March 1st, 2006 05:38 EST
Absence of women from leadership positions
The absence of women from political life and leadership positions undermined democracy and women’s empowerment, the Commission on the Status of Women heard today during discussions on the enhanced participation of women in development and on the equal participation of women in decision-making processes –- the two substantive themes of the 45-member body’s fiftieth session.
Chaired by Commission Vice-Chairperson Dicky Komar ( Indonesia), a morning panel discussion focused on the need to create a more conducive environment that fully enabled women to participate in development. He noted that the 2005 World Summit reaffirmed that gender equality was essential to advancing development and peace. Measures for enhanced education, health and work for women were among the strategic priorities identified.
Stressing that education of women still lagged behind that of men, Bernadette Lahai, Member of Sierra Leone’s Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Food Security, noted that women were more likely to be illiterate than men, and girls were less likely to access schooling than boys. No country could develop if it failed to tap women’s talent for full participation in society. It had been generally found that the returns to educating women were higher than those of men; hence the adage, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate the nation.”
Evy Messell, Director, Bureau for Gender Equality, International Labour Organization (ILO), noted that combating gender inequalities in the world of work called for equal access to social protection. An enabling environment would be created by extending national social security systems more widely. The ILO firmly believed that action to strengthen the capacities of its tripartite constituents –- Governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations -- to promote positive change for gender equality hinged on men’s and women’s equal participation in meaningful social dialogue. Social dialogue also meant creating partnerships and networks with local and national women’s associations. Organization was an essential tool for women to gain confidence, increase their representation and acquire a voice in local, national and international employment policymaking.
Opening the afternoon panel on the equal participation of women and men in decision-making, Commission Vice-Chairperson Szilvia Szabo (Hungary) said equal access to decision-making and leadership at all levels was a necessary precondition for the proper functioning of democracy. Equal participation in political affairs made Governments more representative, accountable and transparent. It also ensured that the interests of women were taken into account in policymaking. Women, however, had traditionally been excluded from decision-making processes.
Since the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, women’s visibility in public life had grown, she continued. In 1995, women represented 11.3 per cent of all legislators. In 2006, they represented 16.3 per cent -- the highest percentage in history. More women judges had been appointed and more women had reached the highest executive positions in public and private companies. At the same time, persistent barriers to women’s entry into positions of decision-making persisted, and equitable participation remained a challenge.
Nesreen Barwari, Minister of Municipalities and Public Works of Iraq, noted that the real reason women should be engaged in politics at all levels was not to emulate men, but to bring a unique feminine perspective to bear on the decision-making process. The human right to full and equal participation in power and decision-making included, among other things, the right to participate on equal terms with men in shaping and implementing decisions and policies affecting them, their families, communities and societies. Also, the presence of women in the halls of power was not sufficient. That was mere tokenism. What mattered was the effect of that presence.
The Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Anders B. Johnsson, said the achievement of democracy required a balanced participation of men and women in politics. One could not talk about democracy when half of a country’s population did not participate in its work. The IPU had been tracking the numbers of women in national parliaments since 1970. Ten years ago, Sweden had led the pack, but today, Rwanda, a developing country, had the highest proportion of women in its national assembly, some 48.8 per cent. He added that the critical mass the Beijing Platform had asked for -- 30 per cent -– would not be reached until 2025, and parity would not be reached until 2040.
Among the issues raised during today’s discussions were the use of quotas, which some felt could be an important instrument for breaking down barriers and furthering women’s political participation and integration; the key role of political parties in enhancing women’s participation in decision-making processes; the need to eliminate gender stereotypes; and the untapped potential of the private sector in providing employment for women.
Presentations on the enhanced participation of women in development were also made by Torild Skard, Researcher, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs; Ana Elisa Osorio Granado, Public Health Specialist and former Minister of Environment and Natural Resources and Assistant Minister of Health of Venezuela; Akanksha A. Marphatia, ActionAid International; and Lisa Morrison-Puckett, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The panel on equal participation of women in decision-making also heard from Vida Kanopiene, Head of the Department of Social Policy at Mykolas Romeris University in Lithuania; Françoise Gaspard, an expert member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and senior lecturer at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris; and Amy Mazur, Professor in the Department of Political Science at Washington State University.
Source: The UN