WOMEN 2000: WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING OCTOBER 1997 INCREASING WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION IN DECISION-MAKING 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 Africa.52/ 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 levels. 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/ NOTES 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 Service. 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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