It is always a privilege to be invited to share an insight into someone else's world, so I was particularly gratified to be asked to attend the conference on women's rights sponsored by the Association des Femmes Marocaines et Mediterrannees in Laayoune, Morocco. It is an expression of trust, always a delicate thing, and an affirmation of the belief that we can work together to create opportunities and redress injustices for everyone.
Holding a conference in the Western Sahara, a disputed territory, in a part of the world where women's rights are still very much a developing issue (as they are in varying degrees everywhere) has the potential to be politically sensitive. However, a strong statement here that women are entitled to equal rights, equal dignity, and equal opportunities should echo everywhere.
Here, as elsewhere, there has been progress. The Wali (governor) of the region cited an impressive array of statistics on the greater inclusion of women in the educational system in his region. Moreover, the conference itself was a demonstration of the degree to which Moroccan women have come to occupy influential professional positions throughout the world. Nevetheless, it remains clear that much remains to be done.
Women are the single largest group in the world targeted for violence and discrimination, and a global commitment to women's rights is a commitment to safety, security, freedom, and peace for all of us. From the vantage point of the United States, it seems as though Laayoune, Morocco, is one of the far corners of the earth. The courage of the women of the Sahara in standing up for their rights should remind us of the necessity to cherish and vindicate the rights of women everywhere.