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26-10-2021 11:24

Opening remarks by the President of the House of Representatives, Ms Annita Demetriou, at a high-level conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Council of Europe

Conference on “The role of foreign policy in advancing gender equality: Addressing the challenges, pushbacks and obstacles faced by women”

It is with great pleasure that I have accepted your kind invitation to address this Conference, as it signifies a major step in our efforts to bridge the gender representation gap in diplomacy, foreign policy and international security. The commendable work of the Council of Europe in this field guides and reinforces our efforts.

The adoption of a holistic and horizontal approach to gender mainstreaming in foreign policy has already yielded some positive results. The recent appointment of two prominent female Ambassadors in the permanent mission of the Republic of Cyprus to the UN Office at Geneva and the permanent representation of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU is definitely a positive step forward and a testament to the existing political will and commitment.

The glass ceiling is cracked but not broken. The path to gender parity in foreign policy is long. We must, therefore, use the current momentum to turn the crisis into an opportunity and to address particular challenges, which impede Cypriot women from building a career as diplomats and from engaging in peace-making and conflict resolution processes.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security constitutes a milestone in the struggle to achieve gender-balanced representation in diplomacy, as it acknowledges the adverse impact of conflicts, crises and wars on women and girls. Soon after the Taliban’s return to power, I addressed a letter to Presidents of Parliaments and international parliamentary organizations, stressing the need for prompt joint action to protect the human rights, especially of women and girls in Afghanistan and to provide them humanitarian assistance and support. Despite growing evidence that peace agreements are more inclusive, sustainable and durable, when women participate in peace negotiations, women’s particular needs, views and concerns are sidelined in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy decisions. The role of women is still undervalued in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. Gender equality must be an integral part of policy responses to crises, as their repercussions are never gender blind.

Cyprus ranks 21st on the Gender Equality Index. Cypriot women are underrepresented in all decision-making structures and leadership and they encounter multiple constraints in assuming diplomatic careers. Women are deprived of equal opportunities to enter diplomacy because of persistent gender stereotypes and bias. Diplomacy is an uneven playing field as women are perceived as not suitable or ill-equipped for assuming these positions, while there are higher expectations from them. Charlotte Whitton highlighted that “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult”. Cypriot women shoulder more care responsibilities and unpaid work than men, and have limited access to established leadership networks.

Strong emphasis must be put not only on increasing the number of women in leadership positions, but primarily on transforming the gendered nature of diplomacy. In this regard, we must dynamize a cultural shift to reconstruct the perceived image of a successful diplomat. It is imperative to change mindsets by eliminating the expectations, cultural norms, stereotypes and prejudices, which hold women back from assuming leadership positions and diplomatic careers. We must adopt targeted measures for better reconciliation of professional and family life through the provision of adequate care structures, ensuring that both genders share caregiving burdens. It is crucial to enhance female leadership skills, networking and capacity-building. Investing and mobilizing adequate human and financial resources in gender mainstreaming in foreign policy is a necessary requirement. The collection of sex-disaggregated data is a valuable tool for monitoring the progress achieved.

In my dual capacity as the first-ever female Parliament President and WPL Ambassador on behalf of the Cyprus House of Representatives, I am committed to keeping gender equality high on the political agenda and initiating progressive legislative reforms that advocate gender equality. Amid rising femicide incidents worldwide, I have recently tabled a bill aiming to amend the penal code to introduce the offense of femicide. In my public statements, speeches and interviews I stress the multiplying benefits stemming from the gender equality strategy. According to Christine Lagarde “when women do better, economies do better”. Pursuing gender equality is crucial for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and building forward a more sustainable, representative, equitable and inclusive future where the full potential of both genders is untapped. I aspire to portray a positive female role model to lead the way for more women in leadership and decision-making structures.

I wish you every success in your deliberations. I am confident that the exchange of best practices and the valuable insights of distinguished fellow speakers will further enhance Cyprus’ efforts to become a regional hub in advocating gender mainstreaming in foreign policy.