My dreams have been full of the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo for months and months and my heart cracks a little more each time I think of them. The Bush administration, the U.N., my country and the powerful countries of the world have been unsuccessful in ameliorating he conditions for women in Congo, to the extent that anyone has tried. These days, I often push thoughts of those women aside out of feelings of despair.
Thus, it was with a sense of relief and great hope that I read the following open letter to President-Elect Obama at The Huffington Post:
On December 5, 2008, a few days before the 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a group of global and domestic women’s organizations gathered in New York to frame a shared agenda for advancing global women’s rights. Determined to use their collective strength and expertise to work together to advance a global agenda for women’s freedom, safety and agency, they crafted the following open letter to President-elect Obama and committed to working together to see their vision come true in this century.
Dear President-Elect Obama,
As a group of women leaders who have given our lives to the transformation, protection and empowerment of women in the United States and globally, we want to begin by congratulating you. We are honored and proud to have you lead the nation during this historic time. We also welcome your call to action, reminding us of what we have always known — that as global citizens we cannot solely rely on any one administration’s ability to bring about change, but must be steadfast in pushing forward our own vision and agendas.
We represent a historic movement for change: millions of women across the globe with innovative ideas, influential constituencies and collaborative solutions. We are calling on you to ensure that women are equally represented in everything, from your administration’s infrastructure to its decision-making and solution building. We are calling on you to exercise leadership in dismantling the structures that perpetuate gender inequality, impede women’s full participation in society and thwart real progress for people around the world.
As war rages in Gaza, it is clear that the time has come to dismantle militarism as the dominant ideology in world politics. We must ensure that women take the lead in building lasting peace in the Middle East, ending genocide in Darfur, stopping femicide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, fighting the War on Terror in Afghanistan, and ending the war in Iraq.
Though the select-few women who hold leadership positions in this country’s political system inspire us; women represent more than 50% of the population and deserve more than marginal representation. We believe that in order for your vision of change to succeed, women must be in positions of power. While US women gained the right to vote 100 years ago, to date only 14% of the US Congress are women. This must change.
The major economic, security, governance and environmental challenges of our times cannot be solved without the equal participation of women at all levels of society — from the home to institutions of national and global governance. Women’s voices must be central in all major discussions including the economic crisis, overhauling our education system. Long-term investments in women’s education, health and leadership development are equally critical. Economic structures continue to marginalize women. Consider this: women represent two-thirds of the world’s labor yet we own less than 1% of the world’s assets.
In addition, more than 500,000 women die each year because of inadequate medical and reproductive care. Violence against women is a pandemic that determines women’s realities, impeding their access to education and economic self-sufficiency. This global epidemic is undermining the future of the world, as women are at the heart of all communities and families; we literally carry the future in our bodies.
Yet these are not “women’s issues.” In fact, such investments are vital to economic growth and the well-being of all individuals, communities, societies and nations. Consider India’s economic transformation of the past 15 years: The World Bank finds that states with the highest percentage of women in the labor force grew the fastest and had the largest reductions in poverty.
As policy makers, activists, researchers, and grant-makers we have spent our lives investing in women and know that these kinds of investments have immeasurable and fundamental impact for the better. Worldwide, women are uniquely positioned to bring innovative insights and creative solutions to global leadership forums. If we hope to improve existing economic, peace and security, and human development frameworks women must not only be included, but must be at the heart of the discussion.
We are calling on you to be the President who ushers in the time of women. Our vision of the future is one in which women and men are equal partners, standing shoulder to shoulder in confronting the world’s challenges. We welcome, with hope and anticipation, your shared commitment to this vision. [emphasis mine]
We represent more than half of the world’s human potential. And our time has come.
Linda Basch, PhD
President, National Council for Research on Women
Executive Director, Breakthrough: Building Human Rights Culture
President, International Women’s Health Coalition
CEO, Ms. Foundation
CEO, Women’s Funding Network
Geeta Rao Gupta
President, International Center for Research on Women
Executive Director, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
CEO, Global Fund for Women
President, Women for Women International