News Archives

Ambassador Efird on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

(As prepared for delivery at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Session 16: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination; Equality of opportunity for women and men; Implementation of the OSCE Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality; Prevention of violence against women)

OSCE commitments concerning equality of opportunity for women and men go back to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, in which participating States agreed to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms…. for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” In 2000 and again in 2004, we adopted OSCE action plans on gender issues, addressing both the situation in participating States as well as management and staffing within the OSCE itself. Although there have been several ministerial decisions strengthening our commitments, OSCE documents are not enough. The question is whether the human rights of women in our countries are protected both in law as well as in practice, and whether women have the same opportunities as men—to get an education, to find employment, or to take part in political life. Unfortunately, these opportunities are not yet available in every participating State.

In some participating States, the legal framework to protect women from human rights abuses is still incomplete or not fully implemented. Sometimes, law enforcement authorities do not respond adequately to physical or sexual assaults against women, particularly if those are perpetrated by spouses or other family members.

Although some States prosecute domestic violence under general assault laws, more specific legislation would strengthen authorities’ ability to hold abusers accountable; these laws can be drafted to take the onus of pressing charges off of the victim. We commend Azerbaijan for passing a law on domestic violence. OSCE states that do not have specific laws against domestic violence include Andorra, Armenia, Belarus and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan drafted laws several years ago which still have not been adopted. Russia has no legal definition of domestic violence, making prosecution difficult.

Like all persons, women should make their own informed decision about how they dress, regardless of religious or cultural diktats. A March Human Rights Watch report details violent attacks on women whose clothing is considered immodest. Human Rights Watch further noted that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has condoned the documented attacks by unidentified men, some believed to be law enforcement officials. We urge Russian federal officials to address this troubling development.

Spousal rape is not specifically outlawed in several participating States. It only can be prosecuted under general rape laws. Specifically criminalizing spousal rape strengthens the response of law enforcement authorities, who often view it as simply a family matter. States in the OSCE region with no specific law against spousal rape include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Kosovo. (I would note that although Kosovo continues to be the only country in Europe deprived its place at the OSCE table, the United States still holds Pristina accountable for adhering to OSCE principles and commitments.)

Several participating States also lack specific laws addressing sexual harassment, including Armenia, Belarus, Kosovo, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan’s legislation deals only with physical assault, not verbal harassment such as threats and intimidation.

However, there are positive recent examples. France has passed a law on combating violence against women which strengthens protection for victims by providing a provisional “protection order” for at-risk women. It also provides for increased legal protection for foreign nationals and undocumented immigrants who are victims of abuse. Moldova has amended its criminal code to better promote the safety and well-being of victims and their children by requiring an abuser to leave housing shared with the victim regardless of who owns the property, providing for victim counseling, forbidding the aggressor from approaching the victim either at home or at a place of business, and forbidding visitation of children pending a criminal investigation.

Laws, of course, are not enough. States should do more to train law enforcement officials, judicial sector officials, social workers, healthcare providers, men and boys, religious and community leaders, and communities at large to address and prevent domestic violence, and violence against women more broadly. Victims should be able to quickly obtain information and assistance, and governments should commit resources to help them do so, as well as support similar civil society efforts. We strongly support OSCE programs in these areas, and believe the OSCE should increase its assistance to participating States, including those which do not host field missions.

Madam Moderator,

Women in all OSCE States have proven over and over that given the same opportunity as men, they will succeed. And equality of access for women to education, healthcare, political participation, and economic opportunities is key to a country’s competitiveness and prosperity.

Moreover, women need to be represented at the policy- and decision-making table, including at the senior levels of OSCE itself. Many OSCE activities focus on conflict prevention, crisis management and resolution, and post-conflict rehabilitation. It is important that women be involved in all stages of conflict- and post-conflict-related work. OSCE staff dealing with conflict management should be trained to identify and include women in these efforts.

As you said in Kyrgyzstan in July of this year, “Women play a critical role in achieving peace and security.” We applaud your joint visits to participating states with the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combatting Trafficking that highlighted gender inequality and conflict as contributors to human trafficking.

All citizens, men and women alike, are entitled to equal protection in the enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. We all must work harder to ensure the rights of women and men are respected equally.


Spokesperson Nuland: Call for Peaceful Demonstrations in Guinea

The United States calls on those who will gather to commemorate the second anniversary of the tragic 2009 pro-democracy demonstration in Conakry Stadium to do so peacefully, as violence undermines rule of law and threatens Guinea’s nascent democracy. During the demonstration in September 2009, 157 people were killed, and more than 1,000 injured when members of Guinea’s Presidential Guard opened fire on unarmed peaceful demonstrators and also brutally raped and sexually assaulted hundreds of women. The Guinean people have worked long and hard to bring about democracy; and with legislative elections set for December 29, 2011, now is not the time to lose democratic progress that took 50 years to achieve.

