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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Electronic Resources > G/IWI Newsletters

International Women's Issues Newsletter: Spring-Summer 2004

  
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Secretary Powell addresses the  International Women’s Day Reception, in Treaty Room.  State Department photo by Michael Gross.Iraqi Women Demanding a Role in Setting the Political Agenda in Liberated Iraq
By Charlotte Ponticelli, Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues

International Women’s Day was especially important to our office this year. During our March 8, 2004 commemoration, Secretary Powell announced the creation of a $10 million Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative and the establishment of our new U.S.-Iraqi Woman’s Network. [Secretary Powell's remarks][full story]

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Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky and delegation brief the media in Kabul. U.S.–Afghan Women’s Council Supports Afghan Women’s Aspirations

Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky led a delegation of 13 high-level representatives of both government and the private sector to Afghanistan February 24-26 to meet their counterparts. What they saw was astonishing: Afghan women have found their voice and they are speaking out for their rights.  [USAWC site][full story]

 

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Senior Coordinator, Charlotte Ponticelli, with children at a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Montevideo.Senior Coordinator of International Women’s Issues and Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women Connect with Women in Latin America

Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues Charlotte Ponticelli traveled to Latin America in fall 2003 to re-confirm U.S. commitment toward women in the region. Her visit was prompted by an invitation by the Embassy in Montevideo to participate in a conference on women’s political participation. [full story]

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Presidents Bush and Mbeki walk together with Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Mbeki after speaking to the media at the Guest House in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, July 9, 2003. White House photo by Paul Morse Science Fellow Travels to South Africa for Senior Coordinator

Lynn Khadiagala, a Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is assigned to the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues. In February 2004 she traveled to South Africa on a fact-finding trip for the Senior Coordinator.  [full story]

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Ellen Sauerbrey [Department of State Photo]Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 48th Session, March 2004

By Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey

 

U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women

President Bush demonstrated once again the importance he places on women’s issues by appointing three extraordinary women to be our public delegates to this year's UN Commission on the Status of Women. [full story]

 

 
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Iraqi Women Demanding a Role in Setting the Political Agenda in Liberated Iraq
By Charlotte Ponticelli, Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues

  

International Women’s Day was especially important to our office this year. During our March 8, 2004 commemoration, Secretary Powell announced the creation of a $10 million Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative and the establishment of our new U.S.-Iraqi Woman’s Network.  My office will manage these two projects with our partners in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).  The Network is a voluntary public-private partnership that aims to forge links between U.S. and Iraqi women’s organizations and to match private sector donations to critical needs on the ground. The Initiative funds will benefit women in six areas of democracy building: leadership, entrepreneurship, media training, coalition building, advocacy and democracy education. The Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative and the Network are the outcome of nearly a yearlong dialogue we have had with Iraqi women.

The newest challenge, Iraqi women tell us, is implementation of the interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), that the Iraqi Governing Council ratified on March 8.  The Democracy Initiative, and Network are designed to help in this regard.

 

The Iraqi leadership reminds us “to make the peace work for all Iraqis, they need help organizing for social and political change, particularly among the 70% of Iraqi women who are semi-literate or illiterate.”

 

By way of a base line, let me give you a profile of the Iraqi woman: more than 60% of dentists, pharmacists, and teachers are women. Women are more than 30% of doctors, university teachers, and technical instructors.  In government, by far the largest employers, more than 30% are women.  But in contrast only 16% of women are in the productive sector.   There is opportunity and there is demand.  The Iraqi women we are working with are extremely capable, but they are only now emerging from years of isolation.

 

They have told us that what Iraqi women urgently need is training for political and social action, on how to become agents of change, how to build NGO capacity and help gaining access to the media.  During the repressive past, most women shunned these kinds of roles.

 

One woman, Safiyah, volunteers at a women’s self-help organization she helped establish.  “Yes, we needed the war,” she said, to put an end to all the wars we have already been through.”  “Our women at home are very strong,” she continued, “but are not used to being in the public sphere.  We have to speak out about what we want to make our society stronger.”  Safiyah and her colleagues are now helping other Iraqi women do just that.

