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Cablegate: Latvia: Usg Engagement On Women's Issues

DE RUEHRA #0015/01 0111530
P 111530Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 09 STATE 124579

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1. Embassy Riga conducts a range of activities to draw increased
attention to women's issues. While programs that focus exclusively
on these topics are rare, Post incorporates key messages on women's
issues in other activities, from visitor's programs to policy
discussions with the Ministry of Interior. Our most prominent work
has been in the realm of trafficking in persons, which in Latvia
most commonly involves trafficking of women for sexual exploitation.
Embassy Riga recognizes that while women play prominent roles in
Latvian politics and enjoy relative gender equity in most fields,
critical issues such as violence against women deserve greater
attention. In response to reftel, Embassy Riga presents this
description of our efforts in this field and opportunities for
further engagement.

Women's Issues in Latvia

2. Women have risen to many positions of importance in Latvia -
they can be seen at the highest levels of business, government, and
civil society. For example, former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
remains one of the most trusted public figures in the country.
Measures of women's health and political participation are similar
to those for men. Women are guaranteed rights equal to men under
the law, and legal protection against job or wage discrimination.
However, many problems remain. There is still a wage gap, in line
with the average for EU countries. While they hold many prominent
positions, women are still under-represented in leadership positions
both in government and the private sector.

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3. Perhaps the most pressing women's issues in Latvia relate to
violence against women. Reliable statistics are scarce, but
domestic violence is widely considered to be frequent and often goes
unreported. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) remains an area of
concern, primarily due to Latvia's role as a source country for
women trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. A particular
challenge in addressing these problems is the relative prevalence of
"blame-the-victim" attitudes, which suppress reporting of crimes.
Deep budget cuts due to the severe effects of the economic crisis in
Latvia may reduce the level of supportive services available for
some victims.

Current Activities and Opportunities

4. Embassy Riga engages in women's issues through both ongoing
efforts and special events. The following examples are those that
we would identify as "best practices."

-- Trafficking in Persons (TIP): TIP has been the highest-priority
item in our work on women's issues. Latvia was placed on the Tier 2
Watchlist for the first time in the most recent TIP report, adding
urgency to our long-standing efforts to work with the GOL on
reducing trafficking. In cooperation with the International
Organization for Migration, the Embassy conducted in-person training
for educators to help them teach students about TIP and how to fight
it. In turn, the participants in the course developed an on-line
course available for their fellow educators. Four Latvians from
government and NGOs have participated in USG-funded anti-TIP visitor
programs, with five more scheduled to do so this month. Embassy
Riga has worked closely with the GOL on development and
implementation of anti-TIP programs.

-- Ambassadorial lunch series: Ambassador Garber has recently
launched a series of luncheons, each exploring a theme with several
Latvian guests who are prominent in that field. One cornerstone of
this series will be luncheons with prominent female leaders in all
fields of endeavor -- from politics to the arts and from business to
academia -- to discuss the unique challenges facing Latvia's women.
These are intended primarily to understand what women in Latvia see
as the most important problems they face as a group. These
discussions will form the basis for further action planning as our
understanding of the trends and opportunities for assistance
develops. This does not mean women's issues are relegated to these
lunches - we strive for gender balance in every event we host.

-- Educational exchanges: The Embassy has brought attention to
women's issues through existing educational programs. One American
Fulbright Scholar currently in Latvia is a women's studies
specialist. Similarly, in recent years, Latvian participants in
Fulbright and other educational programs have specialized in women's

-- Digital Video Conferences: In a series of DVCs, we hosted a
conversation with Esther Takeuchi, who holds more patents than any
other woman, and is of Latvian ancestry. This example of a strong
female leader in a field traditionally dominated by men was one of
our best-received events. Similarly, to mark Black History Month,
post will be hosting a DVC with scholar and businesswoman A'lelia
Bundles on the topic of economic empowerment of women and

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5. There are several areas that present opportunities for further

-- Given additional resources, there are hard-working NGOs including
a women's crisis center, shelters for trafficking victims, and a
general women's issues NGO with whom we could cooperate
productively. In particular, Shelter Association Safe Home receives
public funding to implement assistance programs for TIP victims and
actively contributes to raising awareness about the issue in Latvia.
On other issues, the Marta Resource Center for Women carries out
diverse programs ranging from legal assistance to victims of
domestic violence to policy advocacy on gender discrimination.
While we exchange information with the Marta Center regularly,
identifying focused and specific projects for enhanced cooperation
could improve effectiveness. Additional funding could be used to
launch new initiatives with either of these organizations or
strengthen existing efforts.

-- While we have worked extensively on TIP, additional funding would
allow us to devote more effort to domestic violence awareness or
intervention programs. Funding permitting, both TIP and domestic
violence could be addressed through programs providing training and
education to criminal justice officials. The "blame-the-victim"
attitude in some sectors remains one of the primary obstacles to
effectively reducing violence against women.

-- As Ambassador Garber continues her discussions with diverse
groups of Latvian interlocutors, the Embassy hopes to uncover more
specific areas where engagement is needed and possible avenues for
cooperation with local partners.


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