Media Center



April 21, 2004 - Washington, D.C

Ministers and Viceministers of Women's Affairs, Ms. Florence Ievers, Vice President of CIM and Deputy Head, Status of Women, Canada,
Distinguished Ambassadors, Permanent Representative to the OAS,
Representatives of Inter-American and International Organizations,
Paulo Paiva, Vice President for Planning and Administration of the Inter-American Development Bank,
Karen Mason, Sector Director for Gender and Development of the World Bank, Representatives of Non-Governmental Organizations,
Delegates to CIM, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Carmen Lomellin,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to welcome you today to this Second Meeting of Ministers or of the Highest-Ranking Authorities Responsible for the Advancement of Women in the Member States. You have a challenging agenda to address as you review the progress achieved since you last met four years ago.
I am particularly impressed by the presence here, among others, of Ministers from Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. This representation, and the high quality of discussion this morning at the Special Session of the Permanent Council with the Foreign Minister of El Salvador, make me proud to be with you. That first meeting of ministers four years ago has had important repercussions for our Organization and for the countries of the Region. It has been rightly stated many times that pursuing a gender equity agenda is imperative for building stronger, more prosperous democracies where all citizens have the opportunity to participate in political, economic, and civil society. But it was your predecessors who drafted the Inter-American Program for the Promotion of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equity and Equality, more commonly referred to as the IAP, won first its approval by the Windsor General Assembly and then its endorsement by the Quebec City Summit that gave decisive shape to a new approach based on gender equity as the main strategy for achieving equality of rights and opportunities for men and women.

In considering the implementation of the IAP since then, I can attest to steady progress within the OAS on issues of gender -- and not just in my Office, where women seem to run most everything! There is a growing awareness of the need to integrate gender in all issues, especially issues not traditionally considered to be “women’s issues,” and there is also an increased systematization of a gender sensitive approach throughout the organization. We had a very good example of that from Irene Klinger this morning, both in the sense that the Executive head of the Secretariat for the Summit Process is a woman, but also in that she has brought to that position the insights and concerns of a woman not afraid to use her oar to help straighten out the course set by the men who preceded her.

This change in organizational culture was due in no small part to a program implemented within the OAS General Secretariat by CIM Secretariat with the support of the government of Canada. The results of this Program to train OAS officials on gender mainstreaming. have surpassed our expectations and placed gender squarely in the center of OAS policies and programs—an objective enunciated by the Organization ever since the adoption in 1986 of AG/RES. 829 (XVI-O/86), "Full and Equal Participation of Women by the Year 2000." We have not met the many ambitious goals set forward in that and subsequent resolutions, but the progress is evident in the Organization’s leadership right up to the Secretary General and myself. And I must say I look forward to the day when the Member States will look for good women as well as men as our successors – and elect them.

OAS units are working together with the CIM to integrate a gender perspective in Ministerial meetings on issues such as labor, justice, education, science and technology, peace and security, all of which are central to the regional agenda. In addressing the topic of women, free trade and economic integration, this Ministerial is tackling one of the focal points of the next Summit of the Americas, in Argentina in 2005. We look forward to receiving your contributions on that issue which will surely enhance the realism and focus of Summit preparations.

That gender consciousness has become one of the defining forces of hemispheric policy is increasingly clear in the hemisphere’s political instruments. An outstanding example of this is the 2001 Plan of Action of the Quebec Summit of the Americas, which not only specifically addressed gender equality but also integrated gender as a crosscutting theme in many areas. Other instruments, such as the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Declarations of the 2002 Conference of Ministers of Defense of the Americas and the 2003 Special Conference on Hemispheric Security, also address the issue of full and equal participation of women as fundamental to the democratic cultures of the Americas.

This morning’s session of the OAS Permanent Council on implementation of the IAP was another palpable illustration of the importance assigned to gender within the Organization. This was the second special session held by the Council on specific and substantive issues related to women. The first one, on women’s leadership, held in 2002, highlighted the diverse challenges and results as women assume an increasing role in the development of national and regional agendas.

Women have indeed experienced tremendous advances in the Region in the past decades. As was well articulated at the 34th Regional Conference of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2002, changes in gender relationships were among the most significant developments of the 20th century. Women are now outpacing men in educational attainment in many countries of the Region and they now have unprecedented access to careers and positions that were previously considered beyond their reach. Education is perhaps the most important single mechanism for social mobility, integration, overcoming poverty, and promoting cultural change. With education, women are refusing to remain invisible or powerless. Congratulations – to them, and to all of us. The struggle to build and maintain democracy – or, as the Foreign Minister of El Salvador and the Minister of the National Institute of Women of Honduras agreed this morning, the quality of democracy – is the common bond of the Americas.

I need not to remind this group that challenges persist, and that we must continue to work to eliminate discrimination and gender inequities and to strengthen women’s human rights. Nor is this just a matter of social justice and of putting democracy into practice. It is also a matter of furthering overall economic growth and development, and reducing poverty. More women than men live in poverty and as a group women still suffer more than men from severe unemployment and wage discrimination. At the same time, the participation of women in political and management positions is still low, particularly as we saw in that memorable photograph taken in January at the Monterrey Summit, at the highest decision-making levels. Policies that are not gender-sensitive may, by the inherent weakness of exclusion, contribute to the perpetuation of poverty, even to a feminization of poverty and a denial of productive potential that our countries badly need.

I am sure that your concerted efforts will develop additional policies and strategies that will lead to further improvements in the lives of the women and men of the Americas and in our society as a whole.

You can count on the unconditional support of the General Secretariat of the OAS for your work.

I wish you a very fruitful meeting and look forward to the results of your deliberations.

Thank you very much.