 

The problems in Iraq are still very serious, and very real, for both the women and men of Iraq.  But the country as a whole, as in Afghanistan, is clearly moving in the right direction.  And Iraqi women, like their Afghan sisters, are among the first to express their profound gratitude for American intervention, without which none of this progress would ever have been possible. 

 

Iraqi Minister for Municipalities

Minister Nesreen Berwari, the Minister of Public works and activist on behalf of Iraqi women, spoke on March 8 along with Secretary Powell and Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky.  Minister Berwari reminded us that Iraqi women defeated an attempt in January 2004 by conservatives to insert a Sharia family law resolution into the Constitution.  “This resolution was a blessing in disguise. Its passage motivated Iraqi women to organize and demonstrate, and successfully represent themselves. It’s original passage demonstrated how the democratic process could be subverted," she warned; "and its repeal demonstrates a triumph of democracy."

 

Iraqi women openly seek support from their American counterparts.  The Democracy Initiative and the Network provide a formal platform for a continuation of professional exchanges already underway.  In July 2003 the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) hosted the first of many meetings, the “Voice of Iraqi Women” conference. Under Secretary Dobriansky attended.  In October 2003, I also traveled to Baghad and Al-Hillah to meet with women’s groups and activists.  Since then, there have been meetings on women’s issues in a number of cities in Iraq and the U.S, and at least three “umbrella” organizations have emerged to represent hundreds of smaller NGOs.  Women are no longer afraid to assemble and talk about an agenda to secure their human and civil rights.

 

U.S. funds are helping to build democracy, stimulate economic development and employment, and meet the medical, educational, and community needs of Iraqis, with full attention to the equal participation of women.  The Iraqi women themselves guide our efforts.  We are working with these courageous women as they move forward to take their rightful place in the political, economic and social life of a democratic Iraq.

 


Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky and delegation brief the media in Kabul. U.S.–Afghan Women’s Council Supports Afghan Women’s Aspirations
March 30, 2004

Afghan Women Exercising Their Rights for the First Time in Decades

 

Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky led a delegation of 13 high-level representatives of both government and the private sector to Afghanistan February 24-26 to meet their counterparts. What they saw was astonishing: Afghan women have found their voice and they are speaking out for their rights.

 

The U.S. delegation was representing a unique public-private sector partnership, called the “U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.”  President Bush and Afghan President Karzai launched the Council in January 2002 in response to the thousands of offers by ordinary Americans to help Afghan women.  Council members include Barbara Barrett, Chairman of the Board of Thunderbird University; Constantine W. Curris, President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU); Connie K. Duckworth, Chair of the Committee of 200 and member of the board of the Wharton Business School; Patricia De Stacy Harrison, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs; Karen Hughes, former Counselor to the President; Pat Mitchell, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS); Marin Strmecki from the Pentagon. The meeting last month was the fourth Council meeting since its inception and the second in Kabul. 

 

On the Afghan side, the Council is headed by Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah and Minister of Women’s Affairs Habiba Sarabi.  Senior Coordinator Ponticelli said, “we are all dedicated to the belief that men and women, public and private, in partnership can work wonders.” “Harnessing this commitment and matching needs with resources, is the Council’s goal.” In pursuit of this goal, the Council sponsors programs to enable Afghan women to get jobs, to have access to health care, to have a voice in the political and social arena.  To be counted.  To vote. To be able to walk to the market. To be able to go to school.

 

The Council is just one program dedicated to these goals: there are many others in government and outside. Countless private citizens and NGOs are actively engaged helping Afghan women.  The American response is deep and strong even two years later.

 

“I can state absolutely that things are better in Afghanistan NOW than they were a year ago, and two years ago, and a decade ago,” Senior Coordinator Ponticelli commented. “Afghan women have turned the corner on fear.”

 

On this recent visit, Council members and guests, including Joyce Rumsfeld, visited several programs with a focus on four sectors: Education, political participation, access to health care and jobs.

 

Under Secretary Dobriansky announced a number of U.S. initiatives. The Council agreed to set up an American school in Kabul this fall, as well as, a women's teacher training institute. The Council has supported the building of 17 women's resource centers to be located throughout Afghanistan.

Support for these women resource centers have come from USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and Japan and private sector support.  AOL/Time Warner committed some $60,000 in support of the building of the women's resource center.

