Most Inclusive U.S. Delegation Ever Named to UN Signals New Direction and Leadership

March 16, 2021 – The Council for Global Equality applauds Vice President Harris for her comments today at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the preeminent intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality. In her address, Vice President Harris pledged to revitalize our partnership with UN Women and strengthen our engagement with the United Nations and the broader multilateral system. She noted that “the status of women is the status of democracy,” and that “for our part, the United States will work to improve both.”  

Vice President Harris is co-leading with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield a talented U.S. delegation to the CSW, composed of both government officials and civil society leaders. The delegation will meet over the next two weeks to advance an agenda dating back to the creation of the CSW in 1946 to promote “women’s rights in political, economic, social, and educational fields.” As Vice President Harris noted, “that work is as urgent now as it was at the start.” The theme that frames the CSW debate this year 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.” 

The symbolism of our first female vice president addressing this year’s topic was not lost on anyone. Nor is the fact that, for the first time ever, our CSW delegation is represented at the White House level and led by two women of color. Indeed, the Vice President’s remarks, coupled by the decision by the Biden-Harris Administration to engage the CSW at the level of the Vice President, sends at least three important messages. 

First, the diversity of the U.S. delegation speaks not only to the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to diversity, but to the crucial importance the Administration places on an intersectional approach to gender equality. This means recognizing that gender equality is undermined not just by gender-based discrimination and stereotypes but also by overlapping forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and other unique identities that should be celebrated but too often lead to multiple cross-cutting forms of discrimination and abuse.

The diverse public delegation representing the United States also includes, for the first time, a non-binary transgender woman: Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Executive Director and Global Initiatives Officer of Trans Women of Color Collective. “Now more than ever, it is critical that the voices and narratives of transgender women must be included in dialogs at every level as we face the same forms of violence at the hands of the state,” Lourdes Ashley Hunter declared, adding, “this historic appointment reinforces that trans women are women and our lives matter.”  

Diverse representation on the U.S. delegation is particularly crucial given that the CSW has not been a an LBTQI-friendly space at the United Nations. To date, the CSW has largely ignored and even at times denied the existence of LBTQI women. We trust that our delegation will help ensure that the rights of LBTQI persons are included on the CSW’s agenda going forward.

Second, the U.S. delegation and agenda at the CSW also reflect a strong repudiation of Trump-era policies that attacked the very notion of gender. The Trump Administration spoke consistently in strictly binary terms of men and women, seeking both to deny the rights of LBTQI persons and, especially, to erase the existence and rights of transgender women. Indeed, four years ago, in March 2017, the Council wrote to then-Secretary of State Tillerson to express outrage at the Trump Administration’s decision to include on that year’s U.S. delegation a representative of an organization designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center. The group, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), supported laws criminalizing homosexuality and LGBTQI recognition, including for example Russia’s harmful anti-propaganda law that attacks the rights of LGBTQI individuals and organizations. Indeed, C-FAM’s public delegate herself authored incendiary articles attacking the LGBTQI community. This year’s delegation could not be more different.

Third, high-level engagement at the level of the Vice President reaffirms the Biden-Harris Administration’s clear understanding that vigorous use of multilateral channels is needed to advance in areas of common interests and values. The new Administration has signaled that it intends to shape the UN’s human rights agenda through leadership and example, rather than following the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine UN institutions from within. This is important. While the UN’s human rights mechanisms are under political attack and are badly strained, they are more important than ever. It will take White House-level engagement to help stabilize these mechanisms and ensure they live up to their founding potential.

Much work lies ahead for the CSW, of course. We are pledged to support that work in any way possible and know that other partner organizations and supporters of the UN will do the same.

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