Statement at the Opening Session

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel B. Baer
To the Gender Equality Review Conference
On occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the 2004 OSCE Gender Action Plan
Vienna, July 10, 2014

Thank you, Madam Chair and esteemed panel members,

Gender equality and advancing the status of women and girls are a top priority for the United States. This is not just because working towards full gender equality is the right thing to do, but because when women and girls are safe, able to exercise their human rights, and empowered to participate fully in decision-making processes, then societies benefit. When women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunities, countries are more secure, peaceful, and prosperous.

The United States priorities in this area include: eliminating gender-based violence and ending sexual violence in conflict; promoting women’s political and economic participation; ensuring women’s participation in preventing and resolving conflicts; advancing girls’ education, and achieving gender equality within our national security and foreign policy institutions. As so many of these priorities echo priorities presented by the OSCE in the 2004 Gender Action Plan, we look forward, throughout this conference, to sharing best practices and learning how we can work together to implement our goals and commitments.

Gender-based violence is an epidemic in the United States and around the world. It crosses every social and economic class, ethnicity, race, religion, and education level, and transcends international borders. One in three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused. An estimated one in five will experience rape or attempted rape. Intimate partner violence, traditionally considered a private matter by society and its formal institutions, is the most common form of violence experienced by women. And so-called traditional practices, such as honor killings, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutation or cutting, still exist in the OSCE region and have even been advocated publicly by some governmental authorities. We stand with governments and institutions that are working to eliminate such acts.

The United States affirms that gender-based violence is inextricably related to the status of women and girls. At home and abroad, we are committed to addressing the issue in a comprehensive manner. In 2012, the United States released the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Response to Gender-Based Violence Globally. This strategy plays a unique role in support of U.S. diplomatic engagement, foreign assistance programming, and maintenance of robust relationships with civil society actors across the globe. Additionally, the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security implements the United States’ commitments to enhancing the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. These actions range from enhancing women’s participation in conflict resolution and prevention to protection from gender-based violence. Together, these strategies have better enabled our diplomats and development experts to support prevention and protection across the globe.

We need to take action to change mindsets on gender-based violence, to combat the falsehood that violence against women and girls is culturally acceptable or inevitable. Further, women should not feel shame at being a victim of violence. Gender-based violence is wrong, and the United States supports comprehensive efforts to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in all its forms, whether in conflict or in peacetime, and whether it is perpetrated by a spouse, a stranger, or an armed combatant.

The United States strongly supports efforts to enhance political participation by women in the OSCE region. In our region, which contains some of the world’s most economically developed countries, fewer than 25 percent of parliamentarians are females. Just seven out of 57 participating States have female Heads of Government.  These statistics, which are even lower for the United States, are frankly embarrassing.  We all lose when women are excluded from power.

Barriers also remain to the economic empowerment of women. Some are legal, such as prohibitions in some participating States that bar women from parts of the economy. Others are unwritten cultural norms. Still others are structural, such as gender inequalities in educational opportunities, employment opportunities, and social networks. We must take action to tear down these barriers, again, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because societies benefit when women and girls are given equal rights and opportunities. The OECD found that the narrowing gap between male and female employment has accounted for a quarter of Europe’s annual GDP growth over the past two decades. Countries that do not promote and facilitate women’s economic empowerment are leaving money on the table.

The United States also endeavors to serve as an example of how gender equality can be advanced institutionally within our national security and foreign policy mechanisms. Mainstreaming gender equality and advancing women and girls is woven into our National Security Strategy, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and policy guidance from Secretary Kerry. During this conference, we also hope to explore how other countries and regional organizations have strengthened their commitment to the principles of gender equality, and what best practices we might adopt here in the OSCE.

In closing, please allow me to note that we see this conference as the continuation of a long-term discussion on gender, and commit to the task of bringing true gender equality to the OSCE organization and region. In that regard, I conveyed earlier today to Ambassador Apakan our interest in more information on how gender issues have been integrated into the SMM.

Thank you, Madam Chair.