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President Obama Adds Historic Focus on Women’s Rights at G-8 and NATO Summits

Summary: 
Recognizing women as drivers of economic growth and as essential actors for strengthening global peace and security, recent G8 and NATO summits made history by placing women’s rights squarely on the agenda.

This week, under President Obama’s leadership, the Group of 8 (G-8) and NATO each made history by placing women’s rights squarely on the agenda. Recognizing women as drivers of economic growth and as essential actors for strengthening global peace and security, G-8 and NATO leaders not only put efforts to protect women’s rights and advance women’s participation front and center, but also recognized women as agents of change, and committed their countries to expanding efforts to empower women worldwide.

President Obama first invited fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David for talks on a wide range of economic, political and security issues. The President then welcomed NATO allies and partners to his hometown of Chicago for the NATO Summit, where leaders took steps to build the NATO-Afghanistan partnership while responsibly ending the war, and ensure that NATO remains the most successful alliance in history.  At each of these events, world leaders also discussed the importance of ensuring protection for women’s rights and the full participation of women in countries experiencing political transition.

President Obama introduced the topic of women’s rights at the G-8 leader’s dinner on May18th, and in his remarks the next morning described the outcome of that conversation:

We agreed that both, when it comes to economic development and when it comes to peace and security issues, empowering women to have a seat at the table and get more engaged and more involved in these processes can be extraordinarily fruitful.  And this is something that we will also be introducing during the G20.

The G-8 leader’s declaration affirmed the President’s message:

We recognize that according women full and equal rights and opportunities is crucial for all countries’ political stability, democratic governance, and economic growth.  We reaffirm our commitment to advance human rights of and opportunities for women, leading to more development, poverty reduction, conflict prevention and resolution, and improved maternal health and reduced child mortality.  We also commit to supporting the right of all people, including women, to freedom of religion in safety and security. We are concerned about the reduction of women’s political participation and the placing at risk of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including in Middle East and North Africa countries emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions.  We condemn and avow to stop violence directed against, including the trafficking of, women and girls.  We call upon all states to protect human rights of women and to promote women’s roles in economic development and in strengthening international peace and security.

Two days later, the NATO Chicago Summit Declaration focused on the role of women in peace building, conflict prevention, and in preventing gender-based violence, echoing the United States’ first-ever National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security:

Widespread sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations, the lack of effective institutional arrangements to protect women, and the continued under-representation of women in peace processes, remain serious impediments to building sustainable peace.  We remain committed to the full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and related Resolutions which are aimed at protecting and promoting women’s rights, role, and participation in preventing and ending conflict.  In line with the NATO/Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) Policy, the Alliance, together with its partners, has made significant progress in implementing the goals articulated in these Resolutions.  In this regard, we have today endorsed a Strategic Progress Report on mainstreaming UNSCR 1325 and related Resolutions into NATO-led Operations and Missions, and welcomed Norway’s generous offer to provide a NATO Special Representative for these important issues.  In this context, and to further advance this work, we have tasked the Council to: continue implementing the Policy and the Action Plan; undertake a review of the practical implications of UNSCR 1325 for the conduct of NATO operations and missions; further integrate gender perspectives into Alliance activities; and submit a report for our next Summit.

Over the past year, we have seen a groundswell of recognition of the critical importance of women’s political and economic empowerment around the world. Last year at the UN General Assembly, President Obama challenged us all “to break down economic and political barriers that stop women and girls from reaching their full potential,” and we are now developing a new initiative to advance this agenda. In November 2011, under U.S. leadership we saw new emphasis placed on women’s economic empowerment in the APEC Women and the Economy Summit declaration and the APEC Leaders Declaration. President Obama also highlighted the importance of women entrepreneurs at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012. In each of these forums, the United States is working with its international partners to create the change necessary for greater shared prosperity and security -- a goal for which we can all be proud.

Tina Tchen is the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls