Community of Democracies Informal Ministerial Meeting

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
UN Democracy Caucus
New York City
September 21, 2010

Thank you, Minister Azubalis for hosting this Informal Ministerial of the United Nations Democracy Caucus to discuss the importance of broadening the Community of Democracy’s outreach to women.

The United States is grateful for Lithuania’s leadership of the Community of Democracies and we are encouraged by the creative initiatives being undertaken by the various working groups. We are committed to the CD working group on women, which, under the stewardship of Ambassador Pavilionis and my esteemed colleague, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, is undertaking creative initiatives focusing on women’s political and economic empowerment.

As our distinguished panelists alluded to in their remarks, supporting women is a high-yield investment: resulting in stronger economies, healthier communities, greater peace and stability, and more vibrant civil societies.

As Secretary Clinton has said, women are the engines of change and must be equal partners in effecting change. That means making key resources available to women as well as men, including the chance to work for fair wages and have access to credit; to vote, petition their governments and run for office; to know they can get healthcare when they need it, including family planning; and to send their children to school—their sons and their daughters.

The United States feels strongly that there is a role for the members of the Community of Democracies, from all regions of the world, to play in supporting concrete initiatives that empower and support women, as political and economic leaders, and as community organizers and members of civil society.

In the June 2010 session of the Human Rights Council, we partnered with the Government of Afghanistan on a resolution addressing attacks on innocent school children, particularly girls, in Afghanistan. That resolution passed with consensus and had 40 co-sponsors. We have also established the Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls which provides support to increase women’s political participation -- in particular, elections and issue advocacy, legal and policy framework and peace building.
An important current opportunity to support women’s rights in democratic societies lies in the proposal to establish a Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association.

Recognizing that this is the only fundamental freedom that does not enjoy protection from a UN human rights mechanism, a core group of co-sponsors, including many governments represented here today, will introduce a resolution to establish this Special Rapporteur.

If a society does not allow space for women’s groups – or health organizations, or environmental groups – to assemble and associate freely, how can it truly maintain the other prerequisites for a democracy? We urge all members to demonstrate leadership on this issue and join together to co-sponsor this very important resolution.

Finally, as the Community of Democracies expands its vision and its focus, we must keep in mind the importance of involving women from the democracies of the developing world, along with those from the developed world. In that regard, we look to Mongolia, the next CD Chair, and El Salvador, the subsequent Chair, to take on this mantel of expansion and carry it forward. We need to make the Community an effective organizing tool for the women in all of these societies to achieve their aspirations, and we should band together to help those in corners of the world where democracy does not yet reach. One opportunity to do this exists now in Geneva through the proposal to create an Independent Expert on women in the Human Rights Council. We urge all CD members to support this important initiative.

We have learned that we are most effective not when we are acting alone, but when we work together. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, we are fortunate to have seen an expansion of democracy – from Jakarta to Johannesburg and from Bangalore to Brasilia.

Despite this expansion, democracy is currently under threat in many countries around the world. Our common efforts in the Community of Democracies reinforce the universality of democratic values and serve as a powerful response to those who would argue that democracy belongs only to one region, or history or tradition.

I thank all our panelists today and we especially thank Lithuania for its leadership in raising women’s empowerment and protection of civil society to the top of the Community of Democracies’ agenda and look forward to working with members of the Community to advance these important initiatives.