Gender equality is central to democracy | Sezin Sinanoglu

04 Apr 2012

Woman smiling Image from UNDP's documentary "The Glass Ceiling,” shining light on political inequality. Photo: UNDP Thailand

While the world's attention focuses on Myanmar's elections this week, we should not lose sight of a more regional concern about women's political participation in Asia and the Pacific. This part of the world has the distinction of having the lowest percentages of women in national legislatures of any region outside of the Arab states. Roughly 18.2 percent of national legislature seats in Asia are held by women, and only 15 percent in the Pacific. If you exclude Australia and New Zealand, it drops to just five percent. Globally, less than 20 percent of the world's parliamentary seats are occupied by women. We are still far from reaching the United Nations Millennium Development Goal target of at least 30 percent by 2015.

Why does it matter if women are so poorly represented? Women's perspective and their participation in politics are prerequisites for democratic development and contribute to good governance. Moreover, Asia is home to two-thirds of the world's population, but economic progress will be limited without equal opportunity for men and women to influence political and economic decisions.

There are some basic prescriptions that could set the scene for more political equality:

- Establishing consensus among party leadership to promote women's electoral participation and consider adoption of voluntary party quotas for women candidates

- Provide women with skills to raise early money, campaign and build name recognition

- Build their abilities to campaign and consider twinning or mentoring of first time candidates

- Promote the participation of women in policy-making of the party.

Gender equality in political participation is socially just and basic to the notion of democracy. A political system - elected offices, but also other positions that influence public decision - where half the populations cannot fully participate, defies the meaning of democracy.

Political parties need to embrace women candidates and actively promote them. Women need more visibility and access to media and support during the campaign period. Fundamental changes such as campaign financing and political party reforms are needed in the political system, along with changes in public perceptions about women and their roles in government.

But the real work begins at home in encouraging women to step forward and take their rightful place in decision-making.

Share your ideas with us: What is the best way to get more women into politics?

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