The Advancement of Women and Combating Trafficking in PersonsAmbassador Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women
Remarks to the United Nations General Assembly
New York, New York
October 24, 2003
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to speak on what the United States is doing to further the well-being of women throughout the world.
Women and Political Participation
The U.S. is firmly committed to women’s rights, which is why we are sponsoring a resolution this year on Women and Political Participation.
We have seen disturbing attempts in some countries –- for example by the former governments of Afghanistan and Iraq –- to quiet the voice of women.
A successful democracy cannot exist without the active participation of all its members, including women. In a vibrant democracy, all voices are heard and issues of concern to men and women are addressed by a responsive and accountable system.
Having been involved in politics for over thirty years, I have seen firsthand that women are successful campaigners, organizers, and mobilizers, but that they too rarely contest for public office. This is one reason why so few women serve in elective office at all levels of government.
In my appearances before women’s groups in many countries, the discussion usually turns to political participation. Particularly in many underdeveloped countries and emerging democracies, women are eager to understand the democratic process. Often they have no idea how to run campaigns or overcome barriers preventing their participation. Governments and civil society must provide the tools for them to learn.
The U.S. resolution includes important basic principles that we support on women’s participation and empowerment. It reaffirms that women, on an equal basis with men and without any discrimination, have the right to vote in all elections; run for and hold public office; associate with like-minded individuals; express their views publicly; and openly debate public policy.
Our resolution also includes practical suggestions for states, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and other civil society actors to achieve these goals. We encourage all these actors to:
-- Eliminate laws and regulations that discriminate against women and prevent them from participating in the political process.
-- Encourage political parties to seek qualified women candidates and to provide training on campaigning and parliamentary procedures.
-- Support initiatives to teach women how to vote, advocate, manage, and govern by serving as elected and appointed officials.
-- And encourage the media and educational institutions to recognize the importance of women’s issues and women’s participation, and to promote civic responsibility.
The resolution’s action-oriented, concrete suggestions provide a blueprint for programmatic changes to increase women’s participation, which we hope will be used throughout the international community.
We are encouraged that many member states support this initiative, and thank delegations for making constructive suggestions to our text.
Let me outline some United States government actions to increase women’s political participation. U.S.-funded programs throughout the world train women to run for office and lead nongovernmental organizations.
In Iraq, the United States has strongly supported Iraqi women’s participation in Iraq’s political, economic, and social reconstruction. The Governing Council and the Interim Cabinet established over the past few months included three women, and one more heading an important ministry. The loss of one of those women, Dr. Akila Al-Hashimi, who died in September 2003 from injuries sustained in a Baghdad ambush, is a real tragedy. But that will not deter Iraqi women from becoming involved. There are six women members on the Baghdad City Council, and democratically elected local council representatives in Baghdad’s neighborhoods include seventy-five women.
In Afghanistan, the United States is providing more than $8 million to support the election process. Some programs will educate women on the importance of voting and political participation, while others will train women candidates in running campaigns and political parties in mobilizing female membership.
The U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, inaugurated by Presidents Bush and Karzai in January 2002, has mobilized the U.S. private sector to support Afghan women. The Council’s September-October 2002 exchange program brought women employed in various Afghan ministries to the United States for training in computer skills.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is constructing Women’s Resource Centers in fourteen provinces in Afghanistan. These aim to provide a safe environment for women where they can, among other things, receive job skills training, participate in literacy programs, and learn about political participation.
In December 2002, the USG launched President Bush’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The initiative provides a framework and funding for the United States to work in partnership with the private sector, civil society, and governments in the region to expand political, economic, and educational opportunities with an emphasis on women. Among MEPI’s hallmark project are regional campaign schools that will provide leadership and organizational training for women seeking regional elective office.
Both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) are working with the Department of State to organize the first MEPI regional campaign school in Doha, Qatar for December 2003. The session will train women political leaders from the GCC countries and Yemen in a range of hands-on organizational, communications, and leadership skills.
The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development also fund NGO activities that are having an impact around the world.
One of these, The ALVA Consortium has taught women politicians from Rwanda and Kenya the basics of running for office. A number of women officials appointed or elected recently in these countries have received ALVA Consortium training.
NDI has been active in Senegal. Before the 2002 elections, NDI trained over 2,000 women in campaign techniques and skills. In the elections, 93% of the more than 1,500 women elected to local government positions had benefited from NDI’s comprehensive training.
Prior to the 2000 Serbian elections, NDI assisted the democratic opposition in Serbia with training, polling, and strategic consultations to attract women voters. In the election campaign, political parties gave women leadership roles and directly addressed issues of importance to women. Many of the women who became active in the opposition movement, including the current President of Serbia, received NDI training.
IRI coordinates a Women’s Parliamentary Program in Russia. The program provides training in parliamentary procedure, legislative drafting, constituent relations, and communications.
Trafficking in Persons
Mr. Chairman, the United States Government has also placed a major focus on combating trafficking in persons, a crime whose victims are primarily women and children.
Each year at least 800,000-900,000 people, mostly women and children, are trafficked across international borders. Even more victims are trafficked and exploited within their own countries. Many victims are lured from their homes with promises of well-paying jobs. Once they are deprived of the opportunity to return home, they are coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, farm or factory labor, or other types of forced labor.
We recognize that this problem can only be solved by concerted and cooperative international efforts.
This year President Bush signed the PROTECT Act into law. This act makes it a crime for any person to enter the United States, or for any citizen to travel abroad, for the purpose of sex tourism involving children.
The President’s Interagency Task Force and a special office within the U.S. Department of State monitor and combat trafficking in persons. This office assessed the progress of all countries in addressing trafficking. Sadly, one hundred and sixty-five were found to have significant numbers of trafficking victims, and these were written up in the third annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
In FY 2002, the Department of State, the Department of Labor, and the U.S. Agency for International Development funded over one hundred ten anti-trafficking programs in some fifty countries, aimed at prevention, protection, and prosecution.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are involved in domestic anti-trafficking programs. DOJ is actively investigating sex tour operators and patrons, who can face up to thirty years in prison. Seventy-six traffickers were prosecuted in FY 2001 and 2002, three times as many as in the previous two years.
HHS has provided over $4 million in grant funding to U.S. non-profit organizations to provide community education, outreach, and direct assistance to victims of trafficking.
Our commitment to eradicate trafficking includes:
-- Vigorously enforcing U.S. laws against those involved in trafficking.
-- Raising awareness at home and abroad about human trafficking and how it can be eradicated.
-- Identifying, protecting, and assisting victims, including such services as return and reintegration, psychological and social support, income generating skills, and witness protection.
-- Reducing the vulnerability of potential victims through increased education, economic opportunity, and protection and promotion of human rights.
-- Encouraging other nations, the UN and other multilateral institutions to work with us to combat this crime.
-- Drafting and enforcing laws against trafficking, and holding accountable those engaged in it.
In closing, I would like to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to improving the lives of women throughout the world. As Secretary 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. Women’s issues affect not only women; they have profound implications for all humankind. We, as a world community, cannot even begin to tackle the array of problems and challenges confronting us without the full and equal participation of women in all aspects of life.”
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Released on October 27, 2003