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Address by the Hon. Minister at the founding conference of the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network - Rome, 26 October 2017



Address by the Hon. Minister at the founding conference of the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network - Rome, 26 October 2017

 (The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)


President Samba Panza (former President of the Republic of Central Africa and member of the African Union Panel of the Wise),

Honourable Lia Quartapelle (President of the Honorary Board of WIIS Italia), Deputy Executive Director Yannick Glemarec (UNWOMEN)

Ambassadors (Ambassadors of the member Countries of the Network),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to express my thanks to all those who have contributed to establish the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network:

- the Directorate General for Political and Security Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the project leader;   

- the Istituto Affari Internazionali;

- the organisation Women in International Security-Italia (WIIS);

- and the other Women Mediators Networks, both regional and global, which are our key partners.

I come from spending two days in Palermo, where I presided over the OSCE Mediterranean Conference in which Italy has put the Mediterranean at the centre of the OSCE’s security policy. It is not a fact to be taken for granted. The OSCE has traditionally focused its dialogue on security in the East-West axis of the world. With the Palermo Conference, that was attended by more than 30 Government Representatives – at the level of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Undersecretaries – and 300 delegates, we have wanted to focus the OSCE’s attention on the South. And we did so knowing that much of the world’s security and prosperity rest on the dynamics in the Mediterranean. 

The Palermo Conference successfully addressed large common challenges in the Mediterranean such as: managing the migration crisis, fighting terrorism and combating intolerance, xenophobia, racism and religious discrimination which, in these last few days, here in Italy, have materialised into an inacceptable and unqualifiable gesture be self-acclaimed football supporters who offended the memory of Anna Frank, a lofty universal symbol that has been outrageously manipulated for trivial reasons.

In Palermo we have wanted to associate the theme of security with that of culture. To this end, we present a Cultural Programme for the Mediterranean featuring 500 initiatives. We are moved by the conviction that security and culture are two closely inter-connected and cross-fertilising dimensions. This ambitious programme puts women at the centre of a very large number of projects.

It is no coincidence that at the presentation of the Programme in Palermo, we invited writers Simonetta Agnello Hornby and Maissa Bey, whose books often talk of women and the Mediterranean, and of the importance of their conquests of liberty.  

We must continue to make room for women in the Mediterranean, countering unilateral thinking. Think about it: the fundamentalists of any religion, at any latitude, often share the obsessive refusal of diversity. Often fundamentalists do not accept a relationship on an equal standing with women, whom they would like to see segregated, marginalised and discriminated. But if we forget that women represent even more than half of our societies; if we do not accept complete gender equality; then we are also refusing the premises of peace, stability and development.

History, both past and present, is full of stories of great women mediators. And, with the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network we want to write many more.

I am thinking of Matilda of Tuscany who, in the Middle Ages, when Italian society was still very closed, escaped an unhappy marriage and inherited from her mother a feud that stretched from Lazio to Lake Garda. Some historic reconstructions report that she was given the title of “Queen of Italy”. Matilda found herself in the need to mediate in the conflict between Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, and Pope Gregorius VII, and played the role of peacemaker.  

She was the one who concerted Henry IV’s famous voyage to Canossa (28 January 1077), to ask for the Pope’s pardon and obtain the revocation of his excommunication. And when Matilda decided to dedicate her life to prayer and religious meditation, she is said to have been discouraged by the Pope himself because she was more valuable in her political and diplomatic role.  

Still in Italy, after World War II, only 21 women were elected to sit in the 556-member Constituent Assembly, including Tina Anselmi and Nilde Iotti. But we must recognise that this 4% of women – our “constituent mothers” – negotiated a Constitution that is among the most modern and advanced in terms of gender equality.  

In the current Parliament we have reached a record 30% of women MPs, including Hon. Lia Quartapelle, who is here today. It is a record that places us above the European average but that I hope will be broken in the next, now upcoming, elections. Also in Italy much must still be done to achieve full gender equality. And not only in politics, but in all facets of society, because it is an element that is essential for our growth and our development.

Again in Palermo, I have wanted to present our Cultural Programme for the Mediterranean together with my Tunisian colleague, Minister Jhinaoui. Tunisia’s democracy is a pearl in the Mediterranean which continues to make progress, also very recently, for example through the provisions with which President Essebsi lifted the ban for Muslim women to marry non-Islamic men. It is a revolutionary decision that we welcomed very favourably.   

And I am very happy to have here with us today Madame Ouided Bouchamaoui, the leader of one of the key organisations of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011”.

We also have the honour of hosting Ms Judith Herrera, also known as “Victoria Sandino”, former member of the FARC guerrillas in Colombia. She was the only woman to sit at the negotiating table in Havana in representation of the movement. We are very interested to hear her tell her story and about her efforts to achieve gender equality.

All these great women, past and present, inspire us to do more. When Italy took its seat on the UN Security Council this year, the link between, women, mediating, peace and security was already among our priorities. But we wanted to do something tangible to give more space to women mediators. And therefore, at the UN General Assembly in September, I was very happy to chair the event on Women Mediators, an important moment of reflection ahead of today’s launch of the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network.

In New York I recalled that most of the assignments of the UN’s so-called “Track 1” – the highest formal level of mediation – are still the prerogative of men. This is an evident limit for the international community. Because an agreement that is not negotiated by the “other half” of society is fragile and ultimately also loses political legitimacy.

Instead in the so-called “Track 2 and 3” negotiations, women mediators have proven to be very effective, opening communication channels and relieving tensions among different facets of civil society, communities, local governments, companies and religious groups. At that level, often informal but equally important, the role of women is always crucial.

So, what can we do to change the situation?

First and foremost, we must not lower our guard in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. We are still far off target. And therefore we must do more to raise people’s awareness – at all levels of our society – that women are not victims to defend but important agents of change and community development. 

Every State must do its share: recognising the work done by women at national level and highlighting it also at international level; stimulating the choice of women for high-level positions; supporting the career advancements of young mediators. In this effort, I greatly appreciated the commitment of the UN Secretary-General Guterres, who has my utmost support in overcoming all obstacles in getting women at the top of international mediation processes.

The Mediterranean Women Mediators Network goes precisely in this direction, with the constant aim of turning diversity into the Mediterranean’s biggest asset.

Some eminent negotiators say that the very definition of negotiation is the art of mediating and of getting added value from our differences.  

At times, negotiation and mediation can appear to be the longest and windiest road, but it is always the one that is worthwhile taking. And today, in the Mediterranean Women Mediators Network, we have found a new ally with which to proceed along that road at a faster pace, in an effort to mediate between reality, wishes and hopes and to design an ever-safer and more prosperous future for the Mediterranean. 

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