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ISSUE N9
APRIL 2003
Page 5 of 7

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white cube Editorial: Chile, never absent for long from the international political scene
white cube IPU News: The IPU and the international crisis relating to Iraq
white cube Dossier:Parliamentary Conference on the WTO in Geneva
white cube Gender Issues: Women in parliaments
white cube IPU Activities: Meeting of the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians
white cube Parliamentary Developments

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The World of Parliaments
  Gender Issues

Women in Parliaments

Political will indispensable for steady progress in women's participation in parliament

"Political will is indispensable for steady progress in women's participation in parliament. Modern societies will only be more humane and more equitable when all of their subjects are actively involved in the decision-making process", said the President of the IPU Council, Chilean Senator Sergio Páez, on the occasion of International Women's Day. (Latest statistics available on the IPU Website - Women in parliaments).

Although it may appear modest, the percentage of the world's parliamentarians who are women, amounting to 14.8% in January 2003, is a sign of progress. Despite what appears to be a very slow increase over the past five years, a close look at the latest IPU graphs and statistics gives ground for hope. The data presented shows developments in 50 countries where elections were held in 2002 as well as comparative regional and world data. It reveals that only a few countries now have less women MPs than before and that most regions of the world have registered progress, the most significant changes coming from the Nordic countries and the Arab world.

Nordic countries and Arab countries: steady progress at their own levels

The top of the chart has traditionally been occupied by the Nordic countries which show the highest regional level, averaging 39.9% of women in parliament. In this group, Sweden, the leader, has managed to improve its score by a 2.6 percentage point increase : women now account for 45.3% of parliamentarians in the Swedish Riksdagen whereas they represented 42.7% of parliamentarians in the previous legislature. Despite showing the lowest regional average, the Arab countries have consolidated their move towards gender equality in politics. In Morocco, women now account for 10.8% of the lower House: a 10 percentage point leap. In Algeria, women MPs have doubled from 12 to 24, a 3.3 percentage point increase to reach 6.2% of women MPs.

But beyond figures, there is encouraging evidence of a new political will to ensure women's presence in the political field. Morocco's progress came about after the introduction of a quota in parliament reserving 30 seats for women. In Bahrain, for the first time, women were able to vote and stand as candidates in a national poll. Though no women won seats, 8 stood for election and two made it to the second round. In Djibouti, the quota law stipulating that every party had to present at least 10% of candidates of both sexes was adopted in December 2002. The results of the 2003 elections saw the unprecedented arrival of 7 women in parliament, accounting for more than 10% of the newly elected parliamentarians. In Jordan, the electoral law was amended, in view of this year's elections, to reserve 6 seats to women in the Lower House of the Majlis.

Eastern European countries show encouraging signs of progress as well: + 10.8 points for the FYR of Macedonia (with 18.3% of women MPs); + 7.1 for Bosnia and Herzegovina (with 14.3% of women MPs); + 6.7 for Slovakia (with 19.3% of women MPs).

Strong political will necessary

The country to have made the greatest progress in women's representation in parliament is Pakistan. Its first elections since the October 1999 coup have seen the arrival of 72 women, an 18.7 percentage point increase (with 21.1% of women MPs). This is partly the result of a new quota law reserving 60 seats for women in the National Assembly. The wider use of affirmative action measures highlights the more pro-active approach taken by political authorities to tackle women's low showing in politics. As mentioned above, quota laws were introduced in several countries, including in Morocco, Djibouti and Jordan. Recently, Indonesia passed a bill ordaining that at least 30% of parliamentary candidates must be women. Amendments to the electoral law are also under consideration in Slovakia and envisaged in Hungary.

Fewer women at the top

In general, male presiding officers of parliament continue to predominate: only 22 out of the 249 presiding officers (of both lower and upper houses) are women, most of them in developing countries. Last year, women accounted for 24 of the 244 presiding officers.

IPU supports women MPs elected for first time to the National Assembly of Djibouti

From 1 to 4 March 2003, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ran a training seminar in Djibouti for MPs recently elected to the National Assembly. The seminar was organized at the invitation of the National Assembly, in cooperation with the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Family Well-being and Social Affairs, and with the backing of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

The parliamentarians, whose discussions were moderated by two international experts, Mrs. Foumakoyé, former Minister of Social Development, Population, Promotion of Women and Protection of Children, and former MP from Niger, and Mr. Efoua Mbozo'o, former MP and Secretary General of the National Assembly of Cameroon, took up topics relating to the functioning and role of Parliament, relations with the Executive and the role of the opposition. A good deal of time was also devoted to gender issues: two days of discussions were set aside for recently elected women MPs, to assist them in their new role.

In his opening speech, the IPU Secretary General, Mr. Anders B. Johnsson, emphasized that the seminar "has come at just the right moment because for the first time in its history, women have been elected to the National Assembly of Djibouti. For the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the question of gender equity is at the heart of democracy. The arrival of a large contingent of women MPs representing over 10% of total membership is thus a victory for democracy that we can only welcome". With 10.8% of women in parliament, Djibouti has leapt forward in the world ranking of parliaments.

The recommendations adopted by the seminar participants reflect a strong political will to promote women in political life - a will that the Inter-Parliamentary Union pledges to support in the near future.

The IPU and the UN produce a Handbook for MPs on the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women

Mrs. Gwen Mahlangu, Member of the Parliament of South Africa and President of the IPU Coordinating Committee of Women MPs, took the floor at the 47th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, in New York, in March 2003. She declared that for several years, the IPU has made every effort to secure parliamentary awareness of the Beijing objectives and, more recently, the Outcome of the Beