Worldwide, Women Seek Greater Political Representation
WASHINGTON, Aug 22 (OneWorld) – Around the world countries have managed varying levels of success in assuring equal political participation and representation for women. But activists are working as hard as ever to secure unbiased opportunities for women and men alike in the political sphere.
|Women at a political rally in Nigeria. © Centre for Development and Population Activities|
Last week the Kenyan government dealt a huge setback to equity-minded activists and politicians as it rejected a bill that would have reserved 50 seats in its parliament for women. The bill, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, was left in limbo as roughly half the members of parliament departed the building ahead of the vote.
With only 18 (8 percent) female representatives in a 222 seat parliament, Kenya trails far behind neighboring Tanzania, where women occupy 30 percent of the parliamentary posts. Even impoverished Rwanda, still struggling to recover from years of civil war, boasts a 49 percent representation in its lower house.
The situation is not necessarily better in many more developed nations. The Council of Europe has shown great concern recently over signs of disproportionate and gendered representation in the European political sphere.
At a 2003 meeting of the Council’s Committee of Ministers, participants agreed on the necessity of ”balanced participation in decision making bodies.” In order to facilitate action and measure effectiveness, the Committee established that “the representation of either women or men [in any given political body] should not fall below 40 percent.”
But by 2005 Sweden was still the only country in which the national parliament met this benchmark. Although several countries, including the remaining Scandinavian nations, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, came close to meeting the criterion, “in half of Europe, the representation of women was below 20 percent and seven countries had less than 10 percent” representation — Albania, Armenia, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Turkey, and Ukraine.
A parallel state of affairs was witnessed in the respective national governments as well as the Council of Europe.
Responding to these challenging statistics, the Committee of Ministers considered a variety of measures that might encourage and sustain women’s pursuit of political careers.
|Angela Merkel, the first female Chancellor of Germany. © North-South Centre of the Council of Europe|
One of these programs, widely recognized in the United States as Affirmative Action, revolved around the implementation of quotas. The Committee of Ministers concluded that such a system is not only controversial and discriminatory but may also raise questions regarding the competence of employees. Furthermore, the Ministers feared that quotas may simply reinforce the status quo unless they are “sufficiently ambitious.”
Accordingly, the legal quotas remain few and far between in Europe as most governments prefer to invest in “various forms of voluntary targets.”
Indeed, the representation of women in European parliaments has improved since the 2005 statistics were taken. Partly thanks to initiatives that raise awareness and set new norms, such as that forged by the Committee of Ministers, “it is now rather an electoral disadvantage not to be able to bring forward a gender balanced list” and “the nomination process has become self-correcting.”
Confirming Europeans’ commitment to such change, this spring an Albanian women’s coalition hosted the Open Forum: ”Local Elections 2007 and Participation of Women and Young Girls in the Political Processes in Albania.”
The forum addressed topics such as the call for a female presidential candidate and women’s involvement and representation in the latest local elections.
The meeting was characterized by lively and interesting debate but several leaders “expressed their concerns that although many initiatives have taken place during the election period, still the number of women candidates was very low.”
The participants generally endorsed the call for a woman president but concluded that a joint effort by Albanian civil society and the political sphere would be necessary to achieve deep-seated change.
Similarly, South Asian activists are exceptionally concerned that women are not adequately represented in the region’s political realm. As such, the South Asia Partnership International (SAPI) is organizing a regional conference on ”Women in Politics: Breaking the Silence”, to be held next month in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Rights advocates identify the macho political culture and violence targeting female politicians as major impediments to women wishing to rise within South Asian political ranks.
Organizers hope the South Asia Regional Conference will allow participants to consolidate their voices as they “share knowledge and resources,” enhance regional understanding, and raise awareness among South Asian authorities, as well as regional and international bodies.
Article first published at OneWorld.net