US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for more political rights for women in the Middle East.
Condoleezza Rice closely linked women's rights to democracy
She said women needed such rights to be able to choose how to balance tradition with empowerment in their societies.
Ms Rice was speaking at a conference in Vienna which has been examining the contribution women can make to peace efforts in the Middle East.
Attending the meeting are a number of prominent women from the region.
These include the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, Palestinian MP Hanan Ashrawi, the wife of the Iraqi president, Hira Talabani, and Sheikha Haya Rashed al-Khalifa, the outgoing Bahraini president of the UN General Assembly.
"It's absolutely the case that unless women are fully participants of their societies, these societies cannot really be fully democratic, and that is something we're absolutely devoted to," Ms Rice said.
The participants at the conference are meeting behind closed doors for a discussion entitled Women Leaders - Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East.
Hosting the meeting, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said those attending had no illusions about the problems in the volatile region and would not shy away from talking frankly about its "open wounds".
"We have no illusions about the obstacles still facing us, nor about the urgency for action," she said. "We will not let ourselves be discouraged."