29 February 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON ‘2008 MAP OF THE POLITICAL REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN’


It was in developing countries and those with emerging democracies –- rather than developed nations or those with long-established democratic traditions -– where women were making the greatest strides in parliamentary representation, Anders Johnsson, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), told correspondents today at a Headquarters press conference.


Mr. Johnsson was joined by Carolyn Hannan, Director of the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, Sharon Hay Webster, Member of Parliament of Jamaica, and Hilary Armstrong of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons to launch the 2008 Map of the Political Representation of Women.  The panel described the trends, lessons learned and future actions for increasing the number of women in parliamentary positions around the world.


Highlighting some of the facts the Map brought to the fore, Mr. Johnsson said that, although women’s representation had gained ground since the last Map had been published, with an increase of women representation in national parliaments, rising from 15.7 per cent in 2005 to 17.7 per cent in 2008, progress was too slow to reach gender equality in parliaments any time in the near future.  The same countries as in 2005 -- Rwanda, Sweden, Finland and Argentina -- again figured at the top, with more than 40 per cent of parliament women.  The bottom had not changed either, with some Pacific Island and Gulf countries having no female representation at all.  Although many perceived Latin America as a “macho” region, countries from that area came close on the heels of European countries.  The situation in the executive branch was the same.


Ms. Hannan emphasized that the collection of data on the issue, so well done by IPU, was of great importance.  The Map could be a powerful advocacy tool, as it clearly showed areas where there were gaps, and strategies could be developed accordingly.  The issue of representation was, after all, one of accountability.  Experience had shown that the more women were present in parliament, the broader the area of debate became.  One also had to look behind the numbers -- how effective were the women elected?  IPU had done a lot of work in building up networking capacity and monitoring.  Although much information was available on women with access to decision-making processes in Government and parliament, little information was available in other areas, including the judiciary, the media and in the corporate field.


Ms. Armstrong underlined that women needed to be part of every area of life if a democratic society was going to be a society able to be inclusive and to recognize the needs of different groups, but also if society was going to enable children to become well educated and skilled.  Democracies were supposed to reflect the electorate in decision-making, and more women needed to participate.  That did not just happen by itself, she said, but required soul-searching and challenging the existing culture.  As her party tried to get more women elected, among other things by only-women lists, there was a lot of controversy.  One must realize and accept that for every place a woman wanted to get in parliament, a man has to give up his place, something nobody wants to do.  “It never is easy and you have got to continue working on it,” she said.


Ms. Hay Webster, a three-time Member of Parliament, said she had started as the youngest woman in parliament when there had been a female Speaker of the House, a female President of the Senate and a female Secretary-General of her party.  Such circumstances had contributed very much to the increase the number of female parliamentarians in the 2002 elections.  Progress had been made and achievements should be celebrated.  Once elected, those who had the mantle of leadership needed to share information, especially in digital platforms.  She pointed out that women in the executive branch for the majority were appointed to social services and education.  Very few were appointed to the areas of economy and finance.  Women should, therefore, focus on turning the tables in that area, as well.


Asked what practical steps could be taken to “kick start” the increase in women representation, Mr. Johnsson noted that the top-ranked countries all had some kind of quota system.  All but three -- Finland, Denmark and Cuba -- in the category of more than 30 per cent female representation had quotas where a certain percentage of women had to be nominated or elected.  Such quotas should be just a temporary measure.  Much more had to be done at the political-party level to achieve a gender-sensitive approach.  Donors that supported democracy-building could also look at supporting gender-sensitive policies.


The reason why developing countries had more women in authority than developed countries was that the women in developing countries, especially those emerging from conflict, had played a more prominent role in society, he added.  The reason why Cuba had such a high rate of women representation was because of its “hard core” State policy to promote women.


Ms. Armstrong added that her party had produced legislation that made it legal for parties to use a quota system.  That had embarrassed other parties, who were now working hard to get women elected.  Ms. Hannan noted that other, long-term issues played a role as well, such as education and training, and addressing stereotypes.  The sharing of responsibilities between women and men at the domestic level also played a role.  As for the quota system, she said that the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women included a clause permitting for “temporary special measures” that allowed for quotas.


A correspondent, remarking that, in some developing countries or countries with emerging democracies, women were traditionally less educated, asked whether that might be a problem for getting into parliament.  Ms. Hannan said that should not be seen as a problem, but as an opportunity.  Short-term support, such as training and monitoring, should be provided, though.  Ms. Armstrong stressed that women without formal education still had the experience of working in their communities.  Their strength should be used, and mentoring by peers was important.  One should avoid the historical situation where women would say: “I am not ready for that.”  You never heard a man say that, she added.


The reason why Afghanistan had a much higher percentage of women representation than other countries in the region was because the international community had strongly been involved and had ensured that elections had been sensitive to gender issues, Mr. Johnsson answered another question.


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For information media • not an official record