 

There were a number of other private sector initiatives announced in Kabul including $10,000 from a private donor to support training for Afghan women judges.  Daimler Chrysler contributed $25,000 to construct another 5 community banks to support microfinance loans for women in Herat province. And PBS contributed video camera equipment, laptop computers and microphone and training materials for Afghan women journalists’ training at AINA, a Kabul-based media-training center (AINA means Mirror in Dari language).


The Council, by its words and actions, reaffirmed the U.S. long-term commitment to Afghanistan through its reconstruction and development.  The Council and the Bush administration, and ordinary Americans, want to see a democratic, prosperous, peaceful stable Afghanistan.

 

Under Secretary Dobriansky reminds us that “our approach in democracy building and encouraging freedom and democracy abroad is not to impose the American model. We work actively with Afghans to identify what are their needs and what are the best approaches to address their needs.”

 

On the educational front: More and more women are starting to work, to take literacy and other courses, and to get involved in the rebuilding of their country.  Girls and women are back at school at all levels. At the primary level 37 percent of students are girls.” Teachers now want a new teacher training institute for Afghanistan.   The Minister for Primary Education said to the visitors, “Afghanistan could use an army of trainers – in all subjects!”  There is a momentum that cannot be stopped, he exclaimed.

 

On the subject of literacy, the Afghan people the Council met said that they are convinced that the lack of education is tied to terrorism and rising fundamentalism.  Afghan officials in the Ministry of Education also recognize that education is key to finding jobs so that families (especially those headed by widows and women who are single heads of household) can support themselves.  Afghan leaders see education as key to attracting foreign investment.  As one official said, “we have to struggle jointly against the misery of illiteracy.”

 

On the political front, women are registering to vote and are excited about the recently concluded Constitutional Loya Jirga and the upcoming elections.  Council members actually saw women voting with their feet. One day 500 women marched en masse to register to vote.  It was like a “get out the vote” rally.  Karen Hughes commented, “Last year … the women were talking about writing a constitution; this year you’ve enacted one.” 

 

Voter registration, a critical first next step, to implement the new Constitution, is difficult for lots of reasons, including lack of mobility and the primarily rural population.  The United States is sending out mobile vans to accelerate the process.  Early counts calculate that 28% of registered voters are women nationwide.  And in two cities, Herat and Mazar I Sharif double that number have registered. This is no accident. We have “All Women’s Radio” programs in those two cities.  Proof that when women have good information they make good decisions.


Foreign Minister Abdullah put it this way:  “Considering where things were two years ago, the extent to which the women of Afghanistan have stood up is remarkable.”  He added that, “Afghanistan can be a model for the rest of the world…showing what can happen to a nation when rights are denied and what can be achieved when rights are guaranteed.”  U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad described the new Constitution as “the most enlightened constitution in the Islamic world.”  The Afghan people the Council met were justly proud of this historic accomplishment.

 

The Council also met with several women who had participated in the Constitutional Loya Jirga.  These Afghans expressed appreciation for U.S. attention and support:  “we just need someone to back us up…now we know we are not alone.”  During round tables the Afhan women described how they were trying to build coalitions and how proud they are that they stuck together at the recent Loya Jirga. “For the first time, we have a grassroots women’s organization,” one woman exclaimed.

 

Implementation of the Constitution and legal reform are the next big steps; as one participant said, “the battle has just begun.”  A new Council initiative to train five Afghan women judges is a good first step.

 

JOBS and entrepreneurship: Security is an issue, but women are now protecting others. At the Provisional Reconstruction Team (or PRT) in Bagham (12 PRT’s are now up and running) are teams of military and civilians who are working to reconstruct and restore Afghanistan by building civil society and reinforcing security.  US military officers who have worked in law enforcement in the U.S. (one was from Brooklyn, another from Seattle, etc.) just trained and graduated the first class of Afghan women police in Bagram.

 

Microenterprise/Microcredit programs are creating economic opportunities: The Council met with representatives from FINCA (the Foundation for International Community Assistance), an NGO that specializes in microenterprise and microcredit initiatives.  Thanks to a Council grant from Daimler-Chrysler, FINCA has so far assisted 55 clients – mostly women – with $7,500 in loans.   (The average size of the loans is approx. $200.00.)  Two women from Herat described the benefits, saying proudly, “During the Taliban we were secretly giving literacy and tailoring lessons to women,” now we teach about 600 women and … make and market dresses and other handicrafts. 

