Friday, June 27, 2008

Beijing+13: Women’s Rights Revisited

On Thursday June 26th, the United Nations Development Program presented a panel of politically and professionally successful women to address the on-going absence of women in prominent political offices. The panel featured guest speaker Winnie Byanyima, the director of the Gender Team for the UNDP, a previous Member of Parliament, and women’s rights activist in Uganda. Also present were Gretchen Birkle, the Director of the Women’s Democracy Network at IRI (International Republican Institute), and Kristin Haffert, the Director of Women’s Political Participation Programs at NDI (National Democratic Institute).

In their respective analyses of the current issues preventing women’s successful integration into the political world, each panelist addressed the progression since the Beijing Women’s Conference (1995), and the Millennium Development Goals (2000). These conferences requested governments to increase their female national representatives to 30% and that there be gender equality for women, respectively. In her analysis, Byanyima addressed the reoccurring challenges women face, highlighting the lack of funding, support from political parties and lack of public welfare. In order to increase the number of nations that have achieved this 30% mark, Byanyima proposed a four-point plan:
  • Political party reform in order to boost partisan parties’ support of women and implementations of quotas
  • Increasing public and private funding for elections by fundraising at an earlier date
  • Diminishing campaign violence and intimidation
  • Increasing public welfare to provide childcare and other care services centralized around household work

Following Byanyima’s analysis, Gretchen Birkle emphasized the need for women to have fellow female mentors, and one on one support before, during and after their campaigns. In addition to the obstacles Byanyima mentioned, Birkle stated that in her research she has found women are also prevented by the “machismo” effect, and the lack of political room for new politicians regardless of their gender (i.e. Belarus and Zimbabwe).

Kristin Haffert also echoed the opinions of Byanyima and Birkle, claiming that a lack of women in strong positions within the political parties presents another hindrance to women’s political advancements. She also emphasized that the lack of media coverage of successful female politicians provides a mental barrier for women and societies as a whole. In addition to Byanyima’s four point plan, Haffert also suggested that an increase in the awareness of women’s roles in peace and security has a potential to boost women’s numbers in politics.
All three panelists agreed that while women’s numbers have increased since the Beijing Conference, the momentum is moving too slow, and many countries have yet to achieve 30%, including the US which is currently at 23%. However, twenty countries, half of which are not fully developed, have achieved the 30% mark, which is up from five in 2003. And other countries, such as Rwanda who has 48.8% women sitting on the national assembly, have almost achieved the 50% ratio set by the Millennium project. Still, this is not enough. The Millennium project’s original goals were to have 50% female representation by 2005, a goal that has already failed. Additionally, if women’s representation continues at its current pace, it will take 100 years to reach that goal in the US alone.

In conclusion, all three panelists emphasized the dire need for an increase in momentum. In addition, in order for the Beijing and Millennium goals to succeed, women must persist in the face of rejection, until societies see female politicians as a norm.

Sponsor: UNDP
Date: 6/26/08
Time: 12:00pm
Representative Attending: Daria Willis

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