Ajay Chhibber of India is Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific.
09 Mar 2012
The political empowerment of women is critical to human development and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Worldwide, women continue to be under-represented in national parliaments, occupying less than 20% of seats and accounting for just 18% of government ministers. The Asia-Pacific region has the lowest percentages of women in national legislatures of any region outside of the Arab states 18.2% in Asia and in the Pacific just over 15%. However, if you exclude Australia and New Zealand, it drops to just 5%.
The winds of change though are blowing, though. The Asia-Pacific region is growing fast and more people are reaping the rewards of development. The gender gap in school enrolments is closing and there are many examples of women outnumbering men entering university.
But what good does education do when it is not met with opportunity?
To achieve political equality, we must give women the support they need to develop their full potential: we must empower women to see themselves as leaders.
Social, political, economic and legal barriers have hindered participation at all levels of government. To make gender equality a political reality, governments need to craft policies and programmes that build the economic power of women, promote a greater political voice and advance legal rights.
A recent Asia-Pacific UNDP Human Development report says that the introduction of a gender quota system could be a possible political solution.
Gender quotas are already a part of constitutions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India and have proved globally to be the single most effective strategy for increasing the number of women in national parliaments.
Gender equality, like any goal, is a process. The Asia-Pacific region has come a long way in recent decades through the development of its political systems and the advancement of human development.
But it could go much farther if more women were equally represented.