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US Vice President Kamala Harris visiting Peoria, Arizona on April 27, 2019.
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US Vice President Kamala Harris Makes History With UN Gender Equality Speech


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Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris is making a point to support women’s roles in government and decision-making during the early days of her term.

Harris delivered her first address to the United Nations in a video statement as part of the 65th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on Tuesday.

The CSW conference, run by the UN and the World Health Organization from Monday through March 26, aims to identify challenges and set new policies to support gender equality. This year’s event will focus on addressing women’s leadership, gender-based violence, and women’s empowerment.

Member states typically gather for CSW at the UN headquarters in New York City to gauge progress on gender equality, but the event moved mostly virtual in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Harris’ pre-taped speech aired while she was traveling to promote President Joe Biden’s latest COVID-19 relief bill and encouraging communities to get the vaccine. Adding to the several barriers she’s broken in office as the first Black woman and first South Asian woman to serve as vice president of the US, the former senator and attorney general of California also made history with her UN speech. She was the highest-ranking US government official to address CSW, and the first US vice president to ever address the UN. 

Following recent data that shows the world is not on track to achieve gender equality in politics by 2030, Harris started her speech by emphasizing women’s important roles in a democracy.

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“Eleanor Roosevelt, who shaped the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, once said, 'Without equality, there can be no democracy,'” Harris said. “In other words, the status of women is the status of democracy."

"The status of democracy also depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women,” she added. “Not only because the exclusion of women in decision-making is a marker of a flawed democracy, but because the participation of women strengthens democracy."

Harris stressed that when women and girls are not given equal opportunities it is more difficult for them to be represented in leadership roles. 

"When women face obstacles to obtaining quality health care, 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,” Harris said, “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."

Harris went on to highlight the contributions women make to the US government and the economy. She pointed out they have continued to play a pivotal role despite being especially vulnerable to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Given the 15-year decline in freedom worldwide and a deterioration in democracy in the past year, it is more crucial than ever to protect democracy, Harris explained. 

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"So, even as we confront a global health crisis and an economic crisis, it is critical that we continue to defend democracy,” she said. 

Harris announced that the US is strengthening ties with the UN and assured that the Biden administration would restore the country’s partnership with UN Women. Former President Donald Trump’s administration previously pushed against the UN’s support of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and opposed related language in UN resolutions. 

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, applauded Harris’ address. 

"This is reassuring for the UN and its allies who support for a more ambitious stand on gender equality and on building back better in a gender-responsive, equitable, and greener manner," Mlambo-Ngcuka told CBS News.