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The U.S. Commitment to Breaking down Barriers to Women’s Economic and Political Participation

“This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.”

–President Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 21, 2011

President Obama has made empowering the world’s women and girls a guiding principle of his Administration.  At home and abroad, the President understands that the world can no longer afford to do without the full contributions of half of its population:   women and girls.   When social order breaks down, when natural and man-made disasters hit, when the world’s economy slows, it is women and girls who suffer most.  At the same time, evidence shows that women’s empowerment is necessary to maintain international peace and security, to build stable, democratic societies, to grow vibrant market economies, and to address pressing health and education challenges. 

That’s why the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps at home to empower women and girls to realize their full potential, and steps abroad to put women front and center in our diplomatic and development assistance initiatives.  

Since the day he took office, President Obama has fought for American women and girls, achieving historic victories that give them the support they need to succeed, while ending the discrimination that holds them back.  President Obama understands that supporting women translates into stronger families and a stronger economy.  From creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, to appointing a strong team of women leaders to his Cabinet and White House staff, to nominating two women to the Supreme Court, the Obama Administration has ushered in a new era of gender equality.  And in March of 2011, the Council on Women and Girls published “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” the first comprehensive Federal report on the status of American women in almost 50 years. Over the past two and a half years, additional examples of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments in support of women and girls have included:

-Ensuring Equal Pay for America’s Women:  The first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act,  which restored basic protections against pay discrimination, including giving women who have been discriminated against in their salaries  their day in court to make it right. And President Obama has convened an Equal Pay Task Force to ensure that existing equal pay laws are fully enforced. The President also continues to advocate for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that gives women the tools they need to fight pay discrimination.

-Securing Affordable and Accessible Health Care for America’s Women: For the first time, the Institute of Medicine has set forth guidelines for women’s preventive health care, and, as part of the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must cover these services, including: mammograms, STD/HIV testing and counseling, domestic violence counseling, contraception, gestational diabetes, with no deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance.  Additionally, starting in 2014 all health plans will be required to cover the cost of a pregnancy, and it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition.

-Creating Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women: President Obama has taken a number of vital steps to ensure that women in America have true economic security. Just most recently he sent the American Jobs Act to Congress – a bill that would save 280,000 teacher jobs, modernize 35,000 public schools, extend unemployment insurance for more than 2.6 million women, support 900,000 women who own small businesses by cutting their payroll taxes in half, give companies incentives to hire the long-term unemployed including 2.8 million women, and create new job-training opportunities for women who want to break into traditionally male-dominated fields like construction.

-Preventing Violence Against Women: In July 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, bringing new tools and resources to tribal communities to address the high rates of violence committed against Native American women.  In April 2011, Vice President Biden announced historic new guidelines for schools and universities about their responsibilities under federal civil rights law to respond to and prevent sexual assault.

-Integrating Women into U.S. Foreign Policy:  The State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review prioritized the empowerment of women as a key element of U.S. foreign policy, and its implementation will institutionalize the integration of U.S. support to women across the Department and USAID.

-Promoting Women as Central to U.S. Development Efforts:  Through the creation of a new Agency-wide policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment, USAID is ensuring better development results through enhanced attention to gender globally; and through the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, State, USAID, MCC and the Peace Corps are investing in women, families, communities, and nations.  

-Advancing Women’s Economic Participation:  As evidenced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s September 2011 Women and the Economy Summit, the first-ever high-level ministerial on women and the economy held in the United States and Chaired by Secretary of State Clinton, the United States is building consensus among regional partners to maximize women’s contributions towards economic growth. 

-Advancing Efforts on Women’s Political Participation:  From the Declaration on Women’s Political Participation signed by Secretary Clinton and other women leaders at the UN this week, to its actions in support of women as critical actors in conflict prevention and peacemaking, the United States continues to support efforts to elevate women’s leadership, to build the capacity of women legislators, to expand access to technology and the technology industry, and to increase the role of women in peace processes and democratic transitions.

