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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's Participation in Public and Economic Life

Maureen Walsh, General Counsel, U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Closing Statement by the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Seminar on Participation of Women in Public and Economic Life
Warsaw, Poland
May 15, 2003

The U.S. delegation very much appreciates the discussions we’ve had over the last three days on the participation of women in public and economic life. We have noticed a number of themes running through the various sessions and would like to highlight some points.

First, it has become increasingly apparent over the last few days that improvements in the participating states’ implementation of their OSCE commitments with respect to equality of opportunity for women and men cannot be separated from the development of democratic institutions, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and respect for fundamental freedoms. A vibrant democracy is necessary in order for women to use the system and its laws to demand their rights. Likewise, a successful democracy cannot exist without active participation from all its members, including women. The democratization process focuses on strengthening the legal systems to ensure the rule of law, building a strong civil society, enforcing respect for human rights, and providing opportunities for everyone to participate fully in the political process, whether it be by voting, forming political parties, or running for a political office.

Secondly, the use of quotas to assist women to enter political life has often been recommended throughout the meeting. We would caution that gender-based quotas are both fundamentally antithetical to democracy and will, in the long run, harm the cause of ensuring equality for women. Imposed quotas do not give women real and enduring power, and do not change fundamental underlying problems. Accordingly, the preferred approach is to encourage legal and policy reforms that end discrimination of women and promote gender equality.

Thirdly, we are concerned to see that a stereotype persists that certain subsets of issues are “women’s issues.” This stereotype was reflected even in the language of participants of this meeting. Until women view all issues and state openly that all issues—from national security policy to the economy—are women’s issues, we will not make the steps forward that we want. We, therefore, hope that as more women enter public and economic life that they do not limit themselves, but rather strive to become decision-makers in all fields, including those in which women are traditionally under-represented.

Lastly, just as all issues are women’s issues, we must also remember that all issues—including those labeled as of specific concern to women—are also men’s issues. Indeed, just as we ask men to view women as equal partners, women must also reach out to men as active partners, and many times as champions of improving women’s rights. Numerous male members of the U.S. Congress, in fact, were and are the champions of such issues as combating trafficking in women and micro-credit support for women. We must continue to consistently encourage our governments, regardless of, whether they are run by men or women, to do better to fulfill the commitments they have made to achieve equality of opportunity for women and men. Thank you.


Released on May 30, 2003

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