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Rice: Women must gain greater rights in the Middle East

Rice: Women must gain greater rights in the Middle East

Democracy will not flourish in the Middle East until its women gain greater rights and expanded roles, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday at a conference on women's peace efforts in the region.
"It's absolutely the case that unless women are fully participants in their societies, in terms of political participation, economic participation, these societies cannot really be fully democratic, and that is something we're absolutely devoted to," Rice told reporters in Vienna.
Women in the Middle East will find "the appropriate balance between tradition and women's empowerment," she said at the meeting hosted by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who described efforts to empower them as "a precious moment."
"I emphasize particularly political rights because without political rights you can't possibly express choice," Rice said.
Rice was joined at the conference by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni; EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner; Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi; and the outgoing president of the U.N. General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, among others.
Rice also briefly addressed the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and met with members of the Women's Empowerment Network, an initiative that unites female foreign ministers and presidents from around the globe.
Later, participants met behind closed doors for a round-table discussion titled "Women Leaders _ Networking for Peace and Security in the Middle East."
At a news conference at the end of the meeting, Livni said she believed there was now a better understanding of the Middle East and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not a "zero-sum game."
"We share the same interests, we share the same goals," Livni told reporters.
Livni also spoke of a shared threat and called for a "dual strategy:" dialogue on the one hand and pressure and action against extremists on the other.
"I believe this meeting was a meeting of women ... determined enough to make a change," Livni said, adding it was a great opportunity to meet new friends.
Ashrawi, sitting on the podium several seats down from Livni, referred to the meeting as "a starting point."
"Nothing is to be gained if extremists on any side take over," Ashrawi said, adding there was a need for a "collective investment in peace" in the region.
Sheikha Haya said it was necessary to address the political issues in the Middle East in a very open, transparent and results-oriented matter. She also noted that the quality of education _ not just education alone _ was important in empowering women.
Ferrero-Waldner referred to the initiative as a "gathering of hope" and said she hoped to host a follow up meeting in Brussels, Belgium "at the right moment."
Rice arrived in Vienna from Berlin, where she met with her German and Russian counterparts and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the recent escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and parts of Lebanon.
On Thursday, Rice told reporters that she saw hopeful signs that progress was possible in forging peace in the Middle East.
She said Washington continued to work toward "the establishment of the Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel in peace and security."
"I think it has been long enough since Palestinians have wanted and needed their state, and long enough that Israelis have wanted and needed a neighbor that could be a source of security and not a source of threat for them," Rice said.
Rice acknowledged the difficulties, but said trends in the region pointed to a "time of opportunity."
"If this had been something that was easy to achieve, it would have been achieved by now," she said.


Updated : 2021-10-17 03:26 GMT+08:00