By Thin Lei Win
BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – It will be 50 years before parliaments in the Asia-Pacific region achieve gender balance if women’s participation remains at its current pace, according to a new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Half of the more than 4.2 billion people living in the Asia Pacific region are female, yet just over 18 percent of national parliament members are women, while the global average is slightly less than 20 percent, according to the UNDP report on gender equality in elected office, which proposes a six-point plan to fast-track greater involvement of women.
“Development cannot be effective if decision-making excludes 51 percent of the world’s population,” the report said.
“Legislative bodies with members drawn from diverse backgrounds and outlooks are generally more innovative.”
Thailand has a female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and a million more women than men, yet women fill only four percent of 7,000 local government positions, according to the development agency.
In some Pacific islands, there are no women parliamentarians and only one each in Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Excluding Australia and New Zealand, women’s representation in the Pacific lags behind the Arab region, the report said.
“On average, women are less than 10 percent of ministers in Asia- Pacific (excluding Australia and New Zealand),” it said.
It is recommending six steps to increase women’s participation in politics, which include: constitutional reform to entrench women’s rights; transforming electoral systems and party laws to make them more inclusive; instituting legal quotas requiring certain numbers of women; changing internal political party rules; making it easier for women to develop political skills; and the creation of more gender-sensitive parliaments.
DEVELOPMENT, DEMOCRACY AND WOMEN IN POLITICS
The report also paints a complex picture of two common assumptions on women’s rights – that more developed countries, and the process of democratisation strengthen gender equality and female empowerment.
Legislatures in Japan and Korea, two of Asia’s most developed countries, only have 11.3 and 14.7 percent women respectively, it says. In contrast, almost one third of the parliament in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is made up of women.
According to UNDP, the highest proportion of women in parliament – 56.3 percent – is found in Rwanda, one of the world’s least developed nations.
New Zealand and Nepal are leading the region with female parliamentarians accounting for a third of their legislatures, the report said. Afghanistan, Australia, Laos, East Timor and Vietnam have more than a quarter.
The process of adopting a new democratic constitution and electoral system can reduce the number of women in parliament, the report found.
“In the short-term, at least, the transition to democracy does not, by itself, automatically strengthen the representation of women,” it said.
“The one-party Communist states of China and Vietnam have more than twice as many women in their national legislatures than the democratic states of India and the Republic of Korea.”
Women in elected office not only strengthen democratic participation but they also give priority to bread-and-butter issues that affect people’s daily lives, the report said.
“Evidence from India suggests that where women leaders have a strong presence on local councils, they are likely to use their weight to support investments in areas like water and sanitation, which are critical for human health and development,” it said.
It is not all gloom, however. UNDP applauded recent actions by Shinawatra and Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard to help bring about change.
Gillard has pledged funds to raise the status of women in the Pacific Islands and Yingluck’s government set up a Thai Women Empowerment Funds to help improve the status of women.
By Melanne Verveer and Penny Abeywardena, Special to CNN
From Washington to Wall Street to Twitter, writers, academics, and business leaders are pointing to the empowerment of women as key to many of the world’s greatest challenges. They’re publicizing the research and amplifying hard facts, like the fact that when women have equal access to agricultural resources, 100 million to 150 million fewer people will go hungry.
Or that when women participate equally in the workforce, the GDP in the U.S. the eurozone, and Japan will experience a double-digit spike. And while there’s no perfect metric for the popular perception of “girl power,” a 2010 Pew study found widespread public support for women’s equality in virtually every nation.
The excitement over women’s potential and progress is warranted. But there’s still a large and disappointing disconnect between research and reality. Girls and women do indeed perform 66% of the work and produce 50% of the world’s food. But they earn only 10% of the world’s income and own a dismal 1% of its property.
And women everywhere experience less access to credit, training, technology, markets, role models, and protection under the law. Girls and women may keep the world running, but someone else is still running the show.
So if women have indeed “arrived,” despite key indicators showing continued widespread inequality, where exactly have they landed? All signs point to girls and women at a tipping point.
With leaders finally paying attention to their issues, women are miles ahead of where they once were. But they are also far from where they need to be. And women won’t get past the tipping point and onto a level economic playing field until we all ensure that their economic empowerment is a sustainable path forward rather than a fad or figment of the global imagination.
Leaders across various sectors must approach girls and women as actors who drive solutions, not just as beneficiaries who receive their results. We need a shift in strategy and investment to help women around the world to mobilize themselves and their communities.
The moment is ripe for action. Mid-September is the geopolitical busy season, and leaders from around the globe have descended on Manhattan for the U.N. General Assembly, the Clinton Global Initiative, and other global meetings, where girls and women will undoubtedly be a hot topic. For the first time, this game of empowerment has all the cards stacked on the right side: The relevant players, from corporations to governments and nongovernmental organizations, are beginning to recognize that it’s time to “invest in women.”
Some already are. Members of the Clinton Global Initiative are promoting innovative solutions. Through its Personal Achievement and Career Enhancement program, retailer Gap Inc. helps female garment workers build both life and technical skills, offering managerial and financial literacy training so that they can advance in the workplace.
And that will help them make progress in their careers and lives. Through P.A.C.E.’s partnership with the Washington-based research institute the International Center for Research on Women and local NGOs, 7,600 women have completed the P.A.C.E. program in seven countries.
Unilever is putting women in the driver’s seat as well, boldly pledging to make more than half of its senior management team female by 2015.
With women controlling nearly $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in global consumer spending, it’s just good business sense for a global consumer goods company to guarantee itself a leadership that reflects its consumers.
