WASHINGTON, D.C. /eNewsChannels/ — Following their bilateral meeting in Washington, DC, on April 21, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal issued the following joint statement:

The foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world is the recognition that all men and women are born free and equal in rights and dignity. Women, like men, have individual and common roles, expectations and interests in society. In processes of democratization, conflict resolution, peacebuilding, and security, sustainable solutions are not possible if women’s voices are discounted or ignored.

Experience shows that integrating women into transition, reconciliation and peacebuilding processes from the start helps promote long-term peace and stability by ensuring a focus on critical broader priorities and needs. Where women are oppressed and marginalized, societies become more dangerous and breed intolerance. The subjugation of women is a threat to the common security of our world, because the suffering and denial of the rights of women, and the instability of nations, go hand in hand. There is also a mountain of data that correlates investments in and inclusion of women with positive outcomes in poverty alleviation and a country’s greater prosperity.

Yet still, the UN Development Fund for Women found in 2010 that women comprise less than 10% of negotiators and less than 3% of the signatories to peace agreements. In a similar vein, we see that substantial women’s participation in transitional processes is often lacking, even in situations where women have played an important role in ousting oppressive regimes.

Women leaders and women politicians can change the focus of politics. Women have their own talents and abilities, and they can insert different perspectives and issues into the political debate. Increasing women’s political participation, however, needs to go beyond mere numbers to encompass the complex relationship between power, poverty and participation. While women’s enhanced political participation and representation are essential preconditions to achieve this, institutional and cultural transformation are often required to create an enabling environment for women’s economic and political empowerment.

In the last decades there have been waves of turbulent developments where the people demanded democratic change. These include events in Eastern Europe after 1989 and democratic developments and peace processes in various countries of Latin America, Asia, and Africa that have highlighted both the opportunities and challenges women have faced, and continue to face, in emerging democracies.

The international community has an important role to play in promoting a political role for women in those countries at all stages of political transition and peacebuilding. In doing so, we advance our collective security and prosperity around the globe. This is why the United States and the Netherlands have been at the forefront of promoting the rights and inclusion of women, supporting women’s initiatives and aspirations, in countries and regions as diverse as Afghanistan, Sudan, Colombia, Iraq, and the Great Lakes, and continuing to promote these issues within the Community of Democracies.

In recent months, dramatic events sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have seen millions of men and women march in the streets demanding institutional reform. Both women and men have suffered under repressive governments in this region. Moreover, women have coped with discriminatory laws and deeply entrenched gender inequality. According to the UNDP Arab Human Development Reports, the gender gap is one of the three reasons for the slow progress in human development indicators in the MENA region.

The Netherlands and the United States share the view that the participation of women in political and economic processes is particularly urgent in the MENA region in these times of transition and reconciliation. We intend to work together to promote women’s empowerment in the region, based on the experience of our ongoing and cooperative efforts throughout the world.

The United States and the Netherlands recognize that a multi-faceted, collaborative approach drawing upon local expertise and networks and leveraging various resources and activities is urgently needed to address women’s participation in the various reform processes across the MENA region. We plan to identify areas of collaboration that leverage ongoing initiatives focused on increasing women’s participation in the political and social arenas. Particular emphasis is to be given to providing technical and capacity-building assistance for women-led and women-focused NGOs, which historically have been underutilized and which are critical to effective and sustainable progress for women in the region.

Key areas for collaboration:

1. Ensuring women’s human rights, especially in the legal, political and economic spheres,

2. Fostering women leaders and political leadership training,

3. Building the capacities of women’s civil society organizations, and

4. Engaging civic education initiatives – aimed at both female and male audiences – to raise awareness about women’s participation as key to a stable and prosperous society.

The Netherlands and the United States intend to focus our mutual efforts on working with local leaders and organizations. These women and their organizations are considered as the key stakeholder and therefore the main “owners” of their process. We believe that working with women and civil society organizations builds capacity for good governance for all citizens, irrespective of gender, and that as the political reform process moves peacefully forward, the human rights of all, including those of women, can be protected.