U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told a U.N. Women’s conference Tuesday that when women are denied equal rights, it makes it much harder for democracies to thrive.
“In other words, the status of women is the status of democracy,” Harris told the 65th Commission on the Status of Women in a video message.
Harris, who is the United States’ first female vice president, said democracy should ensure that every citizen, regardless of gender, has an equal voice.
“The status of democracy also depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women,” she said. “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’ participation at the conference is the first time the U.S. has taken part at such a high level.
The two-week long gathering usually draws more than 2,000 women to U.N. headquarters in New York from all levels of government and civil society to discuss the progress and protection of women’s rights. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event is mostly virtual.
The theme of the conference 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.”
In her pre-taped remarks Tuesday, Harris noted that women’s empowerment is a work in progress in the U.S.
“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,” the vice president said. “These are signs of progress. These are signs of strength. But, friends, we cannot take this progress for granted.”
Harris warned that democracy and freedom have been increasingly under strain around the world, noting that experts have said this past year saw the biggest global decline.
“So, even as we confront a global health crisis and an economic crisis, it is critical that we continue to defend democracy,” she said. “To that end, the United States is strengthening our engagement with the United Nations and the broader multilateral system.”
Since U.S. President Joe Biden and Harris were inaugurated on January 20, they have moved quickly to reengage at the United Nations, reversing Trump administration decisions that cut ties with the World Health Organization and the Human Rights Council, and defunded the U.N. Population Fund, which provides sexual and reproductive health services to women in poor countries.