 

 Access to Health Care is still a big issue, but there has been some progress. At the Malalai OB/GYN Hospital, approximately 80-100 births occur each day, a unique facility in a country where only 4 percent of births involve a trained birth attendant, and where (in some provinces) the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the world.  The Minister of Health (Mrs. Siddiq) told the Council that “the financial and moral support of the United States has been life-giving and immeasurable,” but so much more is needed.

 

One US-funded program that is especially promising is the REACH project (Rural Expansion of Afghanistan’s Community Health), which focuses on midwife training and aims to increase the number of skilled birth attendants in the rural areas.  The first REACH students (a class of 25) will be graduating in April.  The Deputy Minister of Health explained, “women were not allowed to be trained under the Taliban…but now we’ve had two years of peace, and women like this are unstoppable.”

 

Progress is unstoppable. Afghan women are determined and resolute, despite the hardship or challenges. The road ahead is better.  They will not look back, only forward. 

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Senior Coordinator, Charlotte Ponticelli, with children at a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Montevideo.Senior Coordinator of International Women’s Issues and Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women Connect With Women in Latin America
By Courtney Draggon, Graduate Intern to the Office of the Senior Coordinator

Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues Charlotte Ponticelli traveled to Latin America in fall 2003 to re-confirm U.S. commitment toward women in the region. Her visit was prompted by an invitation by the Embassy in Montevideo to participate in a conference on women’s political participation. Senior Coordinator Ponticelli, who is fluent in Spanish, also visited Colombia and Chile. The Coordinator said that the visit to Colombia allowed her to better understand the social, political and economic conditions of women in post-conflict. The protracted conflict that has continued for decades has permeated every aspect of life. Colombian women also wanted to address issues of economic opportunities for women, increased political participation, and reducing domestic violence.

The 40-year insurgency in Colombia has left women particularly vulnerable, she observed. Attempts by the Ministry of Defense to mitigate the effects of the war on women are on going. Ponticelli was very impressed by one program to help women and men regain their lives. The Demobilization Program, a massive humanitarian and military operation, aims to reduce the insurgent forces and paramilitaries by offering incentives for combatants to demobilize and leave the guerilla movements. Some of the incentives include vocational training, health benefits and amnesty against prosecution.

Ponticelli met two women beneficiaries of the Demobilization Program. “Yamila” left 15 weeks pregnant after 9 years on the inside and “Paula” left after 6 years. Their stories are harrowing and indicative of the culture surrounding the rebel groups. Both women joined the FARC at a young age, essentially against their will.

Yamila was 12 years old when she was forcibly recruited. Her father tried to stop the rebels from taking her, but was unable to stop them. Her story is all too common, men from the countries various guerilla factions come into villages and towns to lure young girls and boys into their ranks. They falsely promise education, health benefits, pay, and a chance to lead a normal life while fighting for the indigenous and marginalized groups of Colombia.The reality is indoctrination and forced labor in a highly corrupt, hierarchical and patriarchal system, which looks nothing like the egalitarian, socialist society that is promise to new recruits.

Paula’s story, like Yamila’s, is also all too common. Paula was forced to join out of fear for her personal security. The callous behavior of rebel groups often leaves individuals with no choice but to collude, join or face death. Paula met with such a fate when rebels murdered her husband. She was faced with a bitter reality, become a member or be killed herself.

After nearly a decade of rebel life, both women finally were able to leave the FARC through the Government’s Demobilization Program. Their hopes are now to start a new life, provide for their families, get an education and training, and ultimately start a business. With the help of the Demobilization Program, these women and many more like them will have the opportunity to realize their dreams. The Demobilization Program has doubled in the past, for many women and men, just like Paula and Yamila, are finally presented with options other than a life of conflict or death.

When Ponticelli spoke about her visit to Uruguay she emphasized that “Women are well educated and are not victims of formal social barriers, however, poverty is a growing concern in Uruguay and there is an increasing gap between rich and poor.” She cited Uruguay’s thriving civil society that is working to combat some of the issues that plague women and working tirelessly to provide services to those in need. Ponticelli acknowledged such efforts by visiting CEPRODIH, the Center for the Promotion of Human Dignity, a shelter for women and children where she saw first hand the effort to address their marginalization from society. CEPRODIH provides a safe haven for women and children with nowhere else to go. They provide shelter, food and run classes for young children, in addition to other services.

On the last stop in Chile, the Senior Coordinator interlocutors focused on economic and work issues. The recent signing of the free trade agreement with the U.S. dominated the agenda. Chile has secured a place among the world’s leading economies, Ponticelli observed. Women play a significant role in the market and have contributed to the creation of a dynamic economy. Ponticelli noted, “Women make up 35% of the Chilean business world,” yet there are still hurdles they must face. Chilean women, like American women, must balance family and career demands. Ponticelli complimented Chilean women on their recognition that a legislative approach is an important means of addressing their economic concerns.

In a continued effort to convey our interest in the status of women in the Western Hemisphere, Ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Ellen Sauerbrey, also traveled to Central America in February 2004. On her eight-day trip, Ambassador Sauerbrey visited Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras. Her visit enhanced U.S. foreign policy and UN presence by making more direct contacts with government officials and NGO’s in the region.

Throughout her trip Ambassador Sauerbrey focused on the promotion of family. While meeting with Sauerbrey, the Secretary General of the Nicaraguan Catholic Bishops’ Conference said, “I’m seeing a different face of the United States.” Sauerbrey communicated that the message coming from the NGO and religious communities was their need for more funding for organizations promoting the family and working to reverse the social disintegration they feel is endemic to the region.

Although, many Central American countries have an active civil society, it was clear to Sauerbrey they look to the United States as a guiding authority. Sauerbrey emphasized the U.S.’ dedication to promoting the family at home and abroad, and its place of importance among policy makers. One interlocutor said, “The message of the importance of family values to a healthy society is much more powerful when delivered by the U.S.”

In an effort to give credence to the notion that focusing on the family is important, Sauerbrey invited President Enrique Bolanos in Nicaragua and President Ricardo Maduro in Honduras, and Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar in Costa Rica to attend the World Family Congress in Mexico March 29 – 31, 2004 and requested that each leader issue a May 15 proclamation on International Day of the Family.

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Presidents Bush and Mbeki walk together with Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Mbeki after speaking to the media at the Guest House in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, July 9, 2003. White House photo by Paul MorseScience Fellow Travels to South Africa for Senior Coordinator
By Lynn Khadiagala*

From the first set of meetings that Pam arranged for us with a group of community-based organizations in Johannesburg, to the lunch that Consul General David Dunn hosted on my final day, it was evident that HIV/AIDS permeates nearly every aspect of life in South Africa. Given an adult prevalence rate of 26%, this is not unexpected. Also evident, though, was the dynamism and creativity of South Africans in their efforts to stem the epidemic.

We listened to how financially strapped community-based organizations were tapping the youth to help meet home health care needs in their neighborhoodsScholars at the universities and institutes shared their research findings, revealing the complex social dynamics of the epidemic. We visited women’s resource centers that help victims of violence and advocate for social and legal change. We met several lawyers involved in test case litigation that aims to strike down discriminatory laws. Finally, we spent several hours with a magistrate, prosecutor, and social worker at the Magistrate’s Court in Pretoria, where they prosecute child rape and assault cases.

 

The trip was an opportunity to discuss one of the central questions that I grapple with in my work with persons directly engaged with different aspects of HIV/AIDS: how does women’s social-economic and legal status affect their vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases? Africa has the distinction of being the only continent where there are more HIV-positive women than men. According to UNAIDS, women constitute 58% of all persons living with HIV/AIDS on the continent.

There are many factors that contribute to this outcome. The bodies of young women, for example, are biologically more vulnerable. But, women also operate in a socio-economic and legal environment that reduces their ability to control many aspects of their lives, including access to their bodies. Of particular interest to the Office of International Women’s Issues is the transformative role that property rights can play in women’s lives. The right to own property and accumulate wealth is a key ingredient in creating economic opportunities and financial independence for women.Women who are financially independent are better able to negotiate with or walk away from abusive partners.

