September was a breakthrough month for women and girls.
First, at the executive board meeting of UN Women, the U.S. government announced that it has officially adopted "sexual and reproductive health and rights" (SRHR) and will refer to "sexual rights." The declaration is an expression of the U.S. government's support for the rights of individuals regardless of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It also is a clear expression of the right of individuals to decide freely on matters related to sexuality and reproductive health that has implications for the U.S. and global response to sexual violence; early, child and forced marriage; and female genital cutting.
Second, last weekend during the U.N. General Assembly and adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals, the Obama administration announced new investments to dramatically reduce new HIV infections in women and girls aged 15-24 in sub-Saharan Africa. A focused target for prevention of new infections among adolescent girls and young women is desperately needed because there can be no AIDS-free generation without woman-centered prevention.
Third, the U.S. was among the 193 nations that ratified 17 new global goals to end extreme poverty, fix climate change, and fight inequality and injustice - including establishing a stand-alone goal to promote gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and Girls held in Beijing, China, so these breakthroughs are timely and relevant to the global agenda to achieve gender equality. But there is still work to do.
Coinciding with the high-level meeting to commemorate Beijing at 20, U.S. women's rights groups released a new report, "Women's Rights at Home and Abroad: A Call to Action." This new report - an initiative of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights - examines gaps in the U.S. government's implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It also provides a roadmap for how the U.S. can further the advancement of women's rights overseas and at home.
It's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
It's time to expand access to publicly-funded family planning services in the U.S. and to break barriers to safe abortion for women and girls raped in conflict. It's time to ban the practice of shackling pregnant women - especially during labor - in U.S. prisons and to ensure women are part of the peace process in crisis and conflict settings. It's time to ensure that adolescent girls are free from all harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital cutting and to increase access to health services free from discrimination, stigma, and violence for LGBTQI individuals.
And it is time for the U.S. - under President Obama's leadership - to finally ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We are the only democratic nation in the world that has failed to do so.
It can't be denied that under President Obama, the U.S. has made significant strides in advancing gender equality, evidenced by the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security; the U.S. Strategy on Gender-Based Violence; and the recent pronouncements on sexual rights and on HIV prevention funding for adolescent girls.
However, now is not the time to rest on past successes. Now is the time to move forward with greater commitment than ever to ensuring that women and girls - and their sexual and reproductive health and rights - are at the center of U.S. policies at home and abroad.
This is a call to action and the time to act is now.