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 gennaio 2021 


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by Emma Bonino Globalisation comes in many guises and takes many forms. The traditional view posits that through developments in technology the world has shrunk, creating one global marketplace. Capital, goods and labour markets - and particularly capital markets - have all become increasingly globalised. Distilled, this perspective explains globalisation as the unimpeded flow of goods and people and the opening up of new markets. But this is just one viewpoint, one interpretation. Globalisation is a subject that will increasingly shape the lives of nations and individuals. It’s a deeply emotive issue with significant political ramifications. It can be understood in more ways than simply through an economic lens – the Ricardo or Adam Smith wealth of nations view, that the pie gets bigger if countries trade amongst one another. On the ground, the exposure of countries to a global market is having profound effects on other aspects of life, specifically the spread of democracy and the consequential beneficial impact that it has on human rights. The process, of what is in effect “political globalisation”, is one that can be seen not just in the abstract. Taking the same theory of exchange, one can argue and point to evidence that not just theories of democracy, but real political action and reform are spreading from nation to nation, following a similar pattern to economic globalisation: as one nation discovers the benefits of trade and transparency, its neighbours look on closely. Economic and political globalisation are two sides of the same coin. Political reform is a function and in part consequence of capital flows and investment. Simply put, capital is most likely to be attracted to and stay in environments that are politically stable and least likely to go to environments that are politically unstable. It is no coincidence that foreign direct investment in Russia has declined following a government crackdown on business and - more importantly - media plurality. Across the world you can see that capital flow and trade is opening the door to reform in political institutions and the expansion of human rights. As a nation, if you want to be the recipient of economic globalisation, you need political stability. This is exactly the carrot and stick approach that resulted in the right down of national debt to some African nations: get your house in order and you will benefit economically. The first tentative green shoots of democratic reform can now be seen across the Middle East. With elections this year in the Palestinian territories, Iraq and soon in Egypt, democracy is on the rise. Alongside this, comes the democratisation of gender too and in some countries the implementation of women’s suffrage such as in Bahrain and Qatar. Women are benefiting from political globalisation in a way they have not previously under old-style political and social systems. They are finally being able to use a voice that had been muffled for too many generations. The emergence of women’s rights, and coupled with a political voice, is one of the most significant aspects of the process of political globalisation. Whilst political actors, scholars and NGOs agree that increased reform and democratisation will help improve the status of women in the region, they miss the vital point: that women have the potential to act as a trigger in helping drive forward democracy in the Arab world. We must recognise that they are active participants in change. The emergence of women’s rights has the potential to be the fuel that powers forward the spread of democracy across the region. I believe that political reform is critical for two key reasons: firstly, democracy is essential for development. If women are active in political life they can unleash 50% of the development potential of countries where women are currently unheard and under-represented. Nations that continue to exclude women from the economic mainstream will never exploit their full potential and will forego the economic benefits that flow from women as generators of economic growth. Secondly, women have much to offer to the political debate. Political discourse is weaker in societies where women are silent citizens. In just one generation in Europe, we have seen the benefits of women gaining full rights in society. Remember it was only in the 1970s when in France, women were able to open their own bank accounts; in Switzerland, women were given the vote; and in Italy, divorce was introduced. What is happening is close to a cultural revolution, because women are fighting for their individual rights in societies in which traditionally what matters are collective rights. This is the Middle East’s hidden democratic revolution. Women are fighting for change across many areas. Personal issues such as divorce, the custody of children and economic rights are on the agenda, as are campaigns against the horrific practice of “honour killings” and female genital mutilation. Evidence of the winning of basic political rights is not hard to find. There are successes in almost every Arab nation. For example, in Saudi Arabia, women are close to securing the right to vote. Some have already declared to be ready to stand as political candidates in municipal elections, a major achievement given that just two years ago, the mere idea of women voting was rejected on the basis of cultural religion. Women in the Palestinian territories have started their own democratic journey too. Of the 66 percent of registered voters who cast a vote for the president in Gaza and the West Bank, half of those were women. In Yemen and Egypt there are moves to include women in the political process through a form of affirmative action or quotas. Quotas I believe are not the solution; women cannot achieve fair representation through a game of mathematics, but I do recognize that this is an important step. In Algeria, Morocco and Egypt laws have been brought in that provide basic rights for women when it comes to family law. The wife of a high profile Egyptian actor recently won the right to use a DNA test to prove her ex-husband was the father of her son, something that would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Against this backdrop of progress, Kuwait is leading the movement in securing political and democratic rights for women. The appointment of the country’s first ever female minister is a major milestone and in