The link between violence and HIV/AIDS was a recurrent theme. We spoke at length with a magistrate, prosecutor and social worker, on the challenges they face in litigating child rape and assault cases. The interview that will linger with us the longest took place at the Magistrate’s Court in Pretoria. Unlike the U.S. criminal justice system, where the accused has the right to face the accuser, the South African courts shield the children. Instead of testifying in the courtroom, they sit in a different room with a social worker. There is a camera fixed on the child, but it is the social worker who fields the questions through headphones. The child’s responses are piped directly back into the courtroom. While the majority of their cases involve girls, they are seeing a growing number of reported assaults on young boys. They felt that the greater number of cases of boys was more a function of increased reporting than an actual rise in the number of incidents due to recent media attention to the issues.

At the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Study of AIDS (CSA), Dr. Mary Crewe and several members of her research team shared some of their research findings with us. In her own approach, she tries to ask non-conventional questions. Her guiding principle is to ask how South Africans can use the epidemic to change in positive ways, challenging people to move away from positing women as victims and men as perpetrators.    Ndivhuwo Masindi, Manager of the Stigma Project at CSA, is exploring how social justice and social power can be used to combat the stigma that surrounds HIV/AIDS.   Because women are often the first persons in a household to be tested, they are blamed for bringing the disease into the family.   She is currently working with the faith-based community on how they can embrace people living with HIV/AIDS in ways that reduces the stigma.  

 

Many of the discussions with community-based organizations touched on the contradictory forces at work in women’s lives.  While the South African legal community has made incredible strides in getting the courts to strike down discriminatory laws, it was clear that much work remains to change social norms and practices.   Educating women about their rights is vital; when women are knowledgeable, they can weigh the risks of speaking out, challenging harmful practices, or even taking legal action when their rights have been violated.

 

The construction of women’s identities as wives and mothers was the focal point of several discussions.   When women derive their social status from their roles as wives and mothers, there can be a reluctance to exit from harmful relationships.   Several persons spoke about women who remained in risky or harmful relationships because they feared being single and lonely more than they feared HIV/AIDS.   One response to this conundrum is the Women’s Health Project’s campaign to promote the idea that women have sexual rights.  Susan Holland-Muter, senior program officer at the Women’s Health Project, at the School of Public Health, the University of the Witwatersrand, echoed Mary Crewe’s desire to construct men and women in positive ways.  The promotion of sexual citizenship for women, she hoped, would convey to women that they have a right to control the spaces around them, including access to their bodies.

While the challenges in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic are numerous, many of the people with whom we met said that they are optimistic about South Africa’s future.  President George W. Bush has made fighting the international HIV/AIDS pandemic a U.S. priority. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS is the largest commitment ever by a single nation toward an international health initiative -- a 5-year, $15 billion, multifaceted approach to combating the disease.  Through the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, we will work with international, national and local leaders worldwide to promote integrated prevention, treatment and care programs, with an urgent focus on countries that are among the most afflicted by the disease.

*Lynn Khadiagala, a Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is assigned to the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues. In February 2004 she traveled to South Africa on a fact-finding trip for the Senior Coordinator. Lynn specializes in African legal issues and has a particular interest in women’s property rights. She and Pamela Mfobo, Cultural Affairs Assistant at the U.S. Consulate’s Office of Public Affairs in Johannesburg, spoke with a variety of persons engaged in research, community-based activism, and advocacy work relating to women and HIV/AIDS. Shelia Malan, Cultural Affairs Assistant at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, joined them for one day.

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Ellen Sauerbrey [Department of State Photo] Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 48th Session, March 2004 
By Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women

President Bush demonstrated once again the importance he places on women’s issues by appointing three extraordinary women to be our public delegates to this year's UN Commission on the Status of Women.  It was an honor to lead this delegation, which included Doro Koch Bush, sister of the President, Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the Vice President, and Anne Corkery, who was a delegate to the UN General Assembly during the fall of 2003.  I am grateful to these women, who worked very effectively with our entire delegation and support staff in New York and Washington to build good will for our efforts to secure positive outcomes at the CSW.

