Address by Minister of State Kent to the United Nations Democracy Caucus and the Council of Women World Leaders

No. 2010/84 - New York City, United States- September 23, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It gives me great pleasure to address the United Nations Democracy Caucus. This event, organized in partnership with the Council of Women World Leaders, provides an excellent forum to discuss some of the crucial issues facing democratic countries.

The role of women in the development and support of democratic systems, and the diminishing space for civil society worldwide, are two issues of particular interest to Canada. 

This meeting comes at a time when democracy is being challenged around the world, and we, as members of the Community of Democracies, must realize that our fundamental values and principles cannot be taken for granted.

Democracy must be protected and strengthened. It affords a quality of life that no other system of government can rival. It allows citizens—women and men—to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives and to hold their governments to account. 

This is why the promotion of equality between men and women informs Canadian policy at home and abroad.

We are committed to encouraging women’s active engagement in leadership and decision making in democratic governance, in corporate leadership and in all other aspects of society. The participation of both women and men in policy development, budget and program decisions ensures better management of economic and social resources.

Canada is funding a number of projects around the world to back its vision. We support, for example, voter education for women and programs to enhance gender equality in Africa, as well as the women’s secretariats in Latin America.

We are all aware that to take root around the world, democracy and equality should be actively supported. And this effort should be a collective one. The Community of Democracies is a key institution for fostering effective collaboration between democratic states. We welcome the initiative to establish a new Community of Democracies working group on gender equality and women’s rights.

Canada is doing its part in the Community of Democracies, serving as chair of the Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society, a committee that is addressing the growing trend toward laws that restrict civil society.

Over the past decade, the intellectual and legal space that allows our civil society partners to play their crucial roles in the democratic world has come under attack. We find it disturbing that an increasing number of countries around the world are adopting and implementing laws to silence and restrict democracy advocates.

A vibrant, pluralistic civil society is essential to a healthy democracy: civil society enables citizens to be more effective participants in political life.

And beyond its role as a check on and monitor of government, civil society is a bridge that allows governments to connect to the people they serve.

These restrictive laws undermine human rights.

As member states of the Community of Democracies, we must stand united in our opposition to these encroachments on fundamental rights. Our message must be clear: restricting freedom of association and expression erodes two of the central pillars of democracy.

The Working Group on Enabling and Protecting Civil Society, which Canada chairs, is a concrete and practical way for us to work together to stop the assault on democratic space.

In closing, I would like to thank Lithuania for its excellent work during its presidency of the Community of Democracies, and I particularly thank Dalia Grybauskaité [President of Lithuania] for chairing and organizing today’s important session.

Thank you.