Ursula Plassnik beim "Diplomatic Arab Women's Forum"
Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!
Words of Welcome
Dr. Ursula Plassnik
Federal Minister for European and International Affairs
"A Glimpse at Women in the Arab World: Aspirations and Achievements"
Vienna, 20 March 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I take great pleasure in addressing this distinguished audience. This conference presents a colourful mosaic of the successful contribution Arab women are making in their home countries, in their societies as well as internationally. And it is a strong demonstration of female ownership, of concern and commitment in the face of problems and challenges we all are facing. Let me commend the Diplomatic Arab Women’s Forum on this initiative.
Many outstanding Arab women have become a driving force for innovative thinking in the Arab world. As writers, scientists, researchers in practically all fields, architects, artists and filmmakers. But it would be wrong to focus only on the so-called "elite": Let us highlight the important contribution of women in every day life: mothers in the education of their children, women who cater to the daily needs of their families – including by providing to their economic basis and health care. And women who engage in community work, both locally and regionally. It is evident, but most of the times goes undervalued: women make an enormous difference at grassroots level in their societies.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Since I was appointed as Foreign Minister in 2004, I had the possibility to discuss with a number of outstanding women in the Arab world their hopes and worries, success stories and aspirations not yet achieved. And I was able to witness remarkable and encouraging developments:
- The voice of women is increasingly being heard in politics. Women across the region participate in parliaments and governments. In Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia for example, women have doubled, or even tripled, their representation in parliaments.
- Since May 2005 women can vote and stand in parliamentary and local elections in Kuwait.
- A couple of days ago we were presented with the government list of the new Palestinian National Unity Government and we welcome the nomination of two female ministers for Women Affairs and for Tourism.
- I have further noticed that countries in the Maghreb region have taken measures to modernize family laws.
- I have made it a habit to meet with women outside former contexts when I travel to Palestine. During my two trips in 2005 and December 2006 to Palestine I thus met remarkable women active in civil society. My discussions with business-ladies, NGO-representatives, woman-activists and human rights experts confirmed my strong conviction that no society in the world can afford to do without the visible contribution of its women.
Full participation of women, as citizens, as producers are a source of strength and positive energy for every nation. Their contribution is pivotal for the fight against poverty, for economic and social development, for prosperity, peace and security.
No economy and no society can afford to disregard half of its workforce from access to its official job market. Therefore, measures increasing active participation of women in the political, social and economic life should be encouraged.
This objective should be pursued on the local, national as well as on a global level. The implementation of the UN-Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security is therefore a political priority for me. I highlighted this recently with the new Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, during his visit to Vienna 3 weeks ago.
This resolution calls for women’s equal participation with men and their full involvement in all efforts of maintaining and promoting peace and security. Whatever conflict in the world - it will be an illusion to resolve any of them or build peace without women. They are no longer regarded as victims of violence only, but also as active agents for change and improvement in building and rebuilding societies in post-conflict situation. Women ideally have to move from backstage right to the negotiating table. In the UN therefore, the focus is now on putting the provisions of Resolution 1325 into practice and of ensuring that they are applied in the field.
The United Nations is vital in strengthening women’s rights throughout the world. In this regard, the ratio of women at the United Nations Organisation and in its activities and programmes on decision taking level is of crucial importance. I wish to highlight 2 personalities:
In June 2006, Her Excellency Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa was elected President of the 61st Session of the General Assembly. Since 2001 Thoraya Ahmed Obaid is Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund with the rank of Under Secretary-General. She is the first Saudi Arabian to head a United Nations Agency and has been recently confirmed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in her position.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
These developments are remarkable, indeed. However, there is no room for complacency.
This motivated the Arab Human Development Report 2005 "Towards the Rise of Women in the Arab World". It analyses the situation of women in the Arab world from the inside – based on ownership and devoid of outside impositions. Its content bears the handwriting of Arab women. Some are among us today. Thank you for your contribution.
The Report rightly points out: "Human development requires more than economic growth alone. The fight against poverty is not a campaign of charity - it is a mission of empowerment. This is equally true as regards women, given that, of the world’s one billion poorest people, 3/5 (three/fifths) are women and girls."
The Report further states the prerequisites and incentives for the "Rise of Women in the Arab World": Respect for the right of equal citizenship, protection of women’s rights regarding personal affairs and family relations, respect for women’s personal rights and freedoms. It also suggests that social and economic marginalisation start with the persisting gender bias in education and vocational training access to education. I am personally convinced that modern technology will contribute to improve access to education for women. Let me add to this the dynamics that can be created by micro-credits for women. Experience shows that women across the world make best use of such "seed money".
Ladies and Gentlemen!
On the international level, we all are called upon to contribute and to make a difference on the basis of real partnership. In this context, I would like to highlight some initiatives that Austria is currently working on:
- Austria’s development cooperation addresses in particular the demands of women and children in the partner countries. All projects undergo a "gender screening" in order to identify the impact on women and to make sure that girls and women benefit from our initiatives. The new Austrian government remains fully committed to this objective. In this context I commend the tremendous work accomplished by Maria Rauch-Kallat (who is here in the audience) over the last years.
- Austria maintains strong ties with the Muslim and the Arab World and has a long tradition in building bridges by engaging in inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. This coming Friday, the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna with our support will host a conference on "Islam in Europe". I personally make it a point to always include - as much as possible - the female perspective in such discussions.
- Moreover, we are supporting a conference on Muslim Youth and Women in the West organised by the Salzburg Seminar together with the New York University in May in Salzburg. Our dialogue initiatives with the Muslim and the Arab world will continue to be inspired by women’s discourses with the objective to enhance and encourage their participation and to exchange experiences and best practices.
- And thirdly, I will host an international conference on "Women Leaders - Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East" at the end of May. Women are not only directly affected in so many ways by the unresolved issues of the Middle East. They also make an important contribution to the resolution of the conflicts in the region. The objective of the conference therefore is, to bring together women in decision-making positions in politics, business and civil society, who can have a direct impact on peace-building in the Middle East.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I believe in the transformative power of networking. Networking is a tool that can increase awareness among women and men and ultimately improve women’s involvement and participation in all spheres of social, economic and political life. A precondition is that we listen with attention, openness of mind, sympathy and care for each other.
I wish this Conference much success!