The United States encourages all political players in Guinea to engage in dialogue and act responsibly in order to reconcile differences. We urge Guinean security forces to refrain from using excessive force to control demonstrations.


Secretary Clinton’s Remarks on The Working Women’s Forum

I want to thank my friend and your friend, a wonderful woman who is viewed as a leader around the world, Jaya. (Applause.)

I want you to know that I have admired the work of the Working Women’s Forum for many years. (Applause.) In 1978, there were only 800 women members. Today, there are more than 1 million of you. (Applause.) I am honored to be here with you to celebrate your accomplishments in bringing micro-credit to women, in bringing healthcare and other services to women so they could have a better life for themselves and their children. (Applause.)

I believe in the self-help movement that all of you are a part of, because I have seen the results with my own eyes. From Bangladesh to India to South Africa to Chile and Nicaragua and Latin America, I have seen women’s lives change, as we heard from the wonderful story earlier. Every one of you has a story, and I applaud you for what you have done to help yourselves. (Applause.)

So today, I wanted to bring you some more help, to help more women. (Applause.) I’m very pleased to announce that Goldman Sachs, a very important global financial company, has decided to support a training program through the Indian School of Business to help self-help groups bring even more knowledge and skills about how to take your businesses from the very local village level to the cities, to the countries, to the world. (Applause.)

I also know there are several panchayat members here, and I thank you for working so hard to promote government and democracy at the local level. (Applause.) So I am pleased to announce that the Government of the United States and the Government of India will establish a regional training program at the Asia University of Women to spotlight the success of the panchayat program, and train more women to be local leaders like you.

We also want to continue working with the Working Women’s Forum on the very serious problem we just heard about, violence against women. (Applause.)

And we want to work with you on another problem, and that is the smoke that you breathe when you are cooking for your families. I looked at an exhibition of cooking stoves outside with Dr. Kalpana Balakrishnan of Sri Ramachandra University. Is she here? Is that – yes. Doctor? She is one of the world’s experts on how to make cooking safer for women and children. (Applause.) Because of the health problems caused by breathing smoke, we have worked with many partners around the world to create the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. (Applause.) And we’re very proud that the Indian Government launched its own National Biomass Cookstove Initiative two years ago, that is trying to save lives and improve the conditions for cooking for millions of Indian women.

And so we will work with people around the world to help develop clean cookstoves, help to manufacture them so they are affordable for you to buy them, and we are delighted that we have partners right here with the Working Women’s Forum, with the Confederation of Indian Industries, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, who have joined the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, to make your lives and the lives of your children better and healthier. (Applause.)

So it is for me a great honor to be here with all of you to celebrate the wonderful work that the Working Women’s Forum has done, to thank you all for the examples you are setting for both your daughters and your sons, and to pledge myself to continue working with you on the important issues that are necessary to empower women so that you have your right to be whoever you want to be and to do what you believe is right and to lay the pathway for your daughters and your sons for a better future. (Applause.)

So, Jaya – Jaya, come down here. Come down here. Come down here. This is a woman who has worked so hard. (Applause.) And all of you will have to decide how you can follow her model, so that you not only help yourselves and your families but you spread the word about microfinance, about bank accounts, about starting businesses, about getting health services, about empowering the women of this state, and giving everyone a chance to live up to your God-given potential. (Applause.)


Ambassador Verveer: Policy Dialogue on Healthy Women, Healthy Economies

Secretary Hillary Clinton came here last November to underscore the commitment of the United States government to the people of Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific region. She recognized the critical importance of investing in women and girls and announced that a Pacific Women’s Empowerment Initiative policy dialogue would take place in PNG. She also announced that I would come. So here am I and all of you! I want to extend a very special welcome to each and every one of you. You come from 15 countries, and you represent government, business, and civil society. You are all leaders and experts in your field.

Today we begin a journey together for “healthy women and healthy economies” in the South Pacific region. Together, we will develop effective programs and policy recommendations, and together we will continue the hard work of implementing the efforts that begin here and build on what so many of you have done over the years.

So many people brought us to this day. It took a village!

I want to thank our co-hosts. The government of PNG joined with the U.S. government and the World Bank to lead this policy dialogue. I want to thank especially Dame Carol Kidu for her inspired leadership and commitment and for the work of her colleagues. I also want to thank the World Bank and IFC — and especially Laura Bailey and Carolyn Blacklock. This project has also had the strongest commitment from the U.S. government, especially the Office of Global Women’s Issues. I want to thank our embassy staff here in PNG and those coming from Manila and Suva for their on-the-ground assistance. And I want to thank Ambassador Taylor for his leadership and for hosting the reception last night and CDC and USAID for joining us here today. I also want to acknowledge the presence of the Asian Development Bank, the UN, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and Pacific Islands Forum.

The recommendations of this policy dialogue will be supported in the months ahead by an array of programs that will further our work together. The United States – through the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – will underwrite an initiative through the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to further the political participation of women in PNG and the Solomon Islands. It will train women for effective advocacy with their governments.

