnerable to gender-based violence, and therefore disproportionately impacted by conflict, well it’s harder for women to fully participate in decision-making. Which, of course, in turn, makes it that much harder for democracies to thrive,” she said.
“Covid-19 has threatened the economic security, the physical security, and the health of women everywhere.”
The vice-president’s address to the UN was historic, combining three firsts.
She is the first Biden administration White House official to address the UN; she is the highest-ranking US government official to ever address CSW; and she’s the first female vice-president to ever address the UN.
“The fact that Harris is speaking is a clear way to demonstrate a new US direction on women’s rights at the UN,” Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, told CBS News. “I think that it will go down exceedingly well with other delegations. Harris brings an extra degree of political credibility to UN discussions.”
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a South Africa leader who was actively involved in the struggle to end apartheid in her home country and is now an under-secretary-general of the United Nations, told CBS News: “The address by Vice President Harris signifies that the US is recommitting itself to gender equality and to the UN at the highest level.”
The theme of this year’s CSW session, which started on Monday and ends on March 26 and is mostly virtual due to the pandemic, is women’s “full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.