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2002-01-20 21:57:06

APRIL 10, 2000

______________ Distinguished Members of the Faculty Dear students,

Allow me first to thank most warmly La Salle University and particularly Dr. Cornelia Tsakiridou, Director of the Diplomat in Residence Program, for the kind invitation to participate in this year's "World Diplomacy 2000" Conference, It is a distinct pleasure and an honor for me to address the session on "Women in Politics and Diplomacy" and I wish to congratulate all those involved in this program for their insight, vision and commitment in defending the high values and principles of justice and democracy.

For what else than defending justice and democracy is the struggle for gender equality? What else than defending justice and democracy is the effort to see that the 50 plus percent of the population become active participants in all spheres of society's life?

I have been personally dealing with women's issues for the past 20 years and we all find ourselves still struggling to achieve equality. We have already entered the historical doorway that led us to a new millennium and we are still struggling to achieve equality. I admit that I find it disheartening to realize that we still need events like this one to bring to the fore the fact that women in leadership and decision making positions, be it in politics or diplomacy, remain, shamefully, a minority worldwide.

In any event, we are sincerely thankful for bringing this minority group, the Women Ambassadors and other women in Diplomacy, to the public eye. We hope that our presence here and the reflections surrounding this forum will sensitize many not only in this University but also elsewhere and we may soon see our numbers grow to levels faithful to equality.

The theme of this session, "Women in Politics and Diplomacy" is very pertinent to my previous argument, that we cannot really talk about democracy and democratic institutions unless all citizens participate actively in the political, social and economic life and unless women share equally the power, be it in the family or in the wider society. This is, at least, the true meaning of dimokratia in ancient Greek, the power of the people, and the people of course are composed of men and women.

In relation to women's issues, the international community since 1975 has traversed a long and arduous path from Mexico City through Copenhagen to Nairobi to Beijing. Although the journey has been marked with many disappointments and setbacks, it can be said that the concern for and commitment to the advancement of women on the parts of Governments and non-governmental organizations has become a reality. The solidarity of women has been strengthened, women have become more aware of their rights and responsibilities and the qualities of leadership and self-confidence of women the world over have become evident.

Why then do we still see so few women in leadership positions the world over? Why women are still paid less than men for work of equal value in many parts of the world? Why women still make up the majority of the worlds illiterate and poor? Why women still make the majority of the victims of violence? Why women and children are still the predominant victims of armed conflict in many regions?

These are questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be resolved if we are talking about democracy and building democratic institutions. When we reach the stage that women participate equally in Governments and Parliaments, as well as in all other strata of society, then real democracy will be met and justice will be served.

Cyprus has followed a similar path in the advancement of women and still faces the same obstacles as many other European countries. The advances of the last 40 years have been remarkable, particularly as far as trying to bring the relevant legislation up to the standards set by the international community.

Cyprus is a party to all the major international conventions in the field and as one of the six candidate countries that has started accession negotiations with the European Union, we are in the process of fully harmonizing our legislation with the European Acquis.

As in most other countries, with the exclusion perhaps of the Nordic region, women in Cyprus are still far below the desired levels as far as decision-making is concerned. There is presently no woman in the Council of Ministers and female Members of Parliament constitute only 6 percent of the House of Representatives.

But the Government, the Political leadership and Women's Organizations in Cyprus have all declared their full support to a further balancing out in women's participation in decision-making and politics in order to meet the goal of a 30 percent representation of women by the year 2005, set by the Beijing Platform for Action.

Measures taken in this field include the:

- launching of training programmes to encourage women to enter politics,
- setting up of a cross-political citizens group to lobby and campaign for equal representation of Women and Men in Politics,
- sensidization of the Mass Media and the
- appointment of women in high ranking political posts.

To that effect the President has recently appointed three very able women in the positions of the Ombudsman, the Auditor General and the Chairman of the Educational Commission of the Republic. A number of women are also serving at the Director level in a number of Ministries, while in the private sector women have made remarkable strides in all professions and have excelled in business, science and the cultural field.

Although women diplomats and especially women Ambassadors is a rather recent phenomenon of the past few decades worldwide, women diplomats have solidly established themselves as equal partners with their male colleagues and have won respect and trust for their achievements.

The Diplomatic Service of the Republic is moving fast towards full equality, with women Ambassadors constituting 20 percent of the Heads of Mission of Cyprus abroad. My appointment to this most important post and that of 5 other women Ambassadors reflect the growing trust that our Government and our society bestow upon Cypriot women.

You will agree that democracy and equality without liberty is not complete. And the women of Cyprus are still deprived of basic and fundamental liberties, as a result of the occupation of 37 percent of their country by Turkey. One third of the population were expelled from their homes in 1974 and still remain refugees in their own country, being denied their right to peaceful enjoyment of their properties in the occupied area.

This forcible division of the country and the people, which remains an anachronism and an anomaly in the new millennium, has led Cypriot women to form the "Women Walk Home" political initiative, having as a goal the reunification of the divided island and the peaceful coexistence, without outside interference or artificial barriers, of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. Women from around the world joined them in solidarity and support of a noble cause for peace and reunification.

Living in a forcibly divided country and being prevented from exercising some of their most fundamental human rights, the women of Cyprus are fully determined to play their role in building bridges of peace and reconciliation with their Turkish Cypriot compatriots. They are determined to work hard for the reunification of their country in order to create an environment where their children and the future generation of Cypriots will live in peace without barbed wires and an occupation army to divide them.

Cypriot women look to the 21st century with hope and expectations. Their ultimate goal is to achieve full equality, development but primarily peace, not in the next generation, but in their generation, and in order to see this become a reality they shall spare no effort.

Let me conclude by a quote from Dante, which I find relevant in all periods and all cases: "The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis". Indeed, there can be no neutrality in the struggle for women's liberation, as there can be no neutrality in the struggle for freedom and human rights.

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