WOMEN 2000:  WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING                         OCTOBER 1997


More than two decades after the first United Nations conference
on women in 1975, the statistical picture for women's participation
at high levels of decision-making remains bleak -- certainly in the
terms spelt out by the Platform of Action adopted by the Fourth World
Conference on Women in 1995.

The Beijing Platform for Action

     "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has
     the right to take part in the Government of his/her country . . . .
     Achieving the goal of equal participation of women and men in
     decision-making will provide a balance that more accurately reflects
     the composition of society and is needed in order to strengthen
     democracy and promote its proper functioning. Equality in political
     decision-making performs a leverage function without which it is
     highly unlikely that a real integration of the equality dimension in
     government policy-making is feasible . . . ." 

Women in the Public Sector

In this sector, it is interesting to note that the proportion of
women who reigned as powerful queens in their own right or as
consorts during the more than 2,000 years before the advent of
democracy far exceeds the proportion of women government leaders in
our century.24/  Since the end of the Second World War, 28 women
have been elected as heads of State or Government. Only Norway and
Sweden have so far achieved gender equality at the cabinet level.

Close-up: Norway

     In 1972, when Norway's small, new Social Democratic party ruled that
     women should be elected to half its posts at each level, political
     life throughout the country took a turn towards gender balance. By
     the spring of 1976, all six parties in parliament had either a woman
     leader or one who strongly favoured women's issues. Eager to attract
     new voters -- or keep others from defecting -- each party
     increasingly nominated women candidates. Almost all institutionalized
     quotas. Today, 40 per cent of parliamentary seats are reserved for
     women. Moreover, since 1988, Norway's Equal Status Act has mandated
     at least 40 per cent representation on all other public committees,
     boards and agencies, both elective and appointive.
     Nonetheless, in Norway, as in the rest of Scandinavia, old gender
     patterns persist in the workplace, even in public-sector jobs. Women
     still perform almost 90 per cent of the country's caretaking, whether
     of children or the elderly, and spend nearly twice as much time as
     men in unpaid work.25/

Only a handful of countries have chosen women to hold the
portfolios of foreign policy, finance, trade or defence -- sectors
that were not only traditionally dominated by men, but are also
pivotal in international relations and can be viewed as the "public"
face of a nation, in contrast to its domestic or "private" face. At
present, only in the Caribbean do women represent more than 20 per
cent of ministers in fields outside the social fields and in
departments of justice.

In Africa, only a handful of high executive offices, including
ministries outside the areas of social affairs, have been held by
women. These included, in 1994, Uganda's Vice President, Botswana's
and Liberia's Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Burundi's Minister of
Foreign Affairs and Ghana's Minister of Trade and Industry.

At the international level, of the 185 United Nations Member
States, only seven women head permanent diplomatic missions as of
mid-1997: the Dominican Republic, Guinea, Jamaica, Kazakstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein and Turkmenistan. At the United Nations
Secretariat level, only five United Nations agencies, funds and
programmes, of which there are 36 altogether, are headed by women:
the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Population Fund
(UNFPA), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme. Women also head
important entities dealing with human rights, the war crimes
tribunals and the disarmament institute.

In senior national civil service positions, the number of women
has continued to increase -- still largely in social welfare
ministries, which have traditionally been associated with some of
women's "caring" activities, but to a lesser extent in others, such
as energy, agriculture and the environment. These latter ministries
have been dominated by men -- perhaps because of the current
prominence of these areas in the economic and foreign policy agendas
of Governments. While the fields of health, education, housing and
community development doubtless mirror major concerns of many women
throughout the world, female concentration in these ministries
perpetuates traditions of women managing women and certainly does not
reflect the growing numbers of women economists, management experts,
lawyers and engineers. 

Women at ministerial and sub-ministerial levels

-    The number of women ministers worldwide doubled from 3.4 per cent
     in 1987 to 6.8 per cent in 1996
-    Globally, 15 countries have achieved 20 per cent to 30 per cent
     women at the ministerial level
-    In 48 countries, there were no women ministers
-    Globally, only 9.9 per cent of all sub-ministerial positions
     (Deputy Minister, Permanent Secretary and Deputy Permanent
     Secretary) were held by women
-    In 136 countries, women held no ministerial positions concerned
     with the economy
-    In 1997, two women headed Governments, while three others were
     heads of State26/

For parliaments, the record world average of women's
representation was reached in 1988, when women representatives
accounted for 14.8 per cent of all parliamentarians. In 1995, this
dropped to 11.3 per cent.27/ The current world average of 11.7 per
cent28/ still indicates a situation in which women are regarded at
best as a "special-interest group" rather than half of humankind.