two years time women will take part in parliamentary elections for the first time. Alongside this the government has appointed two women as members of its municipal council, the first women appointed to the body. Just a few years ago these achievements would have been unthinkable, but the political landscape has shifted quickly and dramatically. I hope that this victory will pressure neighbours like Saudi Arabia to accept that women must be free to use their political voice, alongside other basic human rights. These are very encouraging signs and even Saudi Arabia has its own success story: it has been announced that women in Saudi Arabia will be able to apply for driving licenses for the first time, something they were barred from doing under previous discriminatory policies. These slow incremental steps together are becoming a movement that will drive change across the Middle East. Whilst these developments are promising, we must accept that some of the issues that women face cannot be solved solely through a legislative process. In Jordan and Syria the practice of “honour killings” continues. The representation of women in politics will not bring an immediate end to this practice; it will, however, slowly demonstrate that women have equal rights to men. That change in perception, I hope will be the catalyst for undoing a practice that cannot be tolerated in or by any country in the world. The same is true for female genital mutilation, but at least in that case there are some signs that attitudes are changing and awareness is driving change. Women have an important and, I believe, central role in effecting democratic change. We all have a responsibility to help the advancement of women across the world. Where women are being denied their rights - be it voting, education or personal equality - we must act collectively. The better-established democracies must do everything in their power to support these developments because the process that is underway needs to be coaxed and encouraged. Momentum is key for encouraging the positive and discouraging the negative. All nations must offer support to these causes, led by Europe and the United States. The international community cannot just be onlookers, offering encouraging but empty words; instead it most play a crucial part by providing advice, resources and - fundamentally - ways of integrating and linking these different campaigns, providing a forum for ideas. We must use the language of freedom. It is the notion of freedom that has and will spur people on to call for change and enact it. Through freedom, comes stability. A recent initiative by the US State Department to help create a women’s network in the region so that women can share and learn from each other is a very positive move. We need to connect ourselves with them because with our support they become more courageous and vocal. The intention of the EU to enlarge the Barcelona process to the Middle East, building a strategic partnership across the region will also benefit this process. We cannot be distracted in our efforts. We are at a critical juncture where momentum could just as easily ebb away as expand and move forward. Too many people still exist under oppressive and cruel regimes, with little hope of effecting much real change. The bloody suppression of protestors in the Uzbek city of Andijan clearly demonstrated that we cannot expect change to occur on its own. Countries such as the United States and countries in Europe must take the lead and create the environment for economic reform or face a drift towards extremism as the result of a potent mix of radicalism and poverty. With this backdrop, we must therefore continue international efforts to strengthen worldwide initiatives in favour of democracy not just for the benefit of women but for the benefit of all, and across all continents. Specifically this means groups such as the Community of Democracies taking a much more proactive and visible role. I believe that to foster and promote democracy a “democratic coalition”, with its capacity for undertaking collective actions on major issues in international politics, is a critical and important first step. This group would be different from the United Nations, where every country regardless of its attitude to human rights, particularly to political rights, has a place at the table. But there must be strict and unequivocal criteria for membership. In the same way that human rights and democratic values are inexplicitly considered a "must" for European Union membership, these same values, which are also reflected in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, must be the centrepiece of membership of the “democratic coalition”. The timely proposal for the creation of a more robust Council of Human Rights equipped with a "Democracy Fund" for the purpose of assisting emerging democracies should help in this endeavour. It is becoming more and more imperative to reinforce the value of coordinated initiatives across continents in sharing common democratic values of freedom, rule of law, and the protection of human rights. This can help build common positions and proposals in the international arena, including within the United Nations, and can act as a catalyst to attract new countries to the ever-increasing group of democracies. We cannot expect countries where democracy is challenged to bring about change on their own. There must be something to strive for - giving a sense of belonging to a wider community of values and with it a step change in economic conditions and opportunities. With the right environment, globalisation can reduce inequality, smooth out economic discrimination and injustice. It has the potential to make the world a safer place, breaking down borders, confronting and overcoming intolerance and giving people a voice in their political future. I believe that this era of economic, social and technological globalisation would not make much sense unless we all share and experience these essential universal values on democracy and human rights. It is in everybody’s common interest to support the current openings and movement towards reform. We must not miss this opportunity because there is too much at stake. To secure stability in the world, everyone must be able to express their own political will and be free to determine their own lives. I am certain that in the era of globalisation, the prize we must all strive for is democracy and rights for all.

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