A new United Nations report concludes that there are no systematic differences between rich and poor countries when it pertains to the level of political involvement of women, unlike other indicators of progress, which often strongly link gender inequality to national wealth.
The report compiled by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), states that the number of women in key decision-making positions is the only indicator that does not appear to be affected by national poverty. Some of the world’s richest countries such as the United States, France and Japan – where women's share of parliamentary seats range between 10 to 12 per cent – lag behind 13 developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, a region experiencing the greatest poverty in the world.
"There is much more to be done to ensure that women are accepted as equal partners in key decision-making processes. Especially in post-conflict situations – where new constitutions and legislative structures are being created – it is critical that women are present at the peace table and in post-war policy-making," UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer said.
The report, "Progress of the World's Women 2002: Volume 2: Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals," attributes the increase in women's share of parliamentary seats to political measures in several countries, where quotas were legislated or adopted on a voluntary basis to meet the 30 per cent representation agreed on at numerous international conferences in the last decade.
"Real progress towards gender equality will be seen when women have more say in the decisions that affect their lives," Ms. Heyzer stated in support of the need for women's presence in political decision-making positions.
There have been encouraging signs of such improvement in women's legislative representation in the last two years, unlike in education, literacy and employment where progress has been slow, the report says. Women are still, however, largely absent from parliaments, accounting for only about 14 per cent of members in 2002, UNIFEM said.
"Progress 2002" assesses improvements made towards women's empowerment within the context of the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals created by the international community in 2000 to focus global efforts to end poverty, hunger and inequality. One of the key goals is the promotion of gender equality.