In one paper after another from different parts of the world,
whether government report or scholarly study, men's control over
women at the household level emerges as a major barrier to women's
effective participation in public affairs. In a number of instances -
- whatever their situation in the civil law of the land -- women must
obtain the consent of their husbands to enter public life. According
to Janet Mukwaya, Minister of Gender and Community Development in
Uganda, "The woman politician has to learn to balance her time
between politics and her traditional gender role of social
reproduction and housekeeping."29/

In older democracies, too, argues the English activist Georgina
Ashworth, the "male culture of politics" acts as a major barrier to
women who wish to serve in public life. This institutional culture,
she adds, is characterized by "adversarial proceedings, the coercion
to conform to the central interests of the parties, the timing of
meetings and sessions, the pervasiveness of patronage, the distance
of politics from daily realities . . .".30/

Women's participation in local politics has long been viewed as
an extension of women's traditional involvement in household
management. This idea can be used either to devalue or to promote
efforts to increase women's numbers in local government, where their
political activity has so far been most marked. However, current
trends towards the devolution of power may make holding local office
a far more powerful and prestigious occupation than it has been up to
the present. Because so many women still shoulder disproportionate
responsibilities for household management and therefore cannot leave
home for remote capitals, devolution provides a significant means of
making their voices heard nationally. 

Women in the Private Sector

The movement of more and more power into the marketplace, both
nationally and transnationally, raises the important question of the
extent to which women have entered decision-making in the private
sector of the economy.

Little research has so far been carried out on the subject of
women in senior management -- itself a reflection of the low status
of the issue. A 1996 survey of women in top management posts in US
Fortune 500 companies revealed that women held only 2 per cent of the
highest-paid positions and 10 per cent of corporate officer posts.
The figure was the same for the top management positions of Finland,
Malaysia and Morocco.

In South Africa, where the post-apartheid situation pits race
sharply against gender, often to the detriment of the latter, 41
women occupied high executive office in the country's leading 100
companies. Despite unprecedented rates of economic growth in the
Republic of Korea, the proportion of women occupying board seats
remained constant at 0.1 per cent between 1985 and 1992; at the level
of department head, percentages moved from 0 to 0.1. 31/  According
to Business Week in 1992, at current rates, it will take 475 years
before women reach equality in the executive suite.32/

However, as one observer notes: 
     "we are in the midst of a profound paradigm shift in which
     large numbers of women who entered the workplace nearly a
     quarter of a century ago and have paid their dues in middle-
     management positions, are poised to enter the senior levels of
     corporations and public office in record numbers. These women
     have the capacity to profoundly change the nature of the
     workplace . . . ."33/

Another trend supports the idea that women may soon be much more
prominent in high-level corporate decision-making: many new business
thinkers believe that diversity is essential to developing new
markets -- especially because women represent a fast-growing share of
consumers for a vast variety of products and services beyond those
usually associated with household needs. In the United States,
although women's earnings are only 70 per cent of men's, that sum is
almost $400 billion.34/

From a "rational" business point of view, excluding women from
leadership positions is simply a waste of talent. Nonetheless, it
remains necessary to "sell" this elementary notion to most
corporations. Where this has been done, as among the member companies
of the British campaign Opportunity 2000, women's share of corporate
board directors rose from 5 per cent to 11.2 per cent after less than
five years.35/  By mid-1997, 20 high-profile women had launched the
Women's Leadership Conference of the Americas, funded by the Inter-
American Development Bank, to bring more women to the economic as
well as political front lines of the western hemisphere. 

According to a recent study, two major problems plague the
appointment of women to top private-sector posts. First,
businesswomen tend to specialize rather than to go into general
management -- the latter generally being viewed as the experience
essential to the highest ranks of decision-making. Women executives
tend to be clustered in such areas as personnel and training. Second
-- and far more difficult to change -- selection for senior
management posts tends to be far less formal and objective than at
lower levels. At the top, membership in the "old boy network" is
still considered by some to be imperative.36/  Women may overcome
such obstacles by networking among themselves, as well as with
strategically placed men -- and, indeed, seem to be doing just that
more and more each day. 

To advance women in the private sector

-    Go beyond conventional methods of recruitment and conventional
     labour pools
-    Modify selection profiles to reflect new skill mixes needed for
     changing programmes, including the ability to work in an
     environment of diversity and commitment to gender issues
-    Create an environment that encourages women to move into
     management, and modify practices to increase their rate of
     selection and promotion in order to achieve a critical mass at
     all levels of the organization
-    Develop practical interventions to address dual-career issues
-    Create a work environment to enable all employees to balance work
     and family life
-    Hold managers responsible for developing action plans and for
     achieving change in their areas of responsibility, and link it to
     performance evaluation and rewards
-    Invest in developing the skills of men and women to work together
     in management and decision-making
-    Encourage the growth of support systems, such as mentoring and
-    Learn from initiatives and best practices of other companies and

Women and Organized Labour

Trade union leadership today continues to reflect the origins of
the labour movement in heavy industry, and as such is predominantly
male. Even in Sweden, where women have reached "critical mass" in
government and politics, women hold only 20 per cent of executive
posts in trade unions.

Collective bargaining still tends to be gender-blind and
therefore perpetuates women's disadvantages. Nonetheless, many unions
in industrialized nations now strive actively to promote gender
equality rather than simply to avoid discrimination. For example, in
1991, the British Trades Union Conference (TUC) issued a guide which
addressed nine major areas of inequality, including pay, training and
promotion, working hours and child care. Similarly, in 1992 after a
three-year struggle, the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions
(COSATU), instituted the post of "gender coordinator". The
coordinator helped identify as "women's problems" the lack of
childcare facilities and men's lack of assistance in housework.38/ 

The experience of the Korean Women Workers Association during the
1980s remains instructive because it so clearly echoed that of women
who tried to organize in the west almost a century ago. Employers
made such statements as "If workers were liberated, women would
automatically be liberated". Male union leaders also countered
women's requests with the argument that discussion of women's issues
would cause confusion and division in the labour movement.39/ 

Organizing workers today involves confronting two increasing
problems. First, more and more jobs, notably those for women, are
informal, even when they constitute an integral part of the formal
sector -- including the production of toys, apparel, shoes and
components for high-tech industries. The experience of the Indian
Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), founded in 1973, still
stands as a model for the organization of women labourers doing
"informal" jobs. A second labour question of growing proportions
worldwide is the organization of women workers who cross borders,
continents and oceans.

Women and Religious Bodies

In a number of religions today, there is serious debate over
women's role as leaders. Despite the prominence of priestesses in
many ancient religions, as well as the participation of women as
deacons and leaders of congregations in early Christianity, religious
authorities worldwide remain predominantly male. Where religion is
identified with the State -- as it generally has been historically
and still is in several countries -- it tends to compound the many
problems of women's access to power. 

Close-up: Namibia

     The under-representation of women among church leaders in Namibia may
     be one reason why Christian beliefs so often continue to take the
     form of conservative doctrine which works against the interests of
     women. For example, biblical teachings are often cited in both
     personal and political settings to justify the subordination of
     women, particularly in the family context. Church groupings continue
     to speak out against political reforms affecting women such as
     abortion, prostitution, the liberalization of Namibia's laws on
     abortion and education on AIDS and family planning. The church in
     Namibia does not speak with one voice, however, and some church
     leaders have also come out in strong support of women's issues.40/

Frequently, religions portray women either as the source of evil
and/or chaos or as the prototype of submission and self-sacrifice --
often as both in separate figures. None of these images encourages
the idea of leadership by women among citizens of either sex. In
addition, the vast majority of religious institutions themselves have
excluded women from leadership roles. Religious beliefs have also
played a major role in positing and reinforcing the idea of the
private sector/family as women's sphere and the public
sector/politics as men's sphere. Often, the interpretation of
religious doctrine rather than the doctrine itself tends to reinforce
gender stereotyping, while the low representation of women in the
leadership of religious institutions may tend to perpetuate gender

Of the 33 Christian denominations that make up the National
Council of Churches of the United States of America, 21 Protestant
churches ordain women as clergy. Even in those, however, gender
discrimination persists in one or another form. In the Episcopal
Church, which now numbers seven women among its bishops, male priests
earn, on average, US$ 5000 a year more than their female

Women in Ministries of Justice and Law Enforcement Bodies

In ancient Egypt and in the west, justice has been symbolized by
women -- and the facts have begun to mirror the image in many places.
Since 1987, the percentage of women at the ministerial level in law
and justice ministries in Europe, Canada and the United States
increased from 10 per cent to 21 per cent.42/  The Chief Prosecutor
of the United Nations tribunals established by the international
community to try war crimes, including mass rape in the former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda, is Canadian jurist Louise Arbour.

