|Role of Women in an Interdependent World (North-South Centre of the Council of Europe - OAU, 1993, 92 p.)|
At the closing session of the Lisbon Encounter, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Catherine Lalumi, declared herself in favour of the legal recognition of the right to equality. Ms Lalumi expressed the wish that the Council of Europe's own European Convention on Human Rights be completed, taking into greater account the voice of women.
Mayor of Lisbon, Jorge Sampaio, referring to the theme of the Encounter, affirmed that equality between men and women should be understood as a fundamental principle of human rights and as the main goal of every democratic society.
Catherine Lalumi, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
After recalling that the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe had been set up in 1990 subsequent to the 1988 European Public Campaign on North-South Interdependence and Solidarity, and the 1989 Africa-Europe Encounter held in Porto Novo - Catherine Lalumi, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, stressed that the theme of the Lisbon Encounter bore the fundamental values on which the Council of Europe had been founded in 1949 and which underlay all of its missions.
"We are convinced that the basic principles of pluralist democracy are valid throughout the world. This is not just a matter of culture, it concerns humanity as a whole. Naturally, the ways in which they are applied, the political methods and the institutions may vary from one country to another, or from one continent to another, but we believe that the fundamental principles of pluralist democracy are universal. Where human rights are concerned, I shall issue the same warning as for democracy. We believe that the respect due to each individual transcends cultural diversity, and that is why we are deeply attached to the universality of those rights and the indivisible nature of them, regardless of race, wealth or poverty, philosophical leanings, or sex. Every human being enjoys a minimum of rights which are an attribute of humanity as a whole."
Human rights are indivisible, and women's rights constitute an essential part of them, stated Ms Lalumi, stressing the need to counteract any infringement of the principle of equality between women and men. In order to demonstrate the Council of Europe's determination as regards equality, the Secretary General asserted that the organisation was in favour of legal recognition of the right to equality.
'We are in favour of the right to equality between men and women being written into the European Convention on Human Rights. The recognition of such a right, which in fact constitutes the legal and no longer abstract expression of parity, namely the equal value and dignity of men and women as human beings, must constitute one of the Council of Europe's priorities in line with its pioneering role in the domain of human rights. Effective recognition of this right will constitute the incontestable legal basis for concrete action. The acknowledgement of the right of women and men to equality in a symbolic instrument such as the European Convention on Human Rights will have vital implications, going well beyond the limited sphere of relations between the State and the individual Not only is the State under an obligation to refrain from infringing human rights, but it is also under an obligation to take measures to remove the obstacles that hinder the actual enjoyment of those rights.
"And that is where we enter the specific sphere of positive action, and that leads to a number of obligations which touch the very causes of inequality between women and men in every sphere, both in private and public life, including relations between the sexes. Expressed in terms of the equal dignity and value of all human beings, this official acknowledgement of equality between women and men will have vital implications as regards family and professional relationships, as well as questions such as sexuality and procreation. This implies the disappearance of power structures based on the domination of one sex over the other, in the interest of a genuine sharing of rights and responsibilities."
As regards women % participation in political power, the Secretary General deplored their chronic under representation in European parliaments and governments, with the exception of the Scandinavian countries. Considering that this was a serious defect of democratic institutions, the Secretary General emphasised the validity and significance of a concept of a democracy in which both sexes are equally represented.
"In 1990, the percentage of women parliamentarians in European countries was on average 13.5%, ranging from I to 12%, or from 30 to 40% in the most advanced countries, that is to say in Scandinavia. This European average has fallen since 1989, owing to a decrease in the number of women in the parliaments of the former Communist countries. Hence, from this point of view, Europe is certainly not a model And what about participation in government? In 1991, the European average stood at 5.7% women, primarily responsible for social affairs, health and in exceptional cases, finance or foreign affairs. In some Scandinavian countries, which are pioneers in this field, the Minister for Defence is a woman. In the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which comprises parliamentarians from all member countries, 10% are women.
"Obviously in this situation there is a danger that a rift will appear between the governors and the governed. The political class needs the population. It is vital to put an end to the marginalisation of problems encountered by women in their day-to-day lives. These problems must become political issues at the highest level, to be incorporated into the drafting of general policies instead of being dealt with as a separate problem. The female point of view has to form part of the decision-making process, including foreign and military policies.
"Hence the second dominant concept of the Council of Europe, that of parity democracy. This idea is based on the premise that the democracy we are discussing, this pluralist democracy, is very often a lame one. It walks on one leg instead of two, since it is a democracy which in actual fact leans on one half of the population, the male half while the other half is excluded. In our view, democracy needs two legs, and consequently needs to lean on both sections of the population. We are convinced that parity democracy is one of the prerequisites of a democratic regime, like universal suffrage or the separation of powers. Equal democracy is based on the acknowledgement that the population consists of women and men, and that both are equal as regards their value and dignity. A democracy cannot be essentially male, as this would mean excluding half of the population. Only a democracy built on parity, namely on recognition of the equal value and dignity of women and men and their respective contributions to society, is a genuine democracy worthy of this name.
"We are also convinced that, because of their specific contribution, women can be useful to democracy, and that if their voice is not heard, a whole range of problems have not been analysed thoroughly and consequently a whole series of solutions have not been found. This is in the interest of women, but also of men, since a democracy which operates with the male half alone not only walks on one leg, as I mentioned, but also only sees with one eye and only hears with one ear; this means that it does not fully grasp the variety of the issues and lacks sufficient imagination to and the appropriate solutions. Re-establishing democracy on both its legs, with both its eyes and both its ears, is beneficial to women - but it is also beneficial to men. We are not laying claim to equal democracy solely out of feminine pride, but in simple and banal terms, in order that society may function more effectively."
After stressing the essential role played by NGOs in establishing and strengthening democracies both in the North and the South, Ms Lalumi concluded her address by inviting the North-South Centre to continue its action to encourage the North-South dialogue, by setting up and reinforcing networks for exchanges between associations working to encourage respect for democracy and human rights.
Jorge Sampaio, Mayor of Lisbon
Mr Sampaio, first of all expressed his satisfaction that the North-South Centre and the Organisation of African Unity had chosen the city of Lisbon to host the International Encounter. The Mayor of Lisbon said that he fully recognised the importance of North-South dialogue and the development of a "firm and mutual respect between partners", and that he was very much looking forward to examining the recommendations drawn up at the event.
In the context of the theme of the Encounter, Mr Sampaio said: "Equality between men and women should be understood as a fundamental principle of human rights and the main goal of every democratic society. Whether in our ecological, social or economic life, we should constantly try to re-state the fundamental relationship between human rights, democracy and development."
From his own political background, Mr Sampaio, promoted the idea of networks between towns all over the world that can act as 'fundamental agents' in the constant evaluation of democracy on a day-to-day basis.
In his conclusion, the Mayor thanked the participants for their strong and active commitment which he described as extremely encouraging and of key importance to the achievement of progress towards 'parity democracy in one world'."