Fact Sheet No. 7
in Power and Decision-Making
Women's representation at the highest levels of national and international decision-making has not changed in the five years since the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women continue to be in the minority in national parliaments, with an average of 13 per cent worldwide in 1999, despite the fact that women comprise the majority of the electorate in almost all countries.
The Platform for Action adopted at Beijing explains that women's lives should be viewed within the social, economic and political framework of the society, and not outside of it. The Beijing Conference reaffirmed that "women's equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women's interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and incorporation of women's perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved."
The Beijing Platform for Action also affirms that women have the equal right to participate in governance and, through that participation, contribute to the redefining of political priorities, placing new questions on the political agenda and providing new perspectives on mainstream political issues. The Platform defined two strategic objectives under this critical area: to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making, and to increase women's capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership.
Besides the Beijing document, a number of international instruments have affirmed the principle of equal participation of women and men in power and decision-making, including the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
At its forty-first session in 1997, the UN Commission on the Status of Women reaffirmed the need to identify and implement the measures that would redress the under-representation of women in decision-making. The removal of discriminatory practices and the introduction of positive action programmes were identified as effective policy instruments to that end.
Despite the long-standing recognition of the fundamental right of women and men to participate in political life, in practice the gap between de jure and de facto equality in the area of power and decision-making remains wide. As a result, women's interests and concerns are not represented at policy-making levels and women cannot influence key decisions in social, economic and political areas that affect society as a whole. Initiatives and programmes aimed at women's increased participation in decision-making have been hindered by a number of factors, including a lack of human and financial resources for training and advocacy for political careers; and accountability of elected officials for promoting gender equality and women's participation in public life.
In general, available figures show only a symbolic increase and indicate that the goal of gender balance is still far from being reached.
As of August 1999, there were only 10 women serving as heads of state and government, namely in Bangladesh, Guyana, Ireland, Latvia, New Zealand, Panama, San Marino, Sri Lanka (President and Prime Minister) and Switzerland.
Women's representation in government decision-making positions at the cabinet (ministerial) and sub-ministerial levels (deputy minister, permanent secretary and head of department) shows very slow progress.
The Nordic countries continue
to lead in the proportion of women in parliaments, averaging 36.4 per
cent. Sweden had the highest share of women in the lower or single house
40.4 per cent, according to a recent UN report. The high proportion
of women in parliament in the Nordic countries can be explained by many
factors, such as the equality of educational opportunity, the recognition
by women of the importance of voting and helping to determine election
results, and the establishment of comprehensive national state policies
aimed at the reconciliation of family and professional responsibilities
for women and men.
At the international level, there was an increase in the representation of women among Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in New York, from seven women as of January 1994 rising to 12 women as of April 2000.
The United Nations system has focused on increasing the number of women in decision-making positions at all levels and in various sectors. While certain progress has been made in improving the representation of women in the senior and policy-making levels in the United Nations Secretariat, the goal of 50 per cent by the year 2000 has not been reached. However, the statistics on the status of women in the Secretariat continue to show slow but steady improvement.
During the Beijing Conference, only 21 of the 189 countries that made commitments to improve the status of women gave the highest priority to the issue of increasing women's participation at all levels of decision-making. Since Beijing, extensive discussions have continued on this at governmental and non-governmental levels. This has contributed to an increased awareness of the systematic changes that are needed to bring about a gender balance. An increasing number of countries have applied affirmative action policies, including quota systems and targets, developed training programmes for women's leadership, and introduced measures to reconcile the family and professional responsibilities of both women and men.
Although in some countries, the strict concept of equality opposes the introduction of affirmative action, in other countries positive action programes have been carried out.
This fact sheet
is based on "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the
Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General" (E/CN.6/2000/PC/2).
Published by the
United Nations Department of Public Information