- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

Democracy cannot take root worldwide until the barriers keeping women from political activity are broken down, a group of female political leaders concluded after a two-day forum hosted by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

“Democracy today is in trouble,” Mrs. Albright told a “Win With Women” forum organized by the National Democratic Institute to strengthen women’s roles in political parties.

“There is a risk that through complacency and carelessness we will allow history’s pendulum to swing back away from democracy toward autocracy,” she said at the forum’s closing ceremony Wednesday.

Attending the two-day Washington forum were former New York representative and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, Peruvian Prime Minister Beatriz Merino Lucero, and Winnie Byanyima, a member of the national assembly of Uganda.

“Women all around the world face very similar obstacles in the political arena,” said Mrs. Merino, who reached the highest position ever for a Peruvian woman in June 2003.

To build a well-organized society, women have to be heard in the political system, Mrs. Merino said. The prime minister added that the promotion of women’s rights through political participation was one of the challenges of the 21st century.

In a final statement, the 40 participants from 27 countries expressed “the need for political parties to become more inclusive, transparent and representative by expanding political opportunities and leadership roles for women.”

Political parties are “crucial training grounds for future governmental leaders and are critical for advancing equal rights and opportunities for women in society,” states the Global Action Plan, adopted as a blueprint to reform the mechanisms within political parties that marginalize and exclude women.

Among their recommendations, the group urged politicians and governments to remove restrictions on women’s political participation, including restrictions on suffrage and candidacy.

It also called for more female representation at the national, provincial and local levels by promoting female candidates in both urban and rural areas, placing women high on party lists and providing them an equal access to party resources.

“Quotas are an option, and in certain circumstances they can play an important role, particularly where women are virtually shut out of the political system,” the plan states.

Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, said he expects a “generational change” that would promote women’s leadership abroad.

“There are a hundred different ways that women in power can contribute to their society, but perhaps the most important is to bring the tangible benefits of democracy down to the grass-roots level,” said Mrs. Albright, who served in the Clinton administration.

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