Six Actions Can Fast-track Women In Asia-Pacific Politics - UNDP
It will be 50 years before parliaments in the Asia-Pacific region achieve gender balance if women’s participation remains at its current pace, according to a new report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Half of the more than 4.2 billion people living in the Asia Pacific region are female, yet just over 18 percent of national parliament members are women, while the global average is slightly less than 20 percent, according to the UNDP report on gender equality in elected office, which proposes a six-point plan to fast-track greater involvement of women.
“Development cannot be effective if decision-making excludes 51 percent of the world’s population,” the report said.
“Legislative bodies with members drawn from diverse backgrounds and outlooks are generally more innovative.”
Thailand has a female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and a million more women than men, yet women fill only four percent of 7,000 local government positions, according to the development agency.
In some Pacific islands, there are no women parliamentarians and only one each in Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. Excluding Australia and New Zealand, women’s representation in the Pacific lags behind the Arab region, the report said.
“On average, women are less than 10 percent of ministers in Asia- Pacific (excluding Australia and New Zealand),” it said.
It is recommending six steps to increase women’s participation in politics, which include: constitutional reform to entrench women’s rights; transforming electoral systems and party laws to make them more inclusive; instituting legal quotas requiring certain numbers of women; changing internal political party rules; making it easier for women to develop political skills; and the creation of more gender-sensitive parliaments.
DEVELOPMENT, DEMOCRACY AND WOMEN IN POLITICS
The report also paints a complex picture of two common assumptions on women’s rights – that more developed countries, and the process of democratisation strengthen gender equality and female empowerment.
Legislatures in Japan and Korea, two of Asia’s most developed countries, only have 11.3 and 14.7 percent women respectively, it says. In contrast, almost one third of the parliament in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is made up of women.
According to UNDP, the highest proportion of women in parliament – 56.3 percent – is found in Rwanda, one of the world’s least developed nations.
New Zealand and Nepal are leading the region with female parliamentarians accounting for a third of their legislatures, the report said. Afghanistan, Australia, Laos, East Timor and Vietnam have more than a quarter.
The process of adopting a new democratic constitution and electoral system can reduce the number of women in parliament, the report found.
“In the short-term, at least, the transition to democracy does not, by itself, automatically strengthen the representation of women,” it said.
“The one-party Communist states of China and Vietnam have more than twice as many women in their national legislatures than the democratic states of India and the Republic of Korea.”
Women in elected office not only strengthen democratic participation but they also give priority to bread-and-butter issues that affect people’s daily lives, the report said.
“Evidence from India suggests that where women leaders have a strong presence on local councils, they are likely to use their weight to support investments in areas like water and sanitation, which are critical for human health and development,” it said.
It is not all gloom, however. UNDP applauded recent actions by Shinawatra and Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard to help bring about change.
Gillard has pledged funds to raise the status of women in the Pacific Islands and Yingluck’s government set up a Thai Women Empowerment Funds to help improve the status of women.