Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Catherine M. Russell
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues
National Democratic Institute (NDI) Offices
Washington, DC
December 12, 2013

Thank you Ken for opening up NDI to us today, and thank you Lorne for your kind introduction.

I’d like to thank IRI and NDI for the work that you do every day — promoting democracy, supporting democratic institutions and practices, safeguarding elections, and promoting citizen participation. Your work is critical. It also showcases our bipartisan, mutual commitment to democracy, to peaceful democratic transitions and to the engagement of women and men in shaping the futures of their countries.

I’d like to congratulate IRI and NDI for doing this hard and important work every day for 30 years. I know that you each had events earlier this week to mark those anniversaries and I’d like to add my personal congratulations on this important anniversary.

Finally, I’d like to thank you for your commitment to women’s political participation, and the amount of time, resources and staff that you devote to achieving women’s full participation in politics.

You both have well-respected and effective programs that help women acquire the tools they need to participate successfully in all aspects of the political process.

Let me commend specifically the important work that you are doing in the hard places. To IRI, thank you for the work you have done with your Women’s Democracy Network — to build the capacity of Syrian women in negotiation, leadership, advocacy, and other skills at this critical time for their country.

To NDI, thank you for the work you are doing in Afghanistan to help Afghan women be competitive in the upcoming elections — through women’s campaign schools, one-on-one consultations with women candidates and developing policy working groups.

My job as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s issues is to promote the status of women and girls as a critical element of our diplomatic efforts. We believe that peace, security, prosperity, and economic growth cannot be achieved without the full participation of women, and that men and boys are important partners in this effort.

Whether we are striving to advance women’s political or economic participation; end the scourges of gender-based violence, sexual violence in conflict, or human trafficking, or reduce the rates of maternal and child mortality — we must work together, at all levels, and across all sectors, to protect the rights of women and girls and achieve lasting gender equality.

We know that that investing in women and girls — helping them unleash their potentia l— is the right thing to do morally – and the wise thing to do strategically.

I’ve seen firsthand how women’s involvement in public and political life makes a difference.

Last month, I traveled to Afghanistan, where I met with women in government at both the provincial and national levels. I spent time with women leaders in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, and discussed a number of issues, including their critical role in the upcoming elections–as voters, and as candidates, searchers and observers. They were all committed to an increased role for women.

I’ve also just returned from a trip to Japan, where the current government is working to increase the percentage of women in leadership roles across society from single digits to 30 percent. There seems to be a growing recognition that the only way to ensure Japan’s emergence from its decades long recession is to ensure that women are finally given the tools to participate in the political, economic and social spheres.

This is a daunting challenge, given long established cultural norms that result in the majority of women to leaving the workplace after starting families. Just 2.6 percent of managers in Japan’s civil service; about 8 percent of the members of the country’s lower house of the diet, and 18 percent of the members of the upper house are women. But I met with some dynamic Japanese women members of parliament and government ministers who are committed to the effort to increase those figures. I met with the female mayor of Yokahama (just 1 percent of mayors in Japan are women) who in the space of a few short years managed to reduce the child care waiting list in her city from several thousand to zero.

Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women continue to be underrepresented in every aspect of political and public life. Today, as you all well know, only 21 percent of the world’s parliamentarians are women. There are 21 women either serving as head of state or head of government. Only 17 percent of government ministers are women, with the majority serving in the fields of education and health. Since 1992, women have represented fewer than 3 percent of mediators and 8 percent of negotiators to major peace processes. These numbers are too small. These are the places where decisions get made, and simply put, there aren’t enough women in them.

There is still much work to be done, and what IRI and NDI do is critical to progress in this arena, and to ensuring that this progress moves quickly.

All of my work is based on our belief that countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. All around the world, people and countries are beginning to accept this very basic truth. There is increased focus by policy makers and governments on the need for women’s participation and contribution to build stronger societies.

My office is one example of the U.S. government’s commitment to women’s central role in foreign policy. So is USAID’s Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. Through initiatives like the Equal Futures Partnership we are encouraging other countries to expand the political and economic participation of women and girls. And women across the globe are rightfully demanding their place in public life.

Increasing women’s meaningful participation in political and public life is about changing cultural norms about women and changing the culture of politics. It’s about building and sustaining representative societies. It is essential to ensuring that laws, regulations and policies reflect the reality of women’s everyday lives. Women often raise issues that others have overlooked, reach out to constituencies that others ignore and have unique knowledge that stems from their societal roles and responsibilities. For my office, the goal of parity in political participation is an integral underpinning to our other goals in the arenas of women/peace/security, economic empowerment and key development outcomes, especially in the areas of education health, climate change and food security. We see women’s political participations as one of the key foundations for women’s overall empowerment and inclusion across sectors. We know that women’s expertise, experiences and knowledge must be brought into to every decision making table, and to every forum. Women’s participation affects the types of policy issues that are debated and decided in parliaments, local councils and government ministries. It also affects the solutions debated and decided. Women’s experiences and expertise – and men’s experiences and expertise — must both inform policy.

An OECD study of 19 countries found that when countries had an increase in the number of women legislators, there was an increase in funds spent on education in those countries. In India, research showed that West Bengal villages with greater representation of women in local councils called panchayats (pan-chai-ats) saw an investment in drinking water facilities double that of villages with fewer women on local councils.

Finally, we know that women’s unique perspective is critical to peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. Women often suffer disproportionately during armed conflict. They often advocate most strongly for stabilization, reconstruction and the prevention of further conflict. Peace agreements, post-conflict reconstruction and governance have a better chance of long-term success when women are involved.

According to research conducted by the International Crisis Group in Sudan, Congo and Uganda, women who participate in peace talks often raise issues like human rights, security, justice, employment, education and health care that are fundamental to reconciliation and rebuilding and therefore to lasting and sustainable peace.

So we know the path forward. We only need to keep committing ourselves and recruiting others to join us. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice … I believe this is true for women worldwide. Our work, and the work we do together, is integral in these efforts. Thank you.
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