Press Conference on Report “Women in Parliament in 2011”

2 March 2012

Press Conference on Report “Women in Parliament in 2011”

2 March 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Report “Women in Parliament in 2011”


With efforts “creeping along too slowly” to boost the number of women politicians and deepen the level of women’s participation in political affairs, senior United Nations and parliamentary officials today made strong calls on Governments and political parties to demonstrate the will and courage to bring more women to the decision-making table, particularly in the Arab World.

Presenting the joint United Nations/Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) study on women members of parliament, IPU President Abdelwahed Radi told reporters during a Headquarters press conference that, despite a year marked by dramatic political change and democratic transformation in parts of the world, there had once again been too little progress on women’s political participation.  He was joined by IPU Secretary-General Anders B. Johnsson, and Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

Highlighting key findings from the Women in Parliament in 2011 report, Mr. Radi said the global average of female parliamentary representation stood at 19.5 per cent in 2011, up from 19 per cent in 2010.  That 0.5 percentage point increase followed a familiar pattern of minimal progress in reaching gender parity over the past decade, he said, underscoring continued global lack of political will to change the status quo.

“Undeniably there are far too few women participating in politics,” he continued, stressing that it was essential for all countries to make all necessary efforts — and avail themselves of every opportunity — to ensure women participated in parliaments and other decision-making processes.  Yet, he was concerned that the opportunities provided by the “Arab Spring” uprisings were being missed.  Experience had shown that more than a third of countries with 30 per cent or more women Members of Parliament were those that had emerged from conflict and were in transition.

By example, he said that due to quota-setting and other measures, South Sudan’s constituent Assembly was comprised of about 65 per cent women.  On the other hand, however, in Egypt, where no such measures had been considered, the number of women in political life had slipped to just 2 per cent, from an average of about 12 per cent there last year.  “So, the opportunities are there; the precedent is there,” he said, underscoring that the space provided by the political transition opened the way for more women to be elected to parliament. 

Moreover, it had been very clear that women were at the forefront of the popular protests that rocked parts of North Africa and the Middle East last year, and, therefore, they needed to be at the forefront of parliamentary democracy too.  The international community could not merely sit back and “take note” of historic events; all stakeholders, including political parties, must seize the opportunity to press for change.  The IPU’s goal was not just to have more women sitting in parliaments, but to enhance and deepen their participation across the political spectrum of the societies in which they lived.

Pointing to new research carried out by IPU and UN-Women and presented in the Women in Politics 2012 map, Ms. Bachelet said women’s participation in politics reinforced women’s civil, political and economic rights, and also strengthened overall democracy and the economy.  She said the number of elected women Heads of State and Government in the world had increased from 8 in 2005 — the first year the study had been carried out — to 17 in 2012.

The number of women ministers had also increased, from 14.2 per cent in 2005 to 16.7 percent today.  Looking at total percentages, the Nordic countries had the highest percentage of women ministers at 48.4 per cent.  The second highest percentage of women ministers was in the Americas, at 21.4 per cent, up 3 points from 2005.  The region with the third highest percentage of women ministers was sub-Saharan Africa at 20.4 per cent, up 3 percent since 2005.

In Europe, the percentage of women ministers was 15.3 per cent.  In the Pacific, the percentage of women ministers was 11.5, followed by Asia at 10.5 per cent, and the Arab States at 7 per cent.  She said that the two regions that had stayed virtually the same in terms of the percentage of women ministers since 2005, and had not seen increases, were the Arab States, which had the lowest percentage, and Europe, with the exception of the Nordic countries.

Ms. Bachelet said that attaining 30 per cent of women in parliament was a target in the Beijing Platform for Action from the Fourth World Conference on Women.  “So that is something that we need to keep pushing for […] it doesn’t just happen by accident,” she said, emphasizing that temporary special measures, such as quotas, accelerated women’s participation in politics.  Out of the 59 countries holding elections in 2011, 17 of them had had legislated quotas.  Women gained 27 per cent of parliamentary seats in those countries, compared to 16 per cent in countries without quotas.

“So today I call for stronger commitment by leaders to increase women’s participation in politics.  I encourage countries to use quotas to expand women’s participation in parliament,” she said, adding that it was also good to open public debate about the right of women to take part in government and to hold public office. 

“Democracy grows stronger with the full and equal participation of women,” she declared, adding that among the top priorities for UN Women this year would be to make a renewed push for such participation, as well as women’s economic empowerment.  She went on to say that UN Women would support women’s movements, work with parliaments to amend laws to include gender equality perspectives, and support reforms of electoral laws to facilitate the incorporation of women in elections as voters and candidates.

Mr. Johnsson said progress in many of those areas had been “incredibly slow”, and that one way to reverse that trend was to open dialogue with political parties, which in most countries, remained the gatekeepers to women’s access to parliament.  “It is political parties where things have to change, they simply are not fielding enough women candidates,” he continued, adding that it was also not enough to put forward candidates, but that they must be placed in “winnable” situations. 

He also called for enhanced electoral laws and “quotas with teeth”, to ensure that if targets for women’s participation were not met, some form of punishment was triggered, such as the withholding of State funding allowances for political parties.  Ireland had implemented such a policy.

Ms. Bachelet agreed, voicing strong support for quota systems.  Yet, while it was encouraging that a number of countries in the Arab region had introduced such measures in the wake of the popular uprisings, special care must be taken to ensure they generated real benefits for women.  For instance, she said that often when Governments were required to add a woman’s name to the ballot, that women’s name was invariably placed at the very bottom of a ballot that might list numerous candidates, all but ensuring that she would not be elected.  With that in mind, Ms. Bachelet said the United Nations would work with countries in the Arab world and elsewhere to help them craft better laws and to understand that “democracy is about women and men and the right to be elected under fair conditions”.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.