More women elected in Africa
Women were the big winners in Angola’s 5 September parliamentary election, taking 81 of the legislature’s 220 seats, nearly triple the 21 women who gained seats in the last election in 1992. The vote was won handily by the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which has governed the war-battered country since independence in 1975.
The result placed Angola second only to Rwanda as the African country with the greatest percentage of women in parliament. Women took 56 per cent of parliamentary seats in Rwanda’s 15-18 September legislative poll. That election made Rwanda the country with the world’s largest percentage of women parliamentarians and the only national legislature in which women are a majority. Both Rwanda and Angola are now among the top ten countries worldwide in women’s parliamentary representation.
Overall, however, notes a recent report by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), women remain significantly underrepresented in the corridors of power. Internationally, fewer than one in five parliamentarians are women. Although the number is growing, the study, Progress of the World’s Women 2008-2009, estimates that at current rates women will only achieve parity in the world’s legislatures by 2045.
The limited presence of women in decision-making positions, the report notes, makes it difficult to challenge gender discrimination in the allocation of national resources and in economic and social life. Women still earn 17 per cent less on average than men, make up the majority of workers performing unpaid family labour and spend a staggering 40 bn hours annually collecting and transporting water because of the low priority assigned to investments in infrastructure of particular value to women. “Discrimination on this scale after decades of national and international commitments,” the report states, “is symptomatic of an accountability crisis.”
Overcoming this crisis, UNIFEM says, is “mission critical.” It will require legislative action to protect women’s rights, gender-sensitive reform of government and of private-sector procedures and regulations, and efforts to challenge sexism and discrimination in social and cultural life. Quotas and other specific benchmarks for empowerment, the study finds, have succeeded both in increasing women’s participation in political life and in improving governance as a whole.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauded the transfer of sovereignty of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon on 14 August, ending a decades-long dispute between the two West African neighbours that threatened regional peace and stability. The accord, Mr. Ban said in a statement read at the handover ceremony, was “a testament to the determination and resolve of both countries.” Their success, he continued, “has provided the world with a model for the peaceful resolution of sensitive disputes.”
Claims over the potentially oil-rich peninsula, dating from the colonial era, brought Cameroon and Nigeria to the brink of war in 1981, and sporadic clashes between the security forces of the two countries continued for years. In 2002 the International Court of Justice ruled in Cameroon’s favour. But the verdict proved politically unpopular in Nigeria and among some inhabitants of the peninsula, who trace their origins to Nigeria. Mr. Ban praised the “patience and perseverance” of the parties, who finalized the last details of the handover with the aid of UN mediators.
The UN General Assembly has confirmed the appointment of Ms. Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (left) as the new UN high commissioner for human rights. Ms. Pillay, who assumed the post on 1 September, is the first African to be appointed to the position. After becoming the first woman to start a law practice in her home province of Natal in 1967, Ms. Pillay lectured at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and was vice-president of the University of Durban Westville. She also served as a judge on and was president of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and as a judge at the International Criminal Court from 2003 to 2008.
Mr. Festus Mogae (right), the former president of Botswana from 1998 to 2008, has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as one of his special envoys on climate change. He was appointed with Mr. Srgjan Karim of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the immediate outgoing president of the UN General Assembly, and will join three other climate change envoys appointed in May 2007: Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister, Mr. Ricardo Lagos Escobar, former president of Chile, and Mr. Han Seung-soo, former minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Korea.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Angela Kane of Germany (left) as the new UN under-secretary-general for management. Since 2005 Ms. Kane was the assistant secretary-general for political affairs. She replaces Ms. Bárcena Ibarra of Mexico, who has been named executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The World Intellectual Property Organization, a UN specialized agency, has appointed Mr. Francis Gurry of Australia as its new director-general. Mr. Gurry joined WIPO in 1985 as a consultant and has held various posts within the organization since that time, most recently as deputy director-general. He replaces Mr. Kamil Idris of Sudan.