On her recent trip to Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that many women have achieved success in Central and Eastern European countries. Lithuania, for example, has a woman president, a woman speaker of parliament, a woman finance minister and a woman defense minister. But unfortunately, there are too many countries where women still struggle to attain full political, economic, and social rights.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 20 percent of seats in parliaments worldwide are now held by women. "With one-half the population," said Secretary Clinton, "there is simply no reason women should only be represented at one-fifth of the seats at the table."
With political changes unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East, it is critical to ensure that women are included. Across the region, women have stood on the frontlines of the struggle for freedom and human rights. They have earned their place as equals in the democratic societies they have struggled to create.
In Tunisia, the United States was disappointed to see only two Tunisian women appointed to the transitional government. The good news is that the commission responsible for drafting Tunisia's new electoral code ruled that there must be full gender parity on election candidate lists. The United States is supporting on-the-ground efforts to increase women's participation in the political process.
In Egypt, there have been steps both forward and backwards. Women played a critical role in carrying out Egypt's revolution, and yet Egypt's constitution committee does not have a single female member. When women marched to celebrate International Women's Day, they were harassed and abused. So the United States supports efforts like the Charter of Egyptian Women. Nearly 500,000 women and men and 500 non-governmental organizations signed on to a set of demands for the political, social, and economic rights of women in Egypt. The United States will fund a wide variety of programs to help Egyptian women as they exercise their roles as community leaders, business owners, and citizens.
For too many women in too many places basic rights remain a distant dream. That's why, said Secretary Clinton, "we have to send a clear, unmistakable message that young women, just like young men, have the rights to their dreams and their dignity in the 21st century."