 

Results of the March 2004 Commission on the Status of Women

The 2004 session of the CSW focused on two themes.  One looked at the importance of women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, management, and resolution and in post-conflict peace-building.  The second considered the role of men and boys in ensuring gender equality for women.

 

Fruitful negotiations produced sound documents that were widely accepted by the 45 countries that make up the Commission.  The successfully negotiated “Agreed Conclusions” address issues that, if implemented, will help improve the status of women not only in post-conflict societies, but in developing and developed countries alike.

 

We were pleased with the significant support for our proposed additions to the Agreed Conclusions on the role of men and boys. The final document includes U.S. language addressing the economic empowerment of women through the guarantee of equal rights to own and inherit property and to have access to information technology and business opportunities.

 

Our second concern was that the Agreed Conclusions adequately address commercial sexual exploitation of women.  Here the result was mixed.  Because of strong opposition from some European countries where prostitution is legalized, the compromise language finally adopted was limited to reducing the demand for commercial sexual exploitation associated with trafficking in persons.

 

The Role of Parents and Family

Of major interest to the U.S. in these negotiations was the role of parents and the family.   We recognize that, for most women, the first and most important male in the formation of her personality and feelings of equality and confidence is her father.  We worked successfully to include language promoting the importance of both parents, and urging that the role of both father and mother should be considered in government policies, programs and school curriculum.

 

Additionally, we supported CSW resolutions on other important agenda items, which demonstrated America’s commitment to democracy and women's rights in Afghanistan, the fight against HIV/AIDS, the need to assist women and children in hostage situations, and the effort to enhance gender mainstreaming at the UN.

 

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

Reflecting the commitment made by President Bush last year at the UN General Assembly, the U.S. sponsored a very well attended panel discussion on human trafficking.  UN officials and NGO representatives from around the world attended the discussion.  Former Congressman John Miller, who heads the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and who is senior advisor to Secretary Powell, moderated the panel and put a human face on trafficking as modern day slavery.  He told the real-life stories of victims he has met around the world who were lured into sexual slavery and other forms of slavery such as forced labor or domestic servitude.

 

Mr. Miller also warned of the multidimensional threat of human trafficking:  it is not only a grave threat to human rights, it is also a growing public health risk and a major funding source for organized crime. Panel members spoke about prevention of human trafficking, protection of victims, and other assistance to victims who escape slavery, as well as the need for regional cooperation in addressing the issue.  Sweden’s State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Lise Bergh, spoke about Sweden’s law that makes it a crime, punishable by imprisonment, to purchase sexual services.   Since much of human trafficking is related to commercial sexual exploitation, the Swedish government considers legal prostitution to be a threat to women and girls.  This was an important dialogue, as the United States and other countries believe prostitution is inherently victimizing of women - and see a strong link between legalized prostitution and the demand for foreign trafficking victims.

 

Women of the Middle East

There was enthusiastic interest and response among the attendees.  During the discussion period, there were questions and comments on torture, trafficking instigated by family members, sex tourism, export of pornography, and the need for educational programs.

 

Providing inspiration to all UN delegates who had the opportunity to meet with them were the twelve women representing Iraq.  These brave women spoke eloquently of their grim past and the hopeful future of their country.  They were able to join us at the United States Mission to share their perspective on the problems and prospects for a democratic Iraq.  Just a year ago, Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers and rape rooms were in full operation.  Today, Iraq is moving toward democracy and prosperity.

 

Appropriately, Iraq’s new Transitional Administrative Law was signed on International Women’s Day, March 8, during the CSW meeting.  It speaks of democracy, freedom and individual rights, including those of women. In addition, two new initiatives for Iraq were announced that day focusing on the inclusion of women.  The $10 million Women’s Democracy Initiative will provide training in leadership skills and organizing political and other activities.   The new U.S.-Iraq Women’s Network will bring together prominent American and Iraqi non-government representatives and business leaders in a public-private partnership to involve Iraqi women in the economic future of their country.

 

Our mission in New York also hosted a luncheon that focused on U.S. efforts on behalf of women in the Middle East. Doro Bush Koch, Liz Cheney, and Charlotte (Charlie) Ponticelli, who heads the State Department’s International Women’s Office, spoke about what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), that has as one of its objectives along with promotion of democracy improving freedom and opportunities for women.


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