I’ll be in Ulaanbaatar 3 and 4 April and you’re welcome to join me. I’ll be sharing the recommendations of women leaders, specialists and activists in the Asia Pacific region as they formulate plans to improve women’s political participation.
I’ll be tweeting throughout the Asia-Pacific regional conference on women’s political participation – so join the conference online and feel free to ask questions. Follow us on Twitter via @UNDP_AsiaPac or @BarboGalvankova #womeninpolitics or #regconf
Some key topics to be discussed during the conference:
- National strategies to promote women’s political participation
- Electoral systems and special measures to enhance women’s political participation
- The role of political parties in promoting women’s empowerment
- Alternative pathways to politics for young women leaders
To learn more about gender equality issues in the Asia Pacific region, I was looking at the 2011 Gender Gap report and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Philippines is in the top ten list of countries that are the best performers when it comes to equality for women and men – right up there with the Nordic countries.
Another interesting finding was that, overall, countries in the Asia Pacific region rank highest for political participation of women in comparison with countries in other regions of the world.
Unfortunately, when I took a deeper look at the data, I found that the example of the Philippines is an exception in the Asia Pacific region, and that across 25 countries only about five women have been elected to head their governments in the past ten years.
There are considerable variations, with women’s representation ranging from 0 percent to 33.2 percent: 11 countries in the region fail to reach the global average of 19 percent of parliamentary seats filled by women and there are still three countries in the Pacific region where women are not represented at all.
One could argue that these shortfalls occur because of the region’s diverse political systems, ideologies and levels of development in the countries.
Still, no matter if the country has a presidential government or is parliamentary democracy, has a high or low level of development, the results for women are mostly the same: low levels of participation.
And it’s the same story around the world. Women still face broad range of challenges on their way to politics, including cultural attitudes, balancing public and private responsibilities, lack of support provided by political parties, lack of support to the electorate and financing – to mention a few.
However, the Philippines example should serve as a model for what is possible to achieve, proving that the participation of women, both at the local and national level, is critical for development.
Women’s political participation: the smart thing to do
When women participate in politics, the state is able to fully profit from the skills, talent and contributions available in society. The alternative is wasted potential. Studies across the world consistently show that, where women are given opportunities, societies develop more rapidly.
Evidence from Asia suggests that where there is a critical mass of women involved in decision making, the country’s standard of living improves. For example, one study from Japan shows that closing the employment gap between women and men would boost GDP by as much 16 percent.
A report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific countries found that restricting job opportunities for women is costing the region about $42 billion a year. Therefore, making sure that women’s voices are taken into account when addressing socio economic challenges is critical.
Many countries in the Asia Pacific region made commitments to increase women’s political participation. Still, reaching the UN target of 30 percent of women in parliament is far from being achieved and much more needs to be done to achieve the full equal rights of women.
I’m looking forward to learn from activists and politicians in the Asia Pacific region about how women can make their way in politics and how they make sure their voices count to back policies and laws that promote equality.
I’m hoping that their achievements will inspire women in Europe and Central Asia.