Building on this knowledge and these efforts, in his Address today, the President challenged the assembled heads of state to announce, with him and in a year’s time, new steps that their governments will take to break down barriers and ensure women participate fully and equally in their countries’ economic and political spheres.   Over the coming year, the Obama Administration stands ready to work with its partners in the international community, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with the UN and other international organizations, to broaden and deepen efforts to increase equal economic and political opportunity for women around the world.  The President expects that this effort will take different forms in different countries, but may include commitments aimed at: 

-Investing in women’s and girls’ health and education;

-Eliminating barriers that hinder women’s access to property, inheritance, capital and markets, while supporting women farmers, business owners and entrepreneurs;

-Implementing policies to ensure women are paid equal wages for equal work;

-Working to ensure that both men and women can contribute fully in the workplace while attending to family needs;

-Examining and amending discriminatory laws and practices;

-Reflecting on and revisiting attitudinal biases;

-Taking steps to increase women’s participation in elections and governance bodies;

-Enhancing the international community’s ability to respond effectively to the needs of women and girls in disaster and conflict-affected countries;

-Implementing steps to increase women’s participation in decision-making affecting peace and international security;

-Preventing sexual and gender-based violence; and

-Supporting UN Women and other national and international actors focused on women’s rights, protection, and empowerment.

In keeping with the President’s challenge, over the coming year, the White House Council on Women and Girls and National Security Staff will coordinate the Federal Government’s ongoing efforts to support women’s political and economic empowerment at home and with partners abroad.  President Obama looks forward to joining his fellow heads of state in jointly announcing progress made on these worthy efforts in the year to come.


Spokesperson Nuland on Reports of Mass Rapes in Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United States government is gravely disturbed about the mass rapes that occurred between June 10 to 12 in a remote area of South Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and we strongly condemn these severe human rights abuses. Since we first learned of the attacks, we have been engaged with Congolese authorities, local and international non-governmental organizations, and the United Nations, including the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission to the DRC (MONUSCO) to gather the information needed to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.

In the meantime, our current assistance programs support survivors in the region, and we will work with our implementing partners in the DRC to determine how we can best assist the victims of this latest tragedy. The United States has repeatedly condemned the epidemic of sexual violence in conflict zones around the world and continues to speak out strongly on this issue. We support efforts to protect local populations, especially women and girls, against sexual and gender-based violence and bring to justice those who commit such acts. The United States is committed to working with the DRC and we urge the Government to fully investigate, arrest, and prosecute those found responsible for these attacks.


A New Public-Private Partnership With the MAC AIDS Fund to Combat Gender-Based Violence in South Africa

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone. Please come back here, come right in to the Treaty Room, all our friends from MAC and our friends from the building and our ambassador – where’s our friend? There you are. Excellent, excellent.

Well, first let me welcome everyone here, and I especially want to welcome the Deputy Chief of Mission from the South African Embassy, Johnny Moloto. I’m delighted you could be here for this very important announcement of an exciting new partnership that touches on two of our greatest challenges and two very high personal priorities for me: stopping violence against women, and stemming the tide of HIV/AIDS.

I have worked on these two issues for a very long time, and as a result of that work I have met survivors of sexual attacks around the world. And this is not just a problem that exists somewhere far away; it is very real and very present in the lives of women and girls everywhere. And it doesn’t just harm a single individual or her family or her village; it shreds the social fabric of humanity that binds us all together.

When the scope of a problem is so wide-ranging, we need a response that is just as broad. That’s why the United States is taking a multi-pronged approach that addresses not only rape and sexual assault, but also human trafficking, child marriage, and related issues. We’re working to expand economic opportunity and legal protections for women and to improve their access to health care.

The partnership we are announcing today is part of that wide-ranging approach, because when a woman is raped or if she cannot negotiate with her partner for safe sex, she risks being exposed to HIV. We cannot stop the epidemic of HIV unless we also address the epidemic of violence against women.

Since 2006, USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, have invested approximately $19 million in an effective model developed by the Government of South Africa. This model provides a range of services to survivors of sexual violence, from emergency medical care to counseling and HIV testing. It also helps bring criminal cases to court faster, and it has improved conviction rates.

Soon we will expand this work through a new partnership with the MAC AIDS Foundation. This is a foundation that is well known to me. I’ve had the privilege of working with it in the past. And we are so proud to have these outstanding partners join us so that this program can benefit more people in more places.

