September 23, 2009 - An Open Letter
Dear President Obama:
As you bring to a close your first address to the United Nations General Assembly, we know that the time for women's human rights advocates to amplify our voices is now. Your active participation in this key international discussion has set the stage for future US engagement with the world. If the Administration's efforts to have a positive impact are to be fruitful, the United States must recognize and promote women's human rights in every policy that it pursues.
On the "preservation of our planet":
You correctly identified climate change as a key issue of our time. Yet, missing from your comments were concrete solutions and the recognition that rural women hold key solutions to climate change. Women are the traditional managers of rural communities' food, water and other environmental resources. Women farmers in Nicaragua who have led the way in sustainable, organic agriculture; women in Kenya who have brought wells for clean water to their communities; women in Panama who have preserved biodiversity by protecting seed banks-these are the on-the-ground experts to whom we should be turning for models of sustainable resource management.
On the creation of a "global economy that advances opportunity for all people":
The global economic recession has been accompanied by a marked retreat from the development and poverty-reduction commitments of wealthy countries. Yet, it is in precisely such times that women's health, education and empowerment must be a central priority in all US policies.
A healthy global economy will not result from the same US-led policies that have produced mass poverty, environmental ruin, and most recently, a worldwide recession. We call on you to promote policies that uphold women's economic and social rights. Women constitute 70 percent of the world's poor. They are also the economic backbone of the world's most vulnerable communities: women are the majority of small-holder farmers and the main providers of healthcare, childcare and primary education. As such, women are central to eradicating poverty and pursuing a sustainable global economy.
On "the pursuit of peace":
In Afghanistan, abuses of women's human rights are rampant, but they cannot be eliminated at gunpoint. In fact, the US military presence undermines prospects for Afghan women to secure rights for themselves. As US troops levels have increased, so too has the power of the Taliban as more Afghans turn to them for protection from the US and its corrupt and predatory allies in the Karzai government. We call on you to shift US resources from making war to supporting Afghan-led development and human rights initiatives.
Your promise to pursue "a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine and the Arab world" included a welcome recognition that families pay the steepest price for armed conflict. That is why peace negotiations must uphold the full range of human rights for all people in the region. The success of any future settlement hinges on its compliance with human rights standards and international laws that guarantee peace and security for all people in the region, call for the creation of an economically viable Palestinian state, and protect of the rights of Palestinian refugees.
You concluded your address by reminding the world that "democracy and human rights are essential" to achieving the goals that you outlined before the General Assembly. We join with our sister organizations from across the world to give you this message: women's human rights are central to any sustainable solutions to the crises that we confront today. The success of your policies rests on your commitment to upholding and advancing the full range of women's human rights.
MADRE Executive Director