Leaders can also look to the approach taken by the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues in the U.S. State Department, which is integrating initiatives for women’s advancement into the United States’ foreign policy and the duties of every U.S. diplomat abroad. And it has built partnerships with the private sector to mentor and train thousands of women who own small and medium-sized businesses in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere around the world, to combat gender-based violence, and to provide prenatal education to mothers in developing countries.
If the world is truly to mine the untapped potential of women, and bring greater social and economic progress to our societies, then all sectors of society — government, business, civil — must work together. Not just because women will reap the benefits, but because everyone stands to benefit. None of us will truly arrive until girls and women leap over the tipping point, too.
WOMEN parliamentarians remains a critical issue for Melanesian countries like Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands with male dominance - and should be an issue for the next government to consider. The Leader of the Opposition, and the Chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group to Papua New Guinea’s general elections Edward Natapei said with the current general elections in Papua New Guinea, the Group’s observation was that there will not be much difference as male candidates will again
dominate their national parliament.
He said in Papua New Guinea, the previous government intended to pass a legislation to reserve seats for women candidates, unfortunately that legislation did not go through as some of the parliamentarians walked out
from the chamber.
However Natapei said that the new government in power must consider the issue, so that women have a greater voice in parliament.
Source: The Vanuatu Independent Weekly Newspaper/Issue No439/14 July 2012
The Papua New Guinea parliament failed to pass a proposed Women’s Bill to set aside seats for female candidates in time for this month’s national elections.
But one candidate is still keen to increase female participation.
She’s standing for the NCD regional seat and says she will focus on women’s issues if she wins a seat in parliament.
Speaker: Margaret Lokoloko Hapea, candidate in the National Capital District regional seat in the coming PNG elections.
HAPEA: There are two pieces of legislation; one is parliament changed the constitution to amend the constitution which allows for the fourth category of who the membership should be on the floor of parliament. And the fourth category is the women’s seats. The organic law, that was passed, the only thing that needs to affect that constitutional change is an organic law on provincial and local government elections. That constituted on the second law. And what we need to do is revise that or revise that and bring it back on the floor to pass that second piece of legislation.
22 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro
While governments were locked in their semantic battles in the Rio+20 process, women’s and other social movements continue to fight on multiple fronts for human rights, justice and sustainability. These struggles take place on diverse territories and geographies including the body, land, oceans and waterways, communities, states, and epistemological grounds. Each of these terrains is fraught with the resurgent forces of patriarchy, finance capitalism, neo-conservatism, consumerism, militarism and extractivism.
An understanding of the deeper structural roots of the crises we face today and analytical clarity on the interlinkages between different dimensions are both critical. There is no core recognition that the multiple crises we face are caused by the current anthropocentric development model rooted in unsustainable production and consumption patterns, and financialisation of the economy that are all based on and exacerbate gender, race and class inequities.
In sharp contrast to twenty years ago at the historic Earth Summit when linkages between gender and all three pillars of sustainable development were substantively acknowledged, the Rio+20 outcome document has relegated women’s rights and gender equality to the periphery without recognition of a wider structural analysis.
Over the past few months we have witnessed and confronted attempts by a small group of ultra conservative states (with the strong support of an observer state – the Holy See), to roll back hard won agreements on women’s rights. We are outraged that a vocal minority have hijacked the text on gender and health and blocked mention of sexual and reproductive rights, claiming that these have nothing to do with sustainable development. Meanwhile most states concentrate on what they considered their ‘big ticket’ items of finance, trade and aid with little interest to incorporate a gender analysis into these macroeconomic issues.
There is a reference to women’s “unpaid work” but without recognizing the unequal and unfair burden that women carry in sustaining care and wellbeing (para 153). This is further exacerbated in times of economic and ecological crisis when women’s unpaid labour acts as a stabilizer and their burden increases. For example, reference to the root causes of excessive food price volatility, including its structural causes, is not linked to the risks and burdens that are disproportionately borne by women (para 116). Development is not sustainable if care and social reproduction are not recognized as intrinsically linked with the productive economy and reflected in macroeconomic policy-making.
Reference is made to the critical role that rural women play in food security through traditional sustainable agricultural practices including traditional seed supply systems (para 109). However these are under severe threat unless governments stop prioritising export oriented agribusiness. The reason why such wrong-headed policies are not adequately addressed is because of corporate interests that are protected in the Rio+20 outcome.
Northern governments advocating for such corporate interests have warped the sustainable development paradigm in the so-called ‘green economy’ that is skewed toward the economic pillar, emphasising sustained economic growth over equitable development and without any ecological limits. Within this section women are regarded as either welfare recipients or as a supplier of labor for the green economy, but not acknowledged as rights holders, especially of economic, social and cultural rights (paras 58k & l).
The ‘green economy’ concept is somewhat challenged in the text by an affirmation of diverse visions, models and approaches to development as well as the policy space to integrate all three dimensions of sustainable development (para 56). While the recognition of policy space and sovereignty over natural resources, is important, there is a need to deeply question a development model that is based on extractivism and that fails to take into account social and ecological costs.
While the Rio principles including common but differentiated responsibilities are reaffirmed at Rio+20, the outcome is imbalanced across the three pillars of sustainable development without sufficient attention to gender and social justice, including women’s rights. It fails to tackle the systemic inequities of the international monetary, financial and trading systems; and prioritises economic growth over the ecology and equity.
Feminists across the global South will continue to demand that governments stop regressing on their commitments and begin to seriously address the structural transformations that are required for genuine sustainable development.
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