Democracy Depends on Women’s Empowerment, Kamala Harris Says in Her UN Debut
Kamala Harris’s first speech to the UN as Vice President:
In her first speech at the United Nations, on March 16, during the annual women’s conference, held virtually for the most part, she warned that democracy was imperiled everywhere and that strengthening it “depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women.”
Addressing a mostly virtual annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the UN’s key advocate and protector of women’s rights since 1947, Harris said in pre-recorded comments: “This year, in considering the status of women, especially as it pertains to the participation of women in decision making, we must also consider the status of democracy.”
“At its best, democracy protects human rights, promotes human dignity and upholds the rule of law,” Harris said, delivering the national statement and making her debut at the UN. “It is a means to establish peace and share prosperity. It should ensure every citizen, regardless of gender, has an equal voice, and free and fair elections that will respect the will of people.
“At the same time,” Harris continued, “democracy requires constant vigilance, constant improvement. It is a work in progress. And today we know that democracy is increasingly under great strain. For 15 consecutive years we have seen a troubling decline in freedom around the globe
“In fact, experts believe that this past year was the worst on record for the global deterioration of democracy and freedom. So, even as we confront a global health crisis and an economic crisis, it is critical that we continue to defend democracy.”
“the status of women IS the status of democracy”
The sense that democracy needs support throughout the world, Harris — who is a lawyer and former US senator — linked that cause to the early decision of the administration to strengthen US engagement with the UN, returning to the World Health Organization and aiming to win election again to the Human Rights Council, from which the previous administration abruptly withdrew in 2018.
“We are also rejoining the Human Rights Council,” Harris said, “because we know the status of democracy depends on our collective commitment to those values articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The US will also be “revitalizing our partnership with UN Women, to help empower women worldwide.” (The Trump administration ignored the UN agency; its executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is in her last year of her term.)
Turning to the US itself, Harris, who was born in California to a mother who was a prominent Indian-American scientist and whose father was a leading economist from Jamaica — said she was proud to report that “while the United States still has work to do, we, too, are making progress — and that women strengthen our democracy every day.”
“In every presidential election for the last 56 years, in the United States, more women have voted than men,” she said. “More women than ever before serve in the United States Congress. More women than ever before are their family’s breadwinner, and just last week the President nominated two women to take the helm of two of our 11 combatant commands.”
She added: “Women in the United States lead our local, state and national governments, make major decisions regarding our nation’s security, and drive major growth in our economy. But, friends, we cannot take this progress for granted.”
Learn more about Zonta and the UN on the Status of Women