During Secretary Clinton’s trip here and to Australia and New Zealand, she and her counterparts announced additional new support. The U.S. and Australia will collaborate with the World Bank to co-host a policy dialogue in Australia on effective means to combat gender-based violence and promote women’s empowerment in the South Pacific in Canberra in November. In February, the New Zealand government hosted a policy dialogue and, as a result, New Zealand has agreed to support Vital Voices to conduct a leadership training to strengthen women’s political participation and empowerment. It will take place in Vanuatu in August. We hope that some of you will join as mentors.

In addition, we are so pleased to see that the government of Australia announced a grant to the GSM Association to support the mWomen initiative to increase women’s access to mobile technology in the Pacific region. This builds on the U.S. commitment to close the gender gap in mobile technology made by Secretary Clinton last year.

Much progress has been made on behalf of women and girls, thanks to the hard work and commitment of so many citizens and government leaders – thanks to all of you. Effective partnerships have been forged among donor governments, the UN and other multilateral agencies, the private sector and NGOs. We know that when women make progress, everyone makes progress — all of society benefits.

Today, there are many converging studies from the World Bank to the World Economic Forum showing that investing in women is a high yield investment. Data show that development investments in women and girls correlate positively with poverty alleviation, better health, and a country’s general prosperity. Educating a girl is the simple most effective development investment that can be made with high yield dividends for her and her future family.

In countries where men and women are closer to being equal in economic participation, political empowerment, access to education and health survivability, these countries enjoy greater prosperity and economic growth. Simply put – no country can get ahead if half its people are left behind. Gender equality is a key condition for a country’s prosperity.

We know that when women bring their talents, perspectives and experiences to bear in the political arena, they are far more likely to invest in the public good. The number of women serving on village and city councils in India (the panchayets) – as a result of the quota adopted by the Indian parliament – are a well-documented case of the difference women are making in elected office. The women are investing in safe drinking water, education, sanitation and other community needs. We also know that as women’s participation in parliament goes up, corruption goes down. Yet women are still significantly out-numbered in the parliaments, provincial councils, local governments, and ministries around the world. The South Pacific region has extremely low levels of representation of women in government decision making. Together we must make greater progress in advancing women in politics. There is no shortage of talent, but women’s opportunities in politics are too often circumscribed. Democracy without the participation of women is a contradiction in terms.

Gender equality is also smart economics. Women are too often under-represented in the workforce. Women as entrepreneurs running small- and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) offer so much promise. It is a fact that women-run SMEs drive economic growth and create jobs. Moreover, women’s work has a multiplier effect because women invest most of their income in their families and communities – in what makes for better societies. Yet women face barriers that hinder their ability to start or expand businesses. They often confront lack of training and mentors, access to finance and markets. They confront discriminatory laws, regulations or customs, and lack of land rights. Financial inclusion – the full range of services of credit, savings, and insurance are critical elements for women’s economic progress and must be supported.

According to a UN study, it is estimated that the Asia Pacific region is shortchanged between 42 and 47 billion dollars a year in GDP because of the untapped potential of women. Women’s contributions to the formal and informal economy are not to be under-estimated. Together we must make greater progress in ensuring women’s economic participation.

Women’s health is important for her and for her family’s well being, yet women so often put themselves last in addressing their own health care needs. Available statistics for the region show that women are dying prematurely from natural health causes as well as from infections and pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. The Millennium Development Goals that address ending maternal mortality and child mortality are significantly behind their targets, yet we know from the decreases that have taken place over the last decade that progress is possible. Voluntary family planning is one of the most effective public health interventions and prevents both maternal and child deaths. Government officials need to recognize its importance and the health care priority that women represent. There is much that needs to be done if we are to see progress on women’s health.

Violence against women is a global epidemic and we know from studies that this region has among the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. This is not a private family matter, nor can it be dismissed as cultural. Gender-based violence is criminal and needs to be prosecuted. It also means that police and judges need to be trained, laws need to be implemented and enforced and programs need to be put in place to keep women safe. Violence against women is a very serious challenge. It is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is a serious health issue. It also affects a country’s productivity and its economic prospects. It destabilizes societies and undermines security in the long term. Together we must make combating violence against women and girls a policy priority and engage men and boys in being part of the solution.

You have achieved much, but no one knows better than you how much remains to be done. Each of you is helping to chart a path to a better tomorrow in the South Pacific region. Women are the greatest untapped resource on earth.

Working together, we will make a difference!


Ambassador Brownfield Meets with Women’s Group on International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, Ambassador Brownfield met today with representatives of Sisma Mujer.  The Ambassador expressed strong concern for violence against women and recognized the importance of groups like Sisma Mujer in a democratic society.  “The United States applauds the work of Sisma Mujer and its executive Director Claudia Mejia.  Sisma Mujer seeks to reduce violence against women and engage women in the political process.” 

Sisma Mujer was founded in 1998 and is dedicated to protecting the human rights of women.


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