The recruitment of women to police positions at all levels is
also vital because it is catalytic in changing attitudes towards
women's exercise of power in all areas. Police on patrol are
generally the closest representatives of authority outside the home.
Brazil was the first of a number of Latin American countries -- those
of the Andean region in particular -- to institute "women's police
stations" that deal with gender violence, punishing a variety of
crimes previously regarded as "family", "private" or "health"

"The extent to which the institutions of government and civil
society are able to confront the problem of gender violence is itself
a measure of democracy", writes Alexandra Ayala-Marin in her recent
essay on the administration of justice and changing ideas of
"security" from national defense to safety in streets and homes.43/
To Kiran Bedi, former Inspector-General of Prisons in Delhi, India,
police work for and of women should be a door to legal literacy and
other skills and resources necessary to exercising full
citizenship.44/  At the World Congress on Commercial Sexual
Exploitation of Children, held in Stockholm from 26 to 31 August
1996, Asian, Caribbean and Latin American women called for the
inclusion of women in border patrols to identify and apprehend sex
traffickers, as well as the continued activity of Interpol in this
growing area of international crime.

Women in the Military and in Peacemaking

Some countries still bar women totally from the military; some
make it obligatory; almost all exclude women from combat-related
duties.45/  And in a number of the revolutions of the latter half of
the twentieth century whose credo has been democracy -- among them
that of Nicaragua -- women have been urged to "earn" the right to
equality with men through taking up arms. In many of the liberation
movements of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, women have
fought side by side with men. In this connection, it is also worth
noting that women's movements such as the Mothers of the Plaza de
Mayo in Argentina and the Plenary of Uruguayan Women played
significant roles in toppling violent military regimes in their
respective countries. 

Close-up: Nicaragua

In terms of the advancement of women, Nicaragua presents a variety of
paradoxes. Although women constituted approximately 30 per cent of
the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion (FSLN) guerrillas and had played
major roles in political protest for two decades before the Front
came to power in 1979, they were regarded by many of their male
comrades as "earning" basic rights through revolutionary involvement
rather than based on a concept of women's intrinsic equality with

The Sandinista Movement of Nicaraguan Women (AMNLAE) worked to
promote the advancement of women in all spheres, including their
integration into grass-roots and labour organizations. In the
campaign that cut Nicaraguan illiteracy from 50 to 13 per cent within
a year, women constituted 60 per cent of the volunteer instructors --
many, like their Cuban counterparts during the 1960s, leaving
comfortable urban homes to live among indigenous peasants in the war-
devastated countryside. They also helped domestic servants unionize
in towns and cities, established cooperatives and public health
projects, and helped pass a law for the sharing of household chores
between women and men. 

The 1990 election of Violeta Chamorro and her coalition derived in
part from weariness of counter-insurgency and continued warfare; men
and women together voted in large numbers for an end to carnage and
the military draft.46/

Whether one advocates or opposes combat-related roles for women,
many of today's political leaders have stressed their military
records during their campaigns for high office, even in countries
such as France and the United States of America, free of overt armed
rule. In the early days of western women's suffrage, service in the
armed forces was a condition for the franchise itself; in several
countries after the First World War, if a woman had not actively
engaged in war efforts herself, her right to vote derived from close
kinship with a serviceman. Today, the ancient identification of men
with armed conflict perpetuates the exclusion of women worldwide from
peace and security affairs.

Consequently, with few exceptions, women are glaringly under-
represented in virtually all bodies directly concerned with conflict
resolution and the peace-building process in ravaged countries.
Commenting on this phenomenon, Angela King, United Nations Special
Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women and former head of
the United Nations Observer Mission in South Africa, put forward what
she called two principles of concern:

     "When a critical mass of women is involved in a peace-related
     mission, women in the host country, often a key element in the
     settlement of disputes at the community level, are mobilized
     through a positive demonstration effect of the role models of
     the women on the mission.

