Doctor Arzu Rana Deuba, distinguished participants and guests, Namaste. I am pleased to address you today on this occasion in support of the Summit for Democracy. President Biden has called it the “challenge of our time”: demonstrating that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their people in tangible ways and tackling the greatest problems facing the world. The Summit for Democracy serves as an opportunity to advance this goal, and this event highlights Nepal’s efforts to ensure all people’s voices are heard when decisions are made.
I commend Ambassador Randy Berry for convening this timely and important discussion, the Government of Nepal for its efforts to build towards a more inclusive democracy, and the members of civil society gathered here today to help translate ideas into action.
Promoting gender equity and equality is a longstanding effort of U.S. foreign policy and a priority for President Biden, and Nepal is a valued partner for us in this global endeavor. Women are an essential and underutilized asset in strengthening democracies, and their contribution to the economic well-being, health, and security of society benefits us all. As our own Vice President Harris stated, “The status of women is the status of democracy.”
I’ve heard about the work of women throughout Nepal fighting for the greater rights for all, including women from various walks of life coming from different communities in Nepal. I’ve also heard of Bhumika Shrestha, who has left no stone unturned in her fight for advancing gender rights, especially when it comes to fighting for recognition of the human rights of transgender persons and bringing awareness to the struggles that gender minorities face in Nepal. I personally congratulate Bhumika on her work to get the “right to equality” provision in Nepal’s 2015 Constitution and her continued and persistent advocacy efforts on behalf of marginalized communities throughout Nepal.
Activists, journalists, advocates, members of minority groups including women and girls, and other members of civil society – like many of you here today – are essential to equitable and responsive governance, a system of governance that reflects all population groups and therefore feels legitimate to those diverse population groups. Governments should have an interest in and do have a moral imperative to protect civic space and empower civil society organizations. Governments should allow civil society to play its unique and positive role in a democracy. A vibrant and inclusive civil society plays an important role in ensuring democratic governments are held accountable and responsive to their citizens.
We, democracies, want to show that democracy, more than absolute monarchies or single-party autocracies, can deliver for the people. We must ensure our efforts are inclusive and participatory from the start. The core of democracy is elections, a reflection of the will of the people. But elections are not the whole of democracy. Democracies also need institutions and processes that bring in, acknowledge, debate, and create societal common ground. Democratic institutions and processes need to bring in the desires and preferences of women and minority groups. It is precisely those democratic institutions and processes that enable people to be involved in decisions that affect their lives, that ensure public administration is transparent and accountable, and advance human rights for all individuals. Strong democratic institutions and processes also make societies more resilient to authoritarian influence, corruption, conflict, and human-made crises.
Together, we must make the case to people all over the world that democratic governance, non-discrimination, and respect for human rights and women’s rights deliver. Inclusive societies reduce fragility, advance sustainable development, and mitigate risks of political instability.
On behalf of the U.S. government, we look forward to working side by side with the government and people of Nepal to demonstrate the critical role that civil society can play in ensuring democracies truly deliver.
Thank you again for the opportunity to address you today. Congratulations on what you have achieved, in Nepal. Nepal’s journey—moving from ideas to action to make an inclusive, peaceful, and democratic society— can offer lessons for us all. Danyabad.