Asia-Pacific calls for urgent increase to low participation of women in politics


In one of the regions with the lowest number of women in politics, both governmental and non-governmental leaders met in Beijing for the first “Asia-Pacific Workshop on Promoting and Monitoring Women’s Political Participation.”

Jointly organized by UN Women China and the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), 70 participants from the Asia-Pacific region took part in this two-day workshop, from 29-30 January.

According to the UN Women – Inter Parliamentary Union co-produced 2012 Women in Politics Map , women hold less than 20 per cent of seats in parliament at a global level.

In Asia, they hold only 17.9 per cent and in the Pacific a mere 14.9 per cent of the parliamentary seats, making women’s representation in Asia-Pacific one of the lowest in the world – second only to the Arab States. Moreover, women are less than 10 per cent of ministers in Asia-Pacific.

“The lack of sustained progress in attaining equality in governance processes is very much at odds with the changing socio-economic and social experiences for women,” said Roberta Clarke, Regional Director of UN Women Asia-Pacific and Representative in Thailand in her opening remarks.

“A good governance process that answers to women will advance development, security and peace,” said Meng Xiaosi, Vice-President of the ACWF.

UN Women studies show that women are more likely to best represent women’s concerns; that their leadership styles are more collaborative; and that there is a greater likelihood of transparency in the allocation and use of state resources[1] .

The UN Women study, “Who Answers to Women: Gender and Accountability,” suggests that special temporary measures are the way to attain these goals. Party quotas to bring more women into party leadership have proven indispensable for ensuring not only that women’s issues are on party platforms, but that there is a stronger pool of women candidates in electoral contests.

Recommendations for Constitutional reform included expanding rights to vote and to hold public office, and removing any residual form of gender discrimination. Constitutions can also incorporate affirmative action provisions, including specifying reserved seats or the requirement for legal quotas.

Reviews of party-selection rules and nomination procedures are vital for achieving a gender balance in elected office, said Dr. Pipa Norris, an international expert on women’s political participation and co-facilitator of the workshop.

Capacity development policies and programmes can include candidate training, induction and mentoring programmes, recruitment initiatives, and awareness campaigns to counter stereotyping of candidates according to their gender, she added.

The workshop also addressed challenges for rural women, where the gender gap in representation is even more stark.

In China, women make up more than 70 per cent of the rural labour force, yet they only constitute 21.1 per cent of village committee members, with only 1 to 2 per cent in decision-making positions. Only 21.33 per cent of National People’s Congress members were women, the workshop found.

The UN Women Sub-Regional Programme Director for South Asia, Anne Stenhammer, shared her experiences in managing the Change-makers programme on women’s political participation in India.

UN Women and the Government of India trained elected women representatives to become effective leaders at all levels of local governance, starting from the Gram Sabhas (public meetings)[2] .

A testament to grassroots democracy, more than an estimated 1.5 million women have been elected into the Gram Sabhas in India, administering public services and resolving disputes from violence against women and girls to property.

The workshop was organized under the Fund for Gender Equality Programme “Equal Political Participation for Chinese Women,” being implemented by All-China Women’s Federation until December 2014.

[1] Progress of the World’s Women