     "The presence of women peacekeepers seems to be a potent
     ingredient in fostering and maintaining confidence and trust
     among the local population.47/

Does this trust grow out of a feeling that most women appear to
have a somewhat different approach to violence, conflict and the
resolution of conflict than most men involved in peace and security
matters? This was one of the conclusions reached by an Expert Group
Meeting on Political Decision-Making and Conflict Resolution
organized jointly by the United Nations Division for the Advancement
of Women and the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo in
1996. These experts also advocated "an overhaul of the idea of what
constitutes security" in the light of "the importance of peace as a
means for achieving democracy". Further, they stated that "the
absence of women from decision-making processes indicates a value
system that supports gender stereotypes that are not conducive to


24/  Mim Kelber, ed., Women and Government: New Ways to Power, Westport,
Connecticut, Praeger, 1994.

25/  Ibid.

26/  Data compiled by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of
Women, based on information from the Worldwide Government Directory,
Bethesda, Maryland, January 1996.

27/  Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in Parliaments 1945 -1995: A World
Statistical Survey, Geneva, IPU, 1995, p. 26. 

28/  Inter-Parliamentary Union, Men and Women in Politics:Democracy
Still in the Making, Geneva, IPU,  1997, p. 34.

29/  Aderinwale, ed., op. cit., pp. 63-64.

30/  Georgina Ashworth, "Gendered Governance: An Agenda for Change",
Gender in Development Monograph Series No. 3, New York, UNDP, 1996. 

31/  Data from papers prepared for the United Nations Expert Group
Meeting on Women and Economic Decision-making in International
Financial Institutions and Transnational Corporations, Simmons
College, Boston, Massachusetts, 11-15 November 1996 (EGM/EDM/IFI-

32/  K. Spillar, as quoted in Adler and Izraeli, op. cit., p. 7.

33/  M. Fanning, op. cit.

34/  Claire Bangasser, "Women Entrepreneurs: Some Issues and Proposals",
paper prepared for the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women
and Economic Decision-Making, United Nations, New York, 7-11 November
1994, (EDM/1994/WP.1).

35/  Valerie Hammond, "Women and Senior Economic Decision-Making; the
Experience of the United Kingdom", paper prepared for the United
Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women and Economic Decision-Making in
International Financial Institutions and Transnational Corporations,
Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts, 11-15 November 1996,

36/  Padma Mallampally, "Transnational Corporations, the Employment of
Women, and Women's Participation in Decision-Making", paper prepared
for the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women and Economic
Decision-Making in International Financial Institutions and
Transnational Corporations, Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts,
11 - 15 November 1996 (EDM/IFI-TNC/1996/BP.2).

37/  Report of the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women in
Economic Decision-Making in International Financial Institutions and
Transnational Corporations, Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts,
11-15 November 1996 (EDM/IFI-TNC/1996/REP.1).

38/  Marilee Karl, Women and Empowerment: Participation and Decision
Making" New Jersey, Zed Books, 1995, p. 51.

39/  Ibid., p. 52.

40/  Op. cit., note 9.

41/  Adair T. Lummis, co-author of Women of the Cloth (New York, 1993),
as cited in Gustav Niehbuhr, "For Episcopalians, Debate on Women",
New York Times, 18 July 1997.

42/  Op. cit., note 26.

43/  Alexander Ayala-Marin, "Women's Human Rights and the Police: an
Andean Regional Seminar", in Ana Maria Brasiliero, op. cit., p. 57.

44/  "The Large Roof Concept and Life Cap", in Eva Freidlander, ed.,
Look at the World Through Women's Eyes: Plenary Speeches from the NGO
Forum on Women: Beijing '95, New York, 1996. 

45/  "Women in International Decision-Making: Peace and Security Areas",
background paper prepared for the United Nations Expert Group Meeting
on Gender and the Agenda for Peace, New York, 5-9 December 1994

46/  Margaret Randall, Sandino's Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan
Writers, Vancouver, 1981; and B. Seitz, "From Home to Street: Women
and Revolution in Nicaragua", in J. M. Bystydzienski, ed., Women
Transforming Politics: Worldwide Strategies for Empowerment,
Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1992.

47/  Contribution from"Women at the Peace Table", a panel discussion
sponsored by the United Nations Department of Public Information
(DPI) and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women
(DAW) in commemoration of International Women's Day, United Nations
Headquarters, 6 March 1997.

48/  Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Political Decision-Making and
Conflict Resolution: The Impact of Gender Difference, Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic, 7-11 October, 1996 (EGM/PDCR/1996/REP.1).



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