Finnish President Tarja Halonen, the new chair of the Council of Women World Leaders, sees war crimes, climate change and the economy as the most important women's issues.
The Council of Women World Leaders met in Monrovia, Liberia in March in connection with a large international colloquium on women's leadership chaired by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and President Tarja Halonen. Halonen was chosen as the new chair of the Council.
The Council is a network of current and former women heads of state and prime ministers, and currently has 37 members. It was established in 1996 by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996, and Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council. Halonen succeeds Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997.
The Council headquarters are located at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. Since its establishment, the Council has supported female state leaders in their work to improve the position of women and enhance good governance and democracy. The ministerial initiative started by the Council promotes ministerial-level exchange of information and experiences in global matters that concern women, such as health and environment issues. The Council aims to promote the rise of women to positions of leadership by placing promising young women in the offices of Council members for summer fellowships.
In her speech at the International Colloquium on Women's Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security held in Monrovia, Halonen stated that she feels it is important for the network to continue its work to strengthen the role of women in preventing conflicts and building peace.
Her speech focused attention on the suffering of women in wars and conflicts. She referred to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which specifically addresses the impacts of war and conflicts on women, and women's contributions to building peace. The Resolution has been supplemented by Security Council Resolution 1820, which strongly condemns the rape and sexual violence that occurs in conjunction with conflicts.
"Respect for the human rights of women and young girls is at particular risk – they are being systematically raped and abused," Halonen stated. "This is one of the most appalling weapons of war, and one that has serious consequences on the psychological, physical and social well-being of its victims."
She proposed that systematic rape be officially classified as a weapon of war. This could have an impact on post-conflict situations, disarmament and the reintegration of former combatants.
Halonen also emphasised the importance of women being fully involved in administration and the economy. Women must have an equal opportunity to inherit and own land. Education for women and girls is the most effective way to improve the economy in developing countries. Halonen also drew attention to the positive correlation between gender equality and economic competitiveness.
A study in Finland commissioned by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA) found that, in practice, companies led by female managing directors are about 10 percent more productive than those run by men.
President Halonen also noted that climate change will have the most serious effects on the poor people of the world, 70 percent of whom are women. Women in developing countries are particularly important in terms of preventing climate change, since they play a key role in agriculture and obtaining food and water.
By Salla Korpela
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