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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

Equality of Opportunity for All

Sally I. Buikema, Special Advisor for Outreach, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State
Opening Statement by the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Seminar on Participation of Women in Public and Economic Life
Warsaw, Poland
May 13, 2003

The United States delegation welcomes the convening of this human dimension seminar. The agenda is substantive and, we hope, will lead to practical suggestions for action by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating States to better fulfill their OSCE commitments with respect to equality of opportunity for women and men.

President Bush declared in his National Security Strategy and his State of the Union Address last year, "America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance."

Placing respect for women on this list has great significance. So often, a subset of issues are arbitrarily labeled as "women's issues," when at root, all issues are women's issues from the fight against terrorism that threatens women, men, and their families, to health and education, and economic and trade issues. Ensuring respect for the rights of women benefits not only individuals and their families, it also strengthens democracy, bolsters prosperity, enhances stability, encourages tolerance and builds a more peaceful and stable world.

U.S. laws and policies aggressively seek and find solutions for problems that predominantly affect women in the United State problems such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and human trafficking. Women in the United States are protected from economic discrimination through civil rights laws that enable women to challenge discriminatory hiring and employment practices. The U.S. Government is also committed to enabling women to benefit fully from information technology and, equally, to minimizing Internet-based activities such as on-line trafficking in persons and pornography that contribute to the abuse, exploitation and demeaning of women. The United States has launched domestic and global programs to empower women business owners and entrepreneurs. U.S. Government programs also reflect a priority on the education and training needed to enable women to realize their human potential and to assume positions of leadership.

At the State Department, an office of International Women's Issues serves as the focal point for the development and implementation of a pro-women foreign policy agenda. The criteria for the proposed Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), offers a prime example of the interrelationship of this agenda with overall U.S. foreign policy. The MCA represents a new approach to providing development assistance: U.S. foreign assistance funds will be devoted to projects in nations that rule justly, invest in their people and encourage economic freedom. Consistent with the President's articulated commitment to the cause of advancing political and economic equality for women, the U.S. Government will be very sensitive to the status of women in countries that receive assistance through the MCA. The MCA's emphasis on good governance and human rights, sustainable economic growth and free enterprise, health and education, anti-corruption efforts and inclusive processes will be extremely positive and beneficial for women.

The International Women's Issues office focuses on several overall areas of policy, two of which are directly relevant to our discussions here in Warsaw: broadening the political participation of women and increasing the economic participation of women.

In the area of women's political participation, U.S. policy supports the right of all people to broad-based, representative governance. Toward that end, U.S. foreign policy seeks to ensure women and men around the world actively participate in voting, advocacy and governance in their local and national arenas. Increasing women's political participation strengthens democracy. This contributes to a more stable world, and is in the interest of all law-abiding societies.

Likewise, promoting mechanisms that allow women to avail themselves of the full range of economic opportunities their societies offer is a major component of U.S. foreign policy. Increasing women's economic engagement benefits not only the individuals directly involved, but also improves the material well being of society as a whole. Vibrant economies with fair and open markets benefit not only the United States, but the entire free world. As women's economic opportunities expand in their home countries, human trafficking and brain drains from developing countries are also likely to decrease as women view outward migration less frequently as the only viable solution for economic survival.

U.S. foreign policy also recognizes the integral role women play in the democratization process and our delegation welcomes the forthcoming discussion on this topic. U.S.-supported programs assist women in developing democracies learn about and advocate for their rights, foster women's involvement in social and political activities, and provide civic education. A vibrant democracy has a strong civil society, ensures the rule of law, and conducts free and fair elections, but none of these facets compose a true democracy unless all members of society can take part, including women. This is also true in post-conflict peace-building processes where the inclusion of women representatives from government, NGOs, and community organizations adds a broader perspective to the deliberations, thus adding to the quality and fairness of peace agreements. The creation of public-private partnerships between women in post-conflict societies and women leaders in the United States has proven useful for teaching women in post-conflict regions the skills they need to actively participate in rebuilding their communities.

The U.S. delegation also welcomes this seminar's working session on the media. The development and sustainability of an independent media is a vital component of economic and political reforms. A free press with editorial independence serves as a support structure for political candidates men and women alike in communicating their messages to the public. Supporting indigenous, open media can be a significant factor in developing a stronger civil society, good governance and respect for the human rights of all citizens.

This meeting is not an implementation review meeting, and yet, the issues we will discuss are within the purview and responsibility of the OSCE participating States. We should ask what the OSCE as an institution can do to promote equality of opportunity for women. We encourage OSCE field missions, ODIHR and the Office of the Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Issues to conduct projects with government officials and private employers that promote fair and non-discriminatory practices in employment and which encourage women's involvement in small businesses. We would also suggest that the OSCE assist in the development of networks for women in all fields, such as between businesses, legislatures, judiciaries, and civil society. The OSCE can also support training, such as leadership training and training of women journalists.

But our principal inquiry should be what each of our governments can do to better fulfill the commitments made in Moscow, more than a decade ago, where we affirmed "that it is [our] goal to achieve not only de jure but de facto equality of opportunity between men and women and to promote effective measures to that end."

Released on May 29, 2003

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