New York, 24 September 2006 - "It is all about creating networks in order to make women’s concerns more visible and their voices better heard. To this end we have to make a strong commitment, including at the global level and within the framework of the United Nations. For the first time in UN history, the two major bodies of the United Nations are both headed by women: Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Kalifa as President of the UN General Assembly and Dora Bakoyannis as President of the Security Council," said Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on the margins of a dialogue meeting on strengthening the role of women held at the initiative and invitation of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York on 23 September.
This meeting was attended not only by 15 female foreign ministers from four continents but also by the newly elected President of the 61st UN General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Kalifa, the first African head of state in history, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Shirleaf, the Pakistani Minister for Women’s Affairs, Sumaira Malik, and Iraqi Minister for Human Rights Wijdan Salim. This meeting marked the conclusion of a number of meetings on the fringes of this year’s General Assembly that focused on the role of women. "Today’s meeting is a visible sign of the fact that international cooperation among female politicians has intensified. It is an encouraging sign that the meeting was attended by many female politicians from Africa in particular. Our growing network and our partnership comprises representatives with varied cultural and social backgrounds - but our core concerns with regard to women are the same," continued Plassnik.
The meeting of female foreign ministers concentrated on three central areas that are important to women: the participation of women in the political process, the improvement and consolidation of their economic situation and women’s access to the law. "The issue is to move from abstract discussion to practical action in order to improve the conditions and perspectives of women throughout the world. We would like to make a specific contribution to making the voices of women better heard," Plassnik stressed.
In her speech before the UN General Assembly Foreign Minister Plassnik clearly expressed her view on the role of women: "The time has come for women to take their rightful place in all spheres of public life. We are called upon to engage politically at all levels, from our own community level to the United Nations."
The Foreign Minister proposed a meeting on "Women in the Middle East" as a specific follow-up to the meeting in New York. "This may contribute to both the revival of the political process in the Middle East and to the dialogue among cultures and religions. After all, women know what holds families, communities and societies together. As they are the first to suffer in conflict situations, they are particularly alert to security and stability in their societies. In this respect the comprehensive integration of women into political life is also part of security policy, as they strengthen the fabric of society as a whole," said Plassnik.
The female foreign ministers were united in their emphasis on the significance of development cooperation projects aimed at making women more independent and self-reliant. "We also have to take specific measures to encourage women to claim their rights. A precondition for this is that they know what their rights are. Education and information are important pillars for women’s access to the law. The rule of law and access to the law and the judiciary are sometimes more important for women than for men. The rule of law initiative of our candidacy for the UN Security Council will take this aspect particularly into account," concluded Plassnik.
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