WOMEN 2000
                         WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING

Published to Promote the Goals of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform
for Action

                         WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING

"You agree, then  . . . that men and women are to have a common way
of life . . . -- common education, common children; and they are to
watch over the citizens in common whether abiding in the city or
going out to war?  . . . And in so doing they will . . . preserve the
natural relation of the sexes."  
                                      The Republic, Plato (428-348 BC)


At the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing,
China, in 1995, the global community stressed the importance of women
assuming positions of power and influence, not only because their
points of view and talents are needed, but also as a matter of their
human rights. Moreover, increased involvement of women in decision-
making processes with respect to social values, development
directions and allocation of resources enables women as well as men
to influence societal agendas and to help set priorities. Efforts to
achieve gender equality are thus more likely to be brought into the
mainstream of decision-making and to be pursued from the centre
rather than the margins.1/

Yet questions about both style and substance persist where women and
decision-making are concerned. As many historians listen, they hear
the echo of questions raised at different times in different parts of
the world when the right to vote and to hold office was granted to
working men who had neither the property nor the level of income
that, earlier, had qualified men as "responsible" citizens. 

Like the questions at that time about working men's participation in
the exercise of public power, interest in gender-based differences
and similarities in approaches to decision-making has increased in
recent years and has been the topic of a growing number of leadership
training seminars and workshops in different parts of the world. This
issue of Women 2000 offers some recent evidence on women's entry into
the "corridors of power", whether in governance, business or other
public domains, along with conclusions of a number of the studies on
women's decision-making styles and focus. The purpose of this edition
is to present issues, stimulate research and, above all, provoke

In exploring the question of women's role in decision-making,
particularly in the public sphere, the term "corridors of power"
itself may need scrutiny. In many cultures, people think of the space
in which authority is exercised as small and exclusive. Why don't we
speak instead of "arenas of power", "theatres of power" or, in an age
of democracy, "amphitheatres"? A number of groups, among them women's
activists, have called for using power openly and inclusively rather
than in a hierarchical and exclusive manner. They also suggest that
negotiation and consensus-building are among women's special
abilities, along with the ability to listen, to see beyond one's own
point of view and to adapt rapidly. According to a number of today's
business thinkers, these are just the qualities needed in today's
ferociously competitive economic environment.2/

Some of these groups have also claimed that because of inborn
altruism or their roles as mothers, women leaders would foster
societies of peace and nurturing. In much the same way, they have
assumed that women captains of trade and industry would advance
economic justice. In addition, since the environmental movements of
the 1960s and 1970s, some women's advocates have argued that women
are natural caretakers of the environment -- largely because in many
rural societies, women have managed water, food and fuel resources
and employed their knowledge handed down from generation to
generation about herbal medicines and other natural products.3/

But for every peacemaking woman monarch, a comparable warrior
queen comes out of history's pages. For every female environmental
healer, there is an exemplar of unsustainable consumption. Although
much of the data on women and decision-making have been anecdotal, an
increasing number of full-scale studies are emerging based on the
growing number of examples of women decision-makers in public life.
But until women's participation rate reaches the level of "critical
mass", generalization is difficult. This critical mass can be defined
as the proportion of 30 to 35 per cent that, in any group, may result
in marked differences in content and priorities, often leading to
changes in management style, group dynamics and organizational

     The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women in 
     support of the Commission on the Status of Women, the 
     international intergovernmental body charged with securing
     the  advancement of women, has been exploring the question 
     of women and decision-making for some time. In 1989, an 
     expert group met in Vienna to consider "Equality in Political
     Participation and Decision-Making". Another expert group met 
     in 1991, in Vienna, to discuss "Women in Public Life". "Gender 
     and the Agenda for Peace" was the focus of a 1994 expert group 
     meeting in New York, while another expert meeting in that same 
     year examined "Women and Economic Decision-Making". In 1996, 
     two United Nations expert group meetings addressed these
     issues. The first considered "Political Decision-Making and 
     Conflict Resolution: the Impact of Gender Differences", and 
     was held at the International Research and Training Institute 
     for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) in Santo Domingo, 
     Dominican Republic. The second was "Women and Economic 
     Decision-Making in International Financial Institutions 
     and Transnational Corporations", held at Simmons College, 
     Boston, Massachusetts.

     At its forty-first session in 1997, the Commission on the 
     Status of Women considered a critical area of concern, women 
     and power and decision-making, and called for acceleration 
     of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action 
     in this area. Governments were called upon, inter alia, 
     to take into account diverse decision-making styles
     and to project positive images of women in politics and 
     public life.4/


1/   Johanna Schalkwyk, Helen Thomas and Beth Woroniuk, "Mainstreaming: A
Strategy for Achieving Equality between Women and Men, A Think
Piece", unpublished paper, July 1996.

2/   Among the most widely read are Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. The
latter, as paraphrased by economist Robert Chambers in Whose Reality
Counts? Putting the First Last (London, Intermediate Technology
Publications, 1997) p.196 , calls for "achieving flexibility by
empowering people, learning to love change and becoming obsessed with
listening  . . . a culture of knowledge-sharing versus hoarding, user
democracy versus authoritarianism . . . ."

3/   Cecile Jackson of the University of East Anglia questions this
belief from the standpoint of gender analysis worldwide in "Doing
What Comes Naturally? Women and Environment in Development", World
Development, vol. 21, No. 12, 1993, pp. 1947-1963. 

4/   Commission on the Status of Women, Report on the forty-first session
(10-21 March 1997), Official Records of the Economic and Social
Council, 1997, Supplement No. 7 (E/1997/27, E/CN.6/1997/9), pp. 10-12.



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Date last updated: 06 December 1999 by DESA/DAW
Copyright 1999 United Nations