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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Remarks > 2001-2005 International Women's Issues Remarks

Women in the Global Community

April W. Palmerlee, Senior Coordinator for International Womens Issues
Remarks to a Fulbright-Sponsored Conference Bridging Academia and Public Policy
Istanbul, Turkey
September 19, 2002

Good morning. I’d like to thank the American Embassy and Ambassador Pearson and the Consulate General and Mr. Arnett for hosting us in such a glorious setting under such spectacular conditions, especially given the many projects they are handling at this time. I’d also like to thank Assistant Secretary Harrison, the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the State Department, and the Fulbright Commission for putting together such an impressive program and such a distinguished participant roster. And, finally, I’d like to thank the University and Vice Rector Pamuk for their hospitality and gracious welcome to this fine institution.

As we gather here today, I reflected on what a very fitting time this is to be holding such a conference. The global war on terrorism, commemorated just last week with the first anniversary of the tragedies of September 11, has highlighted the need for people around the world to work together to protect their freedom. The fall of the Taliban and the immediate effect that had on the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan has also contributed to people’s awareness of the importance of broad-based, representative governance and the protection of human rights for all citizens. Politically, watershed elections in places like Bahrain and Morocco have focused attention on women’s political participation. And economically, women-owned and operated businesses growing at almost twice the speed of others.

And Istanbul is a very fitting place for us to meet. Turkey is one of the United States’ strongest, most reliable, and most self-sufficient allies. Democratic countries like Turkey have a special relationship with the United States and deserve our recognition and support.

And, finally, the subject of this conference is quite well chosen: Women in the Global Community. Leaders around the world are recognizing that they cannot - they will not - protect or advance their countries’ interests if they fail to analyze, organize and democratize their educational structures, election systems, and economic opportunities for the inclusion and benefit of all of their citizens.

Protecting human rights is an integral part of belonging to the global community. And women’s rights are human rights. By promoting women’s rights, we can improve the lives of women, their families, and their communities. Ensuring women’s rights benefits not only individuals and their families. It also strengthens democracy, bolsters prosperity, enhances stability, and encourages tolerance. It is at the core of building a civil-law abiding society, which is an indispensable prerequisite for true democracy.

The U.S. Government has expressed its commitment to promote women’s rights worldwide through the establishment of the State Department’s Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues, which I lead. As Secretary of State Colin Powell has said, "The worldwide advancement of women’s issues is not only in keeping with the deeply held values of the American people, it is strongly in our national interest as well." My office strives to inform people at home and abroad about the pressing need for the recognition of women’s rights around the world. Our objectives are to:

  • Advance the concepts of women’s human rights and empowerment as important elements of U.S. foreign policy;
  • Incorporate and institutionalize this agenda into policy through public diplomacy, domestic and international exchange programs, and Foreign Service Training;
  • Promote freedom and strengthened families, and encourage free markets through programs promoting women’s issues; and
  • Establish partnerships and alliances with other governments, international institutions, domestic and foreign non-governmental organizations and the private sector to protect these interests.

The Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues works to bring greater coherence and visibility to this policy agenda. We promote a broad range of projects in cooperation with the diverse bureaus of the State Department, and other U.S. Government agencies, alongside contributions from international institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and even the private sector. Some of our most significant work thus far has been our leadership on the crucial and very high profile issues of Afghan women through work with the Afghan government and the establishment of the U.S. - Afghan Women’s Council. Additionally, we have provided vital information to American lawmakers through our comprehensive Report to Congress of U.S. Support for Afghan Women, Children, and Refugees.

The women of Afghanistan have suffered grievously both during war and the harsh repression by the Taliban. Donor governments are currently supporting courageous Afghan women as they seek to participate in the reconstruction of their country. Women’s issues must be at the forefront of reconstruction efforts in any post-conflict society.

Women are often the people most affected by the ravages of conflict or economic crisis. War changes relationships. Men are recruited to fight, and women are required to take on the burdens of both men and women at home. They must ensure that the family is kept together and that its basic needs are met. The role women are required to play during times of violence and the sacrifices they make as well as their pivotal position in post-conflict societies, mandate that they have a role in the peace process and that they have a voice in their future of their country.

Furthermore, we have found that women from post-conflict regimes can and are willing to offer their help and experience to women currently suffering the effects of war. Consequently, we are hoping to facilitate trans-national dialogues with women from Bosnia, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, as well as other countries.

More broadly, my office has identified three overall areas of policy, which we will be targeting in our upcoming efforts. These areas are women’s political participation, women’s economic participation and outreach to women in Muslim-majority countries. We have identified various challenges around the world that we are currently researching, and are forging contacts in order to help the U.S. government promote action in these areas.

In addition, President Bush in the United States has vowed to leave no child behind in education. My office is working to extend that commitment to girls and boys in other countries. For example, today, more than half of Arab women cannot read or write. This means, in effect, that those countries are depriving themselves of the creativity and productivity of half their populations. No country can thrive under these conditions and the UNDP Arab Human Development Report actually links lagging Arab economies, in part, to the countries’ failure to develop the capacities of women. We are committed to helping to remedy this waste of human potential.

As Secretary Powell has said, "It is not just popular opinion, but plain fact: Countries that treat women with dignity, that afford women a choice in how they live their lives, that give them equal access to essential services, give them equal opportunity to contribute to public life - these are the countries that are the most stable, viable and capable of meeting the challenges of the new century, and these are the countries we will be supporting."

It is therefore that I am announcing today that my office will convene a meeting next year of all Ministers of Women’s Affairs from around the world to address our common challenges, share innovative solutions, and promote and protect issues of concern to women. We will support those who yearn for broad-based, representative government. And as countries move toward a future defined by greater freedom and greater tolerance they will have no better friend than the United States of America.

Thank you.

Released on September 19, 2002

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