Nations that have built democracies after escaping domination by the Soviet Union may offer guidance to those Mideast and North African nations where protesters struggle against authoritarian governments this year, suggested Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton June 30.
“If we are looking for examples of individual leadership, of results, we have many we can share from Europe,” Clinton said in an address to an audience in Vilnius, Lithuania. “Today it is North Africa and the Middle East experiencing its own season of change, and we especially have to work together to ensure that all people — women, as well as men — are part of that change.”
Clinton was in Lithuania attending a conference of the Community of Democracies, a 10-year-old organization of governments dedicated to strengthening democratic norms and institutions. Clinton addressed a special session concerned with women’s rights. In the midst of transition that governments are beginning in 2011, Clinton said, “We have to be sure that democratic change doesn’t leave women behind.” She said women were an important presence in the street demonstrations that led to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak, “yet Egypt’s constitutional committee does not have a single female member.” Lithuania, said Clinton, is an excellent example to the rest of the world, where President Dalia Grybauskaitė, a woman economist, is leading the nation “on the path to prosperity.” During this period of change among Arab nations, Clinton has been arranging opportunities for female leaders in the region to discuss their roles in a period of change. “So our work is to help empower and enable, to convene and then to support,” Clinton said. ”It’s about all the choices that should be available to women today — to study, to take out a loan, to inherit money, to win custody of children, to start a business, to drive.” In a second address to another event of the Community of Democracies, Clinton spoke to civil society leaders and praised their work to bring positive change in their countries “at great personal risk.” As with the cause of women’s rights, Clinton said gains have been made in the rights accorded to civil society groups, but more must be done. The United States, in partnership with a consortium of nongovernmental organizations, is establishing a fund called Lifeline, Clinton said. “This fund will provide legal representation, cover medical bills arising from abuse, facilitate visits to activists in jail, and help replace equipment that is damaged or confiscated as a result of harassment.” The secretary of state also said the United States has trained more than 5,000 activists in the use of information technology to spread their message and resist government muzzling. (This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. )