WOMEN 2000:  WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING                         OCTOBER 1997


In order to increase the number of women in decision-making in
public life, a variety of strategies aimed at greater equality for
women in decision-making have been introduced under the rubric
"affirmative action" or "positive measures". 

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women makes clear that such measures are not discriminatory:

     "Adoption by States Parties of temporary measures aimed at
     accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not
     be considered discrimination but shall in no way entail as a
     consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards;
     these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of
     equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved."49/

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,
in its General Recommendation 23 on articles 7 and 8 of the
Convention on Women in Public Life, emphasizes the importance placed
by the Convention on equality of opportunity and participation in
public life and decision-making, including at all levels and in all
areas of international affairs. It addresses comments and
recommendations to States parties to be taken into account in their
review of laws and policies and in reporting under the Convention and
stresses the importance of the use of temporary special measures in
these contexts.50/

At the International Development Conference in 1997, Edith
Ssempale, Uganda's Ambassador to the United States, stated that any
kind of affirmative action should "act as a catalyst in demonstrating
what is possible." A Canadian attorney, speaking on measures to right
gender imbalance in private-sector employment as well as political
representation, commented, "They say affirmative action doesn't work.
But I say we really haven't tried."51/  None the less, Marcela
Bordenave of the Argentinean Parliament credited the increase of
women in Parliament, resulting from a quota system, with the passage
of a number of new issues from reproductive health to retirement. 
In Africa, Eritrea, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania
have introduced gender quotas for parliaments, while major political
parties in Botswana, South Africa and Zambia have instituted minimum
thresholds. Recent multi-party elections throughout the subcontinent
have had mixed results. In Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau,
and Sao Tome and Principe, the proportion of women in parliaments has
fallen. By contrast, it has risen in Ethiopia, Mozambique and South

In Central and Eastern Europe, where quotas for many categories
of representation, including gender, had existed in a wide spectrum
of public institutions before the transition to market systems in the
late 1980s, women's participation in legislatures dropped sharply --
from 22 per cent in 1987 to 6.5 per cent in 1993. This was largely as
a result of competitive politics introduced in the wake of democracy.
But it has begun to increase once more. In  Hungary, Poland and
Turkmenistan, the proportion of women members of parliaments has
risen respectively to 11.4, 13 and 18 per cent, the last two figures
above the world average.53/

Commonwealth action plan for increasing the representation 
of women in politics:  Eight strategy areas 

1.   Setting targets
2.   Affirmative action
3.   Review of electoral systems
4.   Public awareness campaign
5.   Encouraging women to join politics
6.   Support for women candidates
7.   Support for women parliamentarians
8.   Support for women in democratization, peace and conflict resolution54/

Through the experience of the Indian Panchayat Raj Institutions
(PRI), 1 million women have actively entered political life in India.
Although the Parliament recently rejected a hard-fought-for female
quota for its members, in 1993 and 1994, constitutional amendments
allotted one third of the seats in local councils, both urban and
rural (gram panchayats) to women. The gram panchayats were given the
responsibility for designing, implementing and monitoring social
services -- notably health and education -- and anti-poverty
programmes. Since the creation of the quota system, local women --
the vast majority of them illiterate and poor -- have come to occupy
as much as 43 per cent of the seats, spurring the election of
increasing numbers of women at the district, provincial and national

According to the Indian activist Devaki Jain, this has helped many
"affirm their identity as women with particular and shared
experiences". Their participation, Jain adds, has moved such issues
as water, alcohol abuse, sexual trafficking and tourism, education,
health and domestic violence closer to centre stage.55/


49/  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women, United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p.13.

50/  Report of the Committee of Discrimination against Women, Sixteenth
Session (A/52/38, Part 1) 1997.

51/  Gretchen Sidhu, "Quotas will Change the World" (14 January 1997)
and "Reaching for Real Equality" (26 January 1997), Women's Feature

52/  Janet C. Beilstein and Stephen F. Burgess, "African Women in
Political Decision-Making: Struggles for a 'Critical Mass' and a
Women's Development Perspective", paper presented at the Annual
Meeting of the African Studies Association, San Francisco, 1996.

53/  Inter-Parliamentary Union, op.cit., 1995, p. 36.

54/  Report of the Fifth Meeting of Commonwealth Ministers Responsible
for Women's Affairs, Port of Spain, 25-28 November 1996 (WAMM, (96)).

55/  Devaki Jain, Panchayat Raj: Women Changing Governance, Gender in
Development Monograph Series No. 5, New York, United Nations
Development Programme, 1996.



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