Kamala Harris declared “the status of women is the status of democracy” on Tuesday, in her first speech before the United Nations as the first female vice president of the United States.
“Eleanor Roosevelt, who shaped the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, once said, ‘Without equality, there can be no democracy.’ In other words, the status of women is the status of democracy,” she said during the UN’s 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
“The status of democracy also depends fundamentally on the empowerment of women. 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 added.
The vice president’s UN debut comes less than two weeks after she spoke to the European Parliament to mark International Women’s Day. The appearances are meant to establish Harris as a key Biden administration emissary on the international stage despite the fact that due to coronavirus restrictions, she’s beaming in virtually.
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Those close to Harris say foreign policy and national security are key areas she wants to develop in her portfolio, and she’s taken steps to beef up her experience since taking office, building her own relationships with foreign leaders from the halls of the White House through phone calls.
Tuesday’s remarks were pre-taped last week, administration officials say. When they aired, Harris was mid-air, flying from Los Angeles to Denver on her first domestic trip to promote the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief law.
Harris spoke at length about the current status of women, highlighting the progress they’ve made in representing Americans in elected office, caring for their families financial and esteemed careers in the military. She also described the ways women specifically have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
“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. 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 said.
A source familiar with Harris’ preparation said the speech was important in terms of reaffirming the administration’s commitment to the UN in the wake of the go-it-alone attitude of the Trump administration, and to emphasize the important role women play across the world.
“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,” Harris said. “So, even as we confront a global health crisis and an economic crisis, it is critical that we continue to defend democracy. To that end, the United States is strengthening our engagement with the United Nations and the broader multilateral system.”
Harris has been outspoken about the on the status of women in the United States during her first few months serving as vice president. She recently penned a Washington Post op-ed focused on the mass exodus of women the work force during the pandemic and has highlighted gender equity during multiple interviews and public events.