Arab Regional Conference Ten Years after Beijing: Call for Peace

(Second session of the ESCWA Committee on Women)

Beirut, 8-10 July 2004



Statement by Ms. Carolyn Hannan

Director, Division for the Advancement of Women and
Officer-in Charge of the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs




Check against delivery




Madame Chairperson

Madam Executive Secretary,

Secretary of the Commission

Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates


I am greatly honoured to make a presentation at this important Regional Conference. The focus on peace and development at this conference is very timely.  Inequality between women and men is increasingly seen as a serious development constraint and a hinder to achievement of peace and security.  There is growing awareness of the need to ensure the full and equal participation of women as well as men at every level of decision-making, in local, national, regional and global fora if the global goals established in the Millennium Declaration are to be achieved. There are significant development dividends from women’s agency and empowerment and from more effective partnerships between women and men in different spheres of life, such as in government, the private sector and in non-governmental organizations.

Before responding to the specific questions posed for this panel, I would like to make some comments on rates of participation of women in public life. It is important to place the questions raised in the context of the fact that women continue to be marginalized in all areas of public life. While there are positive signs of change in women’s participation in public life in many parts of the world, the pace of change is too slow and must be accelerated. The opportunities and constraints in relation to furthering the empowerment of women in public life need to be identified and concrete strategies developed to utilize the opportunities and address the constraints.


The Beijing Platform for Action defined two strategic objectives in its critical area of concern on women in power and decision-making:

-         Take measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making;

-         Increase women’s capacity to participate in decision-making and leadership.


Two articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) deal with women’s participation in political and public life.  Article 7 obliges States parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women and to ensure that they enjoy equality with men in the political and public life of the country.  Article 8 obliges States parties to ensure that women have opportunities on equal terms with men to represent their Governments at the international level and to participate in the work of international organizations.


To provide further guidance, the Committee adopted general recommendation 23 (1997) on political and public life. In addition, recently general recommendation 25 on article 4.1 of the Convention on temporary special measures (2004) was adopted by the Committee to provide further guidance on the use of such measures as a necessary strategy to accelerate achievement of women’s de facto equality.


It is important to use the mandates, particularly the CEDAW articles, more effectively in promoting increased participation of women.


Participation of women in public affairs


A focus on women’s involvement in public life requires attention to all areas of power and decision-making. It covers not only legislative power, but also executive, judicial and administrative areas of decision-making. It implies that women should have the opportunity to participate in the formulation of public policy, hold public office and perform public functions at all levels – international, national, regional and local.


Data collection and dissemination, including data disaggregated by sex, is seriously underdeveloped in relation to all these areas. The lack of systematic sex-disaggregation of data on the executive, the judiciary and the civil service, as well as on the private sector, academia, civil society and the media, makes it difficult to identify the extent of the marginalization of women from decision-making in public life and to develop adequate strategies to remedy the situation.


In this presentation I will give some examples of areas where we do not have enough data and information today and then provide some brief information on political decision-making, economic decision-making, peace and security and participation in international organizations.




There is little statistical data available on women in important judicial positions at national level, even at the level of the highest courts. Internationally, a breakthrough was achieved with the establishment of the International Criminal Court and the appointment of 7 women of 18 judges, as well as the appointment of a woman as Vice President of the Court. This was a direct result of affirmative action to achieve gender balance on the court.




While in many countries women’s share of low and middle-level positions within media organizations continued to rise during the last decade, everywhere the number of women in senior decision-making positions remained very small – whether looking at traditional media institutions of press, radio and television, or the newly emerging sectors of telecommunications, multi-media and e-media. Reliable and comparable data are scarce. A study published by the International Federation of Journalists found that although a third of journalists today are women, less than 3 per cent of senior media executives and decision-makers are women. The European Union database on women in decision-making shows that in 2001 only 9 per cent of senior management jobs in the telecommunication industry in Europe were held by women. Women are also under-represented in critical media advisory bodies, such as control boards of broadcasting agencies.




Comparable data is also needed on the academic world to confirm the picture  which emerges from data that is available from some countries. This indicates that while an increasing number of women are graduating from universities, both at graduate and post-graduate levels and often with better results than men, women are not gaining secure employment in academia or receiving funding for research to the same extent as men. In addition, women are seriously under-represented in higher decision-making positions, including as Chancellors. Figures from Sweden, for example, show that there are only a little over 10 per cent women as Chancellors, despite the good representation of women in parliament, government and civil service.


Non-governmental organizations


Little is known about women’s equitable participation within non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There has been a significant increase in women’s specific organizations and networks over the past decade and women have developed a powerful political voice. However, it is important not to accept that women should only be heard through their separate civil society organizations. Women should also be equitably represented in all NGOs and have access to decision-making within these organizations. This is another area where data is scarce, but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that in many NGOs in all parts of the world, women are under-represented at decision-making levels, and gender equality concerns are often neglected.