Now I’d like to invite John Demsey, Group President of the Estée Lauder Companies and Chairman of the MAC AIDS Fund, to say more about this partnership.


MR. DEMSEY: Thank you Madam Secretary. As Chairman of the MAC AIDS Fund, I and we are deeply honored to be here today with Secretary Clinton to announce the launch of what we believe is an innovative public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of State Office of Global Women’s Issues, the Government of South Africa, and the MAC AIDS Fund to combat sexual violence and HIV/AIDS in South Africa. I would like to recognize and most thank Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Verveer for their deep commitment and leadership on women’s empowerment globally, which has built the framework for this important partnership.

I am delighted to announce that today the MAC AIDS Fund will commit $2 million in U.S. dollars across the next two years to expand services for survivors of sexual assault in South Africa through the expansion of the Thuthuzela Care Center Network. This grant was made possible via the sale of Viva Glam lipsticks and lipglass products around the world from MAC Cosmetics. Since the inception of Viva Glam’s campaign in 1994, MAC Cosmetics has dedicated 100 percent of the selling price of Viva Glam products to the MAC AIDS Fund to support programs for men, women, and children affected by HIV and AIDS around the world.

When the founders of the MAC AIDS Fund first conceived the Viva Glam campaign, they had an idea and a hunch that a campaign combined with the spirit and energy of fashion, with the endorsement of very genuine set of celebrity spokespeople, could play a unique role in raising awareness of HIV and AIDS and funds for much-needed programs around the world. I don’t think that we ever could have envisioned the impact and reach that the Viva Glam campaign and Fund have had over these past 16 years. To date, the campaign has raised over $218 million for HIV/AIDS programs around the world, enabling the Fund to support the types of cutting-edge programs such as the Thuthuzela Care Center Network that we’re here to discuss today.

I would like to thank the leadership of the Estée Lauder Companies, particularly the Lauder family; our chairman emeritus, Leonard Lauder; William Lauder, our executive chairman; and Fabrizio Freda, our president and CEO, for their unwavering commitment to the MAC AIDS Fund.

Lastly, at MAC Cosmetics we’re deeply grateful to the over 11,000 makeup artists around the world who every day tirelessly support the MAC AIDS Fund and support and are ambassadors for Viva Glam lipsticks. Without their efforts and unwavering support and our partners and customers, we would not be able to support programs such as this. I am now very pleased to introduce Nancy Mahon, Global Executive Director of the MAC AIDS Fund and Senior Vice President of the MAC Cosmetics Company who oversees the work of the MAC AIDS Fund and who will explain to you a little bit more of the program on the ground.


MS. MAHON: Thank you, John, and thank you for your unflagging and visionary leadership that has allowed us to make such significant and generous grants like the grant we’re making today.

Sadly, AIDS has been a great friend to inequity, poverty, stigma, and the issue we’re here to discuss today, sexual violence. I will talk very briefly about why this important partnership with the Department of State under Secretary Clinton’s courageous leadership, the South African National Prosecuting Authority, and the MAC AIDS Fund will be a critical breakthrough in the field of HIV prevention and unhinge some of the lock AIDS has on the poor and underserved.

This partnership will effectively combat the issue of sexual violence and HIV by creating a welcoming and convenient place for victims of sexual violence in South Africa to go to in order to get medical treatment necessary to prevent HIV infection and deal with the trauma of their attack. And it will connect victims to legal advocates who can walk them through the process of pressing charges and accompany them to court if they like. In the world of cosmetics, we call this approach high-touch service. In the social service field, we call it getting people the care they need and deserve. And if we can create and replicate a program that decreases sexual violence and combats HIV infection in South Africa, we can, as the saying goes, do it anywhere.

At the MAC AIDS Fund, we are constantly asking ourselves how we can make the biggest difference for people at the greatest risk of infection and target our resources to address the key drivers of HIV in vulnerable populations. And this partnership, we are sure, is one of those instances. Why? Well, consider the facts. South Africa is home to the largest number of people living with HIV in the world; some 5.6 million people are infected.

To effectively fight this epidemic, we have to understand the forces that drive the epidemic in South Africa. Statistics show that in South Africa, high rates of HIV infection are directly related to the frequency of sexual violence in the country. South Africa’s rate of sexual violence is higher, sadly, than any other country in the world. Approximately 48,000 rapes are reported in South Africa each year, but experts believe the actual number is closer to 400,000. Victims of sexual violence in South Africa are more likely to become HIV-infected, and South Africans with HIV are more likely to be victims of sexual violence.

That is why the MAC AIDS Fund is a committed partner with the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State on this important issue, to provide critical support services for South African survivors of sexual violence in the company’s government-driven Thuthuzela Care Network Center. Located throughout the country, these emergency facilities provide survivors of rape and sexual violence, which the Secretary referenced, with access to needed medical, legal, and psychological services, in addition to HIV testing, prevention, and treatment programs.

The expansion of the TTC program throughout this – through this partnership will open new clinics in rural areas, providing more of the population with access to these critical facilities for the first time. It will extend operating hours for existing clinics so they are accessible at night, when many of the attacks occur. It will give victims of sexual violence the resources they need to take legal action through the very able national prosecuting authority, so that those who commit these crimes may face the consequences of their actions and survivors may be empowered.

This partnership in support of the Thuthuzela Care Network is an example of the impact the private sector can have when it works hand in hand with the U.S. Government in support of locally driven programs. Our hope is that we may encourage other private donors, corporations, and foundations to join us and the Department of State and the local government – and local governments worldwide in combating the global issue of HIV and AIDS and sexual violence as a global community.

Among all these statistics, many of which I mentioned today, one released from UNICEF this morning stands out: 72 percent of all new HIV infections in Southern Africa are among young girls. A model and a partnership such as this, if replicated in other countries, can serve as a powerful way to combat the staggering trend.

And lastly, I would just again like to thank Secretary Clinton for her personal leadership on this issue, her commitment to this issue. Partnerships are hard work with corporations and governments, and we are so very proud to stand here with you and make this very important announcement.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Nancy.

MS. MAHON: We appreciate it.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, John. Let me thank all of your colleagues, too, who have come from MAC and Estee Lauder and the Fund. I really appreciate the work that you’re doing. Thank you.


U.S. Strategy To Address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) includes the use of rape and sexual terror as a tactic of war in the conflict-affected eastern provinces, as well as pervasive violence against women and girls throughout the rest of the country. Men and boys are also victims of these abuses, but are often overlooked as a vulnerable population.

To further advance the efforts that are being undertaken by the Government of the DRC, the United States has developed a comprehensive strategy to address SGBV in the DRC, aligned with the strategies of the DRC Government and the United Nations. The U.S. government’s four key objectives, in support of Congolese efforts, are to:

1. Reduce impunity for perpetrators of SGBV;
2. Increase prevention of and protection against SGBV for vulnerable populations;
3. Improve the capacity of the security sector to address SGBV; and
4. Increase access to quality services for survivors of SGBV.

Beyond the specific objectives of the strategy, the U.S. recognizes that effective prevention of SGBV requires efforts to address women’s and girls’ low status in society. Increased participation of women in all aspects of society would enhance the value of women and girls. Furthermore, the DRC cannot move ahead without the full inclusion of women – including politically, economically (through agriculture and beyond), and socially, through a robust civil society movement. As Secretary Clinton noted in her 2010 statement before the Security Council to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, “the only way to achieve our goals – to reduce the number of conflicts around the world, to eliminate rape as a weapon of war, to combat the culture of impunity for sexual violence, to build sustainable peace – is to draw on the full contributions of both women and men in every aspect of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building.”

We remain committed to working with the DRC Government, the United Nations, and other international and local partners to improve the DRC Government’s capacity to prevent SGBV, address the threat from illegal armed entities (including their link to conflict minerals), and break the cycle of impunity for crimes affecting innocent men, women, and children. In addition to mitigating violence against women and girls, we are committed to supporting the full inclusion of women in the country’s political and economic development.

Women are a powerful voice for peace and an instrument of development when given the opportunity. Investing in women is not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.


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