PARIS (Reuters) – Women deprived of freedom of speech or the freedom to vote should fight for their rights and know that the United States stands beside them, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said on Wednesday.
Harris told the Generation Equality Forum at a summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron that gender equality was paramount to strengthening democracy.
“Use the tools for democracy, whether that is the freedom of speech or the freedom to vote. And if you do not yet have those freedoms, fight for them and know we will fight alongside you,” Harris told the summit by video link.
Democracy was in peril in countries around the world, Harris said.
“If we want to strengthen democracy, we must fight for gender equality. Because here is the truth: Democracy is strongest when everyone participates and it is weaker when people are left out,” the vice president said.
Two months after entering office, Harris said President Joe Biden’s administration would revitalize Washington’s partnership with U.N. Women – a U.N. body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Under former President Donald Trump, the United States led a push at the United Nations against the promotion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and health because it saw that as code for abortion.
Harris struck a different tone.
“When women have access to reproductive healthcare to stay healthy, they can participate more fully and our democracy grows stronger,” she said.
Melinda Gates said the Gates Foundation would direct $2.1 billion in new money to strengthening gender equality. More than half would go to sexual health and reproductive rights, while $100 million would be spent on helping get women into positions of power in government and the workplace.
“Women should not only have a seat at the table, they should be in every single room where policy and decisions are being made,” Gates said.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Giles Elgood)