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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 00:03 GMT
World's women look to win
BBC News Online's Rachel Clarke
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

Female political leaders have drawn up a battle plan to increase women's participation in politics and government around the globe.

Women queue up to vote in India
Women should not be kept waiting any longer, advocates say
The gathering in Washington focused on the need for political parties to include, accept and welcome women both so they could hear female views and so they could be training grounds for leaders.

Delegates from 27 countries, including cabinet ministers from four continents, agreed an action plan to break down barriers and promote democracy among women and men.

The forum, hosted by the National Democratic Institute, sought ways to replicate the successes of the delegates and generate new avenues.

The participants identified four goals for politicians and governments:

  • Removing restrictions on women's political participation, including restrictions on suffrage and candidacy
  • Increasing numbers of women elected to office at national, provincial and local levels
  • Ensuring political parties include women in meaningful leadership positions and in meaningful numbers
  • Encouraging governments to create agencies, departments or ministries and laws to enshrine the full equality of women and men.

Among the key messages were that women deserved full equality and that individual societies and the world as a whole were likely to be better off if more women were involved in raising issues to be tackled and making decisions.

Geraldine Ferraro, the first and only woman to stand for the vice-presidency of the United States, told the audience: "We are going to run, we are going to win, we are going to lead... we will change this world for the better, one woman at a time."


Beatriz Merino Lucero, prime minister of Peru and as such the holder of the highest position ever for a Peruvian woman, attributed her success to the way she questioned the status quo, the way she dreamed and the way she fought.

Such determination was necessary, she said, for the improvement of both politics and society.

There are a hundred different ways that women in power can contribute to their society, but perhaps the most important is to bring the tangible benefits of democracy down to the grass-roots level
Madeleine Albright,
former US Secretary of State
"A country like Peru cannot become a true democracy if half of its population are purposely silenced," she said.

"Women all around the world face very similar obstacles in the political arena."

For Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State and the highest-ranking female official in US history, greater political involvement by women across the world was important for the very future of democracy itself.

She said she was not one of those who believed that all ills could be solved if only women ran the world, but said full involvement by women was crucial.

"There are a hundred different ways that women in power can contribute to their society, but perhaps the most important is to bring the tangible benefits of democracy down to the grass-roots level," she said.

"Democracy today is in trouble," she warned, saying the Taleban who banned women from power and girls from school were threatening a comeback in Afghanistan while elsewhere democracy movements which flourished after the fall of the Berlin Wall were now beginning to wane.

"There is a risk that through complacency and carelessness we will allow history's pendulum to swing back away from democracy toward autocracy.

"We must draw the line and say that is simply not acceptable."

Role models

Participants at the conference gave BBC News Online upbeat assessments of the situation and hopes for progress in their home countries.

Soumia Benkhaldoun, a member of Morocco's House of Representatives, said her country had embraced the political enfranchisement of women and could act as a role model for other Islamic nations.

Morocco's political system remained fully compatible with the teachings of Islam and had been embraced by both men and women.

A quota system made sure that women were on the ballot, but once elected there was no question of them being considered second-class representatives, she said.

"I was on the national list, for example... [but] I'm a full parliamentarian - I was chosen by the people, both men and women chose me."

Alice Sumani, Malawi's Minister of Gender and Community Services, told BBC News Online she was very proud of the way her country was leading the way in Africa with women assuming posts at the very heart of a country's power.

Malawi and South Africa both had female foreign ministers, she said, showing that women were more than a token presence in governments.

And while she was appointed by the president, Ms Sumani said she would work hard not simply to get the patronage of one man - "I need the support of men, women, boys and girls," she said.

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