Political decision-making


Despite political recognition of the fundamental right of women and men to participate in political and public life, the gap between de jure and de facto equality in the area of power and decision-making remains wide. Women are underrepresented at most levels of government, especially in ministerial and other executive bodies, and have made slow progress in attaining political power in legislative bodies. Efforts fell well short of the target endorsed by the Economic and Social Council of 30 per cent women in positions at decision-making levels by 1995.  As of October 2003, there were only 12 women heads of State and Government – exactly the same number as in 1995 (IPU data). It is only in a few countries of the world, notably the Nordic countries, where there is significant representation of women at ministerial level. In some countries there are no women ministers with portfolios other than women’s affairs. Improved statistics are needed on women’s access to decision-making in all ministries – as Ministers, Deputy-Ministers, Principal Secretaries and in other senior positions - and concrete plans should be in place for increasing the representation of women, not only in the ministries normally associated with women, such as health, education, family and child welfare, but also in ministries working on finance, planning, environment and infrastructure.


Broader participation of women at local levels of decision-making may be an important first step toward women's meaningful participation at the national level. The International Association of Local Authorities has set the criteria of no more than 60 per cent representation of either sex in local assemblies. In India and in Pakistan one third of local government seats are reserved for women. This allows large numbers of women to enter political life for the first time. It is important to note, however, that the local context is not always inherently more democratic or more open to women’s involvement. Considerable specific support is required to ensure that women can participate effectively.


      In Norway women now constitute 34 per cent of representatives in local government (2004). The first campaign to increase their participation at local level was held in 1967 when women constituted only 6 per cent of representatives. The campaign “More women in local government” has been run before every local election since then with encouraging results, testifying to the importance of advocacy and specific support mechanisms.


Ensuring that both women and men will be able to influence decisions and resource allocations requires going beyond simply increasing the number of women in different positions, to providing real opportunities for influencing the agendas, institutions and processes of decision-making. Values, norms, rules, procedures and practices can effectively restrict women’s potential to make real choices, and make efforts to give explicit attention to relevant gender perspectives very difficult.


Today, the proportion of seats held by women in legislative bodies stands at 15.4 per cent, the highest world average reached to date. This figure continues a trend of gradual but sustained growth for women, from 13.1% in 2000 and 14.3% in 2002.  Despite the progress, it is clear that more needs to be done.  Only 14 countries have at least 30 per cent representation of women in parliament - the benchmark set in the Beijing Platform for Action (paragraph 182). In addition to the relatively low numbers of women in national parliaments worldwide, the number of women presiding over parliamentary chambers continues to decline.  By the end of 2003, only 21 women (or 8.4 per cent) held such positions.


In most of the 14 countries where the 30% target has been reached (namely, Rwanda, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Costa Rica, Austria, Germany, Argentina, Iceland and Mozambique), some kind of affirmative action measure has been instituted.[1]  These can take the form of reserved seats in Parliament, electoral candidate quotas endorsed by political parties, or other affirmative action measures.


Economic participation


Data collection and dissemination is much less systematic in relation to economic decision-making. It is only possible to discern some trends. Women’s participation in high-level economic decision-making remains low even in the developed countries. According to ILO, women’s share of management positions remains generally low, despite educational advances for women in many parts of the world. Research indicates that currently women constitute only 33 per cent of managerial and administrative posts in the developed world; 15 per cent in Africa; and 13 per cent in Asia and the Pacific.


Very little comparable data exists on the representation of women in the private sector. Statistics available from the Nordic countries, for example, illustrate that although women’s participation in parliament and the public sector is high, women are seriously under-represented in the private sector, for example as CEOs or on corporate boards. In this context, Norway has initiated an important innovation, calling for gender balance on corporate boards by 2006, and announcing the intention to legislate in this regard if corporations do not make this change themselves. This has already led to an increase in the number of women on boards. To give an example of the poor representation of women as CEOs, there are only five women chief executives in the Fortune 500 corporations, the most valuable publicly owned companies in the United States.


Peace and security


In his address to the Security Council in October 2002, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated: "if women suffer the impact of conflict disproportionately, they are also the key to the solution of conflict". Sustainable peace and lasting security cannot be achieved without women's empowerment and full involvement. There has been a radical change in discussions on women and peace and security, with a shift from viewing women as primarily or solely as victims to understanding the diverse roles women play in conflict and post-conflict situations. Many women organize locally and regionally for conflict resolution and peacemaking as well as disarmament activities. At grassroots level women' groups and networks have provided examples of the types of innovative and flexible strategies required for effective conflict prevention and resolution. Although women in many conflict prone areas have been actively involved in informal peace processes, they are unfortunately still usually left out when formal peace negotiations begin and cannot make their voices heard. Women’s participation is not systematic or assured and there is a need for affirmative action in this area.


            Attention to women’s representation in peace and security activities has increased significantly since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1325 in 2000. The resolution specifically calls for an increase in the involvement of women, particularly in senior level positions. Since 2000, there has been an increased focus on achieving gender balance in peace-building, demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration processes, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian activities and reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes. Efforts are made to ensure women's representation on panels, in expert groups and in fellowship programmes. A number of United Nations entities have supported women's informal peace activities and provided training for women's organizations on conflict prevention and resolution, including on formal peace negotiations. Peacekeeping missions have worked to promote gender balance in local police forces and worked directly with women's groups and networks to ensure incorporation of gender dimensions into elections, the constitution, legislation and recruitment policies for the civil service.


Available data highlights some progress made but also illustrates that much more needs to be done. While 29 per cent of international civilian staff working in peacekeeping or peace building field-based mission are women; only 3.7 percent of Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSGs), or heads of missions, are women. Only 4.04 percent of civilian police, contributed by 65 countries, are women (data from March 2004). 


It is encouraging to note that a number of post-conflict countries – Rwanda, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Eritrea - appear in the top 30 countries with regard to women’s participation in legislative bodies, averaging between 25 and 30 per cent of women legislators. Many of these countries recognized the importance of including women in their reconstruction processes, and of their participation in new democratic institutions. Constitutional drafting processes led to the introduction of special measures, such as reserved seats or political quotas, with positive effect.


International organizations

There is little comparable data available on women’s participation in international organizations. Statistics are available in individual organizations but are not compiled and used effectively at international level. In the United Nations, for example, as of March 2004, 37 per cent of all staff and 24 per cent of managers in the Secretariat were women. At the level of Resident Coordinators and Resident Representatives in the field, only 25 per cent are women in Latin America and the Caribbean; 26 per cent in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States; 18 per cent in Africa; 12 percent in Asia and the Pacific; and 17 per cent in the Arab States.


An illustrative example of the lack of equitable representation in international contexts can be taken from the diplomatic service. Statistics from some Ministries of Foreign Affairs show serious under-representation of women at higher levels. This has implications for the appointment of women as representatives of countries in international contexts. Of 191 Permanent Representatives to the United Nations in New York, only 9 are women. In Geneva the number of women ambassadors to the United Nations is 12.


As pointed out earlier, there are few women as Special Representatives of the Secretary General in the area of peace and security; and few women among peacekeepers and police in peace-keeping missions. This is a reflection of low levels of women in these areas in countries, as well as the failure of countries to nominate women as candidates.


Obstacles to women’s participation


Among the most common and persistent barriers to increased representation of women across all regions are norms and stereotypes on the roles and expected behaviours of women, which are perpetuated by institutions and society at large and relegate women to subordinate roles in public life. Whether embedded in daily routines or codified in secular or religious law, these barriers limit women’s opportunities in political decision-making and in public life more broadly. Educational institutions and media can play a negative role in maintaining or exacerbating such existing gender stereotypes. A study in 2000 covering 70 countries showed that women accounted for just 18 per cent of people in the news and these references to women were mainly concerned with their traditional roles.


Other obstacles include women’s disproportionate share of household and family responsibilities, and lack of balance between family and work; disproportionate effects of poverty on women; continued lower levels of education and training of women in many countries; violence against women; and the traditional working patterns of many political parties, government structures and other bodies which discourage women through discriminatory attitudes and practices, lack of consideration of family and child-care responsibilities and time constraints, and the high cost of seeking and holding public office.


To overcome these obstacles, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in monitoring implementation of the Convention over the last four years, has recommended that States parties take specific steps to support an increase in the number of women in decision-making positions.  Most importantly, the Committee consistently called for the adoption of temporary special measures in accordance with article 4, paragraph 1 of the Convention, including establishment of concrete goals and monitoring mechanisms.


The Committee has emphasized the need to strengthen measures and laws aimed at increasing participation of women in countries where the representation of women in public spheres is low or declining, or where the measures have not been effectively applied. Recommended legislative measures range from constitutional amendments that guarantee the balanced participation of women and men in political life, laws to promote balanced representation of men and women in electoral candidate lists, and election laws aimed increasing the representation of women in elected and appointed bodies. At the same time, the Committee has stressed that the effectiveness of legislative measures will be enhanced when these are accompanied by practical measures, such as special training programmes geared at women, and awareness raising campaigns.


A concerted international effort – building on regional research and data collection - is required to more systematically collect, disseminate and use data on women’s participation in all areas of decision-making in public life. I would suggest that this should be linked to the consideration of the theme of women’s participation in decision-making by the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2006.


Similarly, much improved databases on women leaders are needed to provide a resource to those seeking women for leadership positions in national, multilateral, intergovernmental and international organizations, including in the area of peace and security. Such databases are important at national level as well as at the global level.


The difference women’s participation can make


            I would now like to respond to the specific questions raised for this panel:


  1. Is there any difference between women and men in leadership positions?


  1. What are the means to enhance the role of women in the executive authority?


  1. Does the presence of women at the head of a Ministry lead to a positive change in policies or to better implementation thereof?


  1. What are the obstacles encountered by women leaders?


  1. Would exchange of experiences among women executives improve their capabilities, thus leading to the empowerment of women?


            These questions are important as they require us to move beyond numbers and focus on the potential and actual impact of increasing the representation of women in public life.


The question has often been raised: What, if anything, is unique about women’s management and leadership. Some argue that women leaders become “just like men” to survive in the existing systems. Others contend that many women leaders studiously avoid taking up gender equality issues to avoid being categorized or labeled as feminists and losing support of men. It is not an easy question to answer as the question of itself presumes that all women are alike. Women are not a homogenous group any more than men are. There are good women leaders and weak women leaders, just as there are good and weak male leaders. A lot depends on the individuals. Some recent World Bank research seemed to indicate that women are inherently less corrupt than men. However these findings were contested by other researchers who claimed that there are so few women in positions of power that it was impossible to reach these findings. There may be some general similarities among women, but as long as women are so seriously underrepresented, and there is little research on the impact of their participation, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions.


The issue of the difference an increase in women in decision-making should make to development agendas – and especially to the promotion of gender equality – is, however, an important one. There is opportunity for women to make a real difference – to not only enter the political and public spaces previously dominated by men, but to also change the agendas and ways of working. Good leaders are required to be competent in all three areas of knowledge/expertise, management and leadership. Moving beyond numbers, it is necessary to identify what changes could be expected of women representatives, particularly in terms of management and leadership, and how these might be promoted and measured. On this issue, we are far from having all the answers.


            It is important to keep in mind that the representation of women in different bodies and processes does not necessarily ensure their effective participation. Special efforts are sometimes needed to ensure that women can make an impact, including in terms of changing the norms and rules and procedures which inhibit their effective contributions and hinder attention to important gender equality issues. The changes required to ensure that women can be effective in leadership positions in public life can be very practical ones, such as ensuring that there is a crèche, or that hours of work (for example in parliaments) take into account the need to balance family life and work. A considerable amount of attitudinal change is required as well on the expected roles of women, among both women and men.


            The questions related to the effectiveness of women in leadership positions can refer both to women’s ability to carry out the responsibilities assigned, as well as to the commitment and capacity to work with gender equality. An obstacle women face in relation to the former, is the fact that far too often it is still presumed that women are appointed to executive positions because they are women rather than because of their capacity. A great deal of advocacy and awareness raising is needed to overcome this stereotype. And leadership training specifically for women – to build on the specific qualities and potentials women have as women, and overcome some of the constraints such as lack of self-confidence and assertiveness – could make a major contribution in this respect.


            In relation to women’s effectiveness in promoting gender equality, it is important to keep in mind that the presence of women as executives in any area of societal development is not in itself a guarantee that gender equality issues will be placed on the agenda. All actors - male and female - must have the awareness and capacity to bring attention to the concerns of both women and men. Both women and men can need training in gender mainstreaming. This has been seen in the context of national parliaments where even women members of parliament have needed and requested briefings on the gender perspectives of different issues, such as environment and infrastructure.


            Networking and exchange of experience is a critical instrument for increasing and maintaining women in leadership positions in public life. There are already mechanisms for such networking, for example in national parliaments where women meet across party boundaries, and internationally through the Council of World Women Leaders and the International Assembly of Women Ministers. The interactive events in the annual sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women also provide an opportunity for exchange among women leaders. Networking could, however, be much more effectively used at national level and in regional contexts.


It is critically important that women who have achieved leadership positions actively support other women in their career development and explicitly promote gender equality and empowerment of women.  This must happen in all areas and at all levels – in legislative bodies, in executive bodies and in the judiciary. Senior women must in particular be aware of their responsibilities as role models and find ways and means to mentor and support young women.


            Men should become active partners in achieving the goals of gender equality, including the increased involvement of women in public life. Progress  can be greatly enhanced if there is greater willingness among men to question male stereotypes and to change existing structures and processes, including redefining the roles of men and women's roles in the family and in public life. Women leaders need therefore to develop strategic alliances with men who are willing to actively support women’s participation and gender equality.


            More systematic research is urgently needed at national and regional levels on women’s participation in public life - on levels of participation, issues of “critical mass”, the obstacles faced and what is needed to ensure that women’s representation bring optimal inputs for equality, development and peace.


I look forward to your discussion of this important topic.


Thank you.








[1] In 2 of the 14 countries, namely Cuba and Finland, affirmative measures do not exist.