Hitherto, international relations have been the responsibility of men. Men leaders, men finance ministers, men foreign secretaries gathering for conferences, summits and photocalls in various parts of the world. No-one could say that was not important. We know that relations between countries have always been important – and never more so when we need to work together to tackle global economic problems, global terrorism, global warming and poverty in the developing world.
We also know that the only effective and sustainable way to free women from inequality, oppression and poverty is for them to be empowered to take control of their lives. But this will not happen unless we ensure women, as well as men are involved in the key decisions that will shape the future of our countries and the global economy.
We have made great strides forward in terms of women’s representation in political life – in parliaments and in governments. There is Angela Merkel, the first woman Chancellor in Germany, Christine Lagarde, the French Finance minister, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female president of Liberia to name but three women in senior positions. In every continent and in every country there is a chance to make progress on supporting women by women working together internationally. But though we have made progress we are still pioneers. We are still trying to break new ground.
Last week in Cadiz I co-hosted a summit of European women ministers with Spanish Equalities Minister Bibiana Aido Almagro. The summit points the way forward to a new dimension in international relations – women ministers working together to make a difference to women’s lives in their own countries and internationally.
We were 25 ministers from 17 countries and yet there was no wrangling or horse trading, just a unity of purpose and a determination to work to support women across Europe and in the rest of the world.
We all agreed that we can be stronger in our own countries with the support of other women ministers.
We all agreed that women can bring a different dimension to international relations.
We all agreed to back the formation of a new single United Nations women’s agency that has women in its leadership and brings together on a standing, not ad hoc, basis women in leading positions in government and parliament around the world.
The most important thing is women’s representation, and for the new UN women’s agency to back up women representatives. This is the only way that delivering for women is going to be sustainable and legitimate.
Who will fight hardest for the maternal health care of the woman in the village of Northern Nigeria? The woman in the Nigerian state legislature. Who will fight hardest for the chance for women in the highlands of Tanzania to get a loan to set up her own small business? The woman in the Tanzanian parliament. The importance of the new UN agency will be that the woman in the Nigerian state legislature or the Tanzanian parliament will know that they have the full support and backing of women leaders around the world. They are pioneers but they are not struggling on their own.
Women ministers and parliamentarians working together means a big change. No longer are women condemned to be the outsiders knocking on the door of men, making demands and being disappointed that they are not met. Instead women themselves will work together to make the changes that we know are needed for women in our own countries and across the world.