Women Leaders Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East
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Dr. Ursula Plassnik
Minister for European
and International Affairs
"Women Leaders - Networking for Peace and Security
in the Middle East"
30-31 May 2007, Vienna Hofburg Palace
Roundtable 31 May 2007
Ladies & Gentlemen,
Let me first welcome all of you cordially to this meeting here in Vienna. I know that some of you had to overcome great distances - not only geographical in nature - to be here with us today.
I am very appreciative and I see your presence here as a sign, as an expression of your commitment in the search for peace and security in the Middle East. And I see it as a sign of commitment to the cause of women, to highlighting the role of women - but I would rather speak of the contribution than the role - the contribution women can make across the world, not only in peace-building and peace-keeping, but in all other aspects of our lives.
We have started work yesterday. Working groups took place based on our understanding of the Arab Human Development Report. We realise that this is a controversial document for some, but it has proven a good point of reference for discussions.
I am glad to say that these discussions took place in an atmosphere beyond reproach and recrimination. I think that this is an element that we should value. I expect the same of today’s discussion.
Most of you have been engaged in peace making and creating security before and I am pleased that two members of the Middle East Quartet have also joined us this morning: Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Condoleezza Rice
We have no illusions, we know that the road will be long and that there are many obstacles to overcome in the Middle East. Women are realists - that is one of the credits we gladly take - keeping their feet on the ground.
But this conference, although it will focus on Middle East, takes place in larger context and that is the contribution of women to conflict a resolution around the world. We should by no means be unaware of the conflicts in other parts of the world.
I am therefore particularly grateful to my friend Antoinette Batumubwira, who joined us from Burundi and who will share with us her experience. I am equally grateful to Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic for sharing her experience after a conflict in a European country. And I am glad for Kinga Göncz to join us, she is a professional mediator so we can all learn a lot from her. I am also grateful for Sumaira Malik to come and join us from Pakistan, she is Minister for Women’s Development and Youth Affairs and we have met recently when I visited her home country.
We are aware of the images that the public is confronted with every day: pictures of increasing violence. We are at a difficult moment at a crossroads in the Middle East. There is something that I have sensed yesterday in all the workshops and that guides us today when we work on the subject: a sense of urgency. This is not only an emotion but a rational analysis we will certainly share.
We know what the final aim in the Middle East context will be: the two state solution is supported by a great majority of the people concerned on both sides. The international community is doing what we can to support, encourage and promote efforts leading to such a solution. But we can only encourage and promote, we cannot substitute direct dialogue in order to move out of stalemate.
We are now starting to move from crisis management to conflict resolution. This is a hope, a determination we share and this is a delicate phase to handle.
When I met the Austrian press before our meeting today, it was interesting to hear what their questions were. It all came down to one question: What can women contribute, are they the better peacemakers?
I am not a sociologist, so don’t want to venture into whether women are more peaceful by nature. I personally don’t believe so, I think we are all conditioned by our education, by the situations we live in, the conditions we find.
Women cannot produce miracles - we know that - so we should not raise expectations to a level that we cannot deliver. But women can take their rightful place, they can and do increasingly get engaged in public affairs. This is also something we want to point out with this conference: all of you are in positions of high responsibility, have contributed in many ways to development in your societies and in international relations.
The Arab Human Development Report addresses very directly the achievements and also the deficits which still exist. For me the core message of today will be nonverbal, it will be the fact that we come together, talk to each other not about each other. I am convinced that this will be the strengths of this meeting.
We are networking. I am borrowing this expression from civil society. We should learn from civil society in these situations where the institutional change and the legal change - some of us are lawyers by training - take long. We should use the meantime in networking, in encouraging each other. I hope that the message coming out of this meeting will be a message of encouragement to the women all over the region.