INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Maud de Boer-Buquicchio: Leading the Way for Women’s Rights
Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. As such, it is fitting to pay tribute to the many people who spend each day tirelessly working to improve the condition of women all around the world, in both developed and developing countries. One such leading figure is Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the recently retired Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and I’d like to dedicate our blog on this important day to her and all she’s done to advance the interests and rights of women in Europe and throughout the world.
For over 40 years, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio has been a committed and leading figure in the struggle to advance the rights of women and children. Following the completion of her university education (where her thesis was about equality between women and men) Maud launched her career in 1969 at the Council of Europe (COE), accepting a position as a staff lawyer at the COE’s European Court of Human Rights. She never looked back and eventually was elected to become the COE’s first female Deputy Secretary General, a position she was subsequently reelected to and served in for ten years. Throughout her career in a male-dominated legal and political environment, from her own workplace to the offices of senior politicians around the world she tirelessly reminded everyone that inequality and discrimination against women is the result of ignorance and arrogance, and that women have a key role to play in building peace and security. As Deputy Secretary General, she used her political power to help construct an architecture of international conventions to protect the rights of women and children. Through leadership, commitment and moral authority, she fought hard to make equality not merely a political statement, but a reality for women throughout Europe and beyond. And as the first female Deputy Registrar at the Court and as the first female Deputy Secretary General of the COE she has been a trailblazer and role model for women everywhere.
From the very beginning of her career, Maud’s focus has been on protecting the rights of those without a voice. As a young lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights she immediately became involved in the “interstate Greek case” fighting for the rights of traumatized women and others suffering under the rule of a military dictatorship. Her experience representing a pregnant woman who had been kicked down a police station staircase, losing her unborn child, seared into Maud what would become a lifelong commitment to challenging and eradicating all forms of violence against women and children. For the next twenty years she labored unceasingly for the rights of individuals who brought their cases, and their last hopes for redress, to the Court. In 1998, the Court underwent a major structural change, and Maud was elected by the Court to be its first female Deputy Registrar, a position which allowed her to help shape the priorities and operations of the Court as it moved into its modern era.
In 2002, recognizing her leadership skills and unshakeable commitment to the COE’s core values of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, the COE’s Parliamentary Assembly (comprised of elected legislators from all the COE’s member states) elected Maud to become the COE’s first female Deputy Secretary General, the second highest position in the organization. It was at this point that Maud was able to begin to fully wield the political influence of the organization on behalf of the underrepresented. She dedicated her new political mandate to the service of the COE in general and to a number of carefully chosen causes, the protection of the rights of women and children being foremost among these.
Maud is profoundly convinced that empowering women is the best way to address the basic inequalities that lead to domestic violence, trafficking, and other human rights violations committed against women. But she also believes in making states bear their responsibilities to take positive action to protect people from these scourges, and set out to help construct a system of international conventions that would institutionalize and codify these responsibilities in a legally binding and enforceable manner.
According to COE Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland (a former Prime Minister of Norway and current Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee), Maud was a driving force behind the adoption of three major European treaties: the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, and, most recently, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. She played a crucial role in the negotiation processes and succeeded in securing key protection provisions in all three texts. She subsequently initiated intensive campaigns to promote signatures and ratifications by countries, which led to the speedy entry into force of the first two, while the third is well along.
In addition to spearheading these ground-breaking treaties, Maud has also launched a number of other campaigns on behalf of children’s rights, such as her creation and promotion of the program “Building a Europe for and with Children” and “One in Five.” She has also thrown her energy and influence into advancing the rights of Roma, actively supporting the creation of the first European Roma and Travellers Forum and the launching of Dosta!, an awareness-raising campaign which aims at stopping prejudices and stereotypes against Roma. She has played a leading role in shaping the COE’s views on Internet security and privacy rights, and is an active advocate on behalf of the rights of LGBT people. The Parliamentary Assembly reelected her for a second five year mandate as Deputy Secretary General in 2007.
For over forty years, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio has been a tireless champion for women, for children, and for others who have no voice, no power, or who have suffered oppression due to their gender, their ethnicity, their age, or their beliefs. Her term in office as Deputy Secretary General ended last year but we are certain she will continue to be a leading figure long into the future on behalf of women, children, and the underrepresented.
And so today, International Women’s Day, the U.S. Permanent Observer Mission to the Council of Europe would like to say “thank you” and “keep it up” to Maud de-Boer Buquicchio!
Evan G. Reade
U.S. Deputy Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe