President of the Republic of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė
Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders

Opening remarks by President Dalia Grybauskaitė at the high level conference Women Enhancing Democracy: Best Practices

30 June 2011, Vilnius

Dear Presidents, Prime Ministers, Speakers of Parliament,

Honorable Guests, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor for me to welcome all of you here in Vilnius for the high level meeting „Women Enhancing Democracy: Best Practices". This meeting is high level not only because so many inspiring women political leaders, members of the Council of World Women Leaders, are present, but because all of us - political activists, members of NGOs, university academics, business owners, artists and visionaries, are high level experts in our fields. Your tremendous experience described in the good practice forms is already working and I strongly believe it can be applicable in other places for other cases.

This forum is a meeting point for us - women leaders - from different backgrounds, with different experiences but with the same aim to witness that a democratic, active and creative leader can make a difference even in the most adverse circumstances. Inviting you here, we wanted to create the opportunity to voice problems and to share best practices, success stories and to discuss what really works. The forum is a unique opportunity to deliver our message about productive ways to strive for equal opportunities, for women's economic freedom, and for a society without violence and fear.

As the title of the conference indicates, it is impossible to imagine a fully democratic society without women's participation. I would like to propose us to focus on three major issues today: women in politics, women in economic life and violence against women.

First of all, about women in politics. More and more women are involved in political life. They are winning positions as mayors, speakers of parliament, presidents. There are 192 members of the United Nations, of which at the moment 12 have female presidents, 12 have female prime ministers and 8 have women speakers of parliament.

But in order to become leaders - in politics, business or arts - whatever women do they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Yet these perceptions motivate women to reach new heights.

The best laws and codes can be passed, but there are places where the rule of law is in place de jure, but because of these perceptions, de facto, women still have to fight for their elementary rights such as to drive a car or to travel independently. One way to change this is to use the power of example.

A few months ago, women went to the streets for more democracy in Egypt. But without understanding that women have to be part of the changes in society we cannot hope for a real regime change.

Women's economic freedom is complicated by lack of education, by misinterpretation of the abilities of women, by discrimination in salaries.

I can give a Lithuanian example. On the one hand, Lithuania is leading in the number of women with higher education in the EU. More than 91 per cent of Lithuanian women have secondary and higher education. On the other hand, Lithuania is lagging in the number of female members on business company boards. This is the paradox. Women make less than 17 per cent among the CEOs (chief executive officers) in business. Women make only 18 per cent of those elected to our parliament.

In Lithuania women earn 20 per cent less than men doing the same job.

In general, research indicates that if we eliminated salary discrimination in the EU, we could expect the GDP to rise by 30 per cent. These are numbers of developed countries. We can just imagine what could be the growth of the economy in the societies of emerging democracies and uprising regions if women are involved in business and are paid equally.

Violence against women is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. It can include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse. It cuts across boundaries of age, race, culture, wealth, and geography. All this creates the atmosphere of fear in society.

To build a democracy, we need lots of different ties within society, different kinds of relations among citizens. But what we definitely don't need is fear. No democracy can be upheld where some members of society are not equally respected and ensured the right to be protected from violence, from human trafficking, or from abuse. It is so easy to deny the problem, because this kind of violence is often hidden or ignored; it lacks focus in our political discourse.

Violence against women takes place in the home, on the streets, in schools, the workplace, in peaceful times and during conflicts. Is not only about strangers; in many cases it is about those in your intimate environment.

It took Lithuania 20 years to pass a law on violence in the family environment. I consider its passage to be a profound step forward in the consolidation of our democracy and towards a society without fear. In drafting this bill, Lithuanian experts studied different examples of good practices - Spanish, British and others. We have accomplished this with the positive models and assistance of our neighbors.

That's why I strongly encourage you to share your experience, not only to name the problems and raise the questions, but to try to find the answers. I believe that in the majority of cases, it is much easier to adopt the existing practice instead of re-inventing the wheel.

I am sure that it would be much easier to tackle the problems mentioned above if we - women - take more responsibility in politics, in policy making and policy implementation.

This forum is open for sharing success stories and best examples of our experience. I hope we can forward our good practices to the people watching us on line right now and we can disseminate our messages around the world.

I wish you a fruitful discussion, an exchange of robust ideas, and many valuable lessons learned.

Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of the Republic of Lithuania


Official photo by Džoja Gunda Barysaitė