Check out this week’s blog post from our Get Educated, One Topic At A Time blog series. This week, learn about the importance of women in the world of politics and pursuing political careers. Check out our last four blog posts from the series, as well: “Creating A Road To Democracy”, “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest” and “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”. Check back next Monday for a new post!
“With one-half the population, there is simply no reason women should only be represented at one-fifth of the seats at the table.”– U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
In June of 2011, United Nations Women identified women’s political participation and leadership as one of its top five priorities in its first Strategic Plan. Despite the fact that women constitute a little over 50% of the world population, their representation and participation in politics are vastly underrepresented. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 20% of parliamentary seats worldwide are currently held by women. Despite being a historic high, it is still far from the Beijing Platform for Action’s target goal of 30% in political participation, said to be the “minimum percentage necessary to ensure a critical mass of women who can influence the decision making processes and political agendas.” The current participation percentage is even further from the United Nations Millennium Goal target for gender parity, which lies between 40 and 60%. Unfortunately, UNIFEM predicts that the critical mass of 30% will not be achieved by 2015.
Female underrepresentation in politics and many more institutions can be traced back to the world’s patriarchal legacy. Historically, societies were male dominated, male identified and male centered. The majority of positions in all fields were naturally reserved for men and core cultural ideas and media were centered on male identities. One important movement in response to women oppression was the Feminist movement that began with its first wave in the 19th century, focusing on obtaining women’s right to vote. This was followed by second and third waves that concentrated on wider issues such as inequalities in the workplace, political inequalities, and educational disparity. Another important progress was made in 1979, when the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This women’s bill of rights suggests measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, including in the political field.
Currently, there are only 31 female leaders out of the 192 member states of the United Nations. As of two years ago, women successfully hold 33% or more representation in parliaments in only twelve countries. Worldwide, the ratio of men to women is 4 to 1 in legislatures. Significant progress has been made on international, national and local levels to improve and increase women’s political participation and leadership. Unfortunately, this progress has been slow and has faced resistance in governments historically dominated by men. Women are especially affected in poverty-stricken nations, and they are often the victims of social and cultural factors that prioritize men in education. This expresses the extent that women’s rights and equality is crucial in overall international development, as well as to the successes of all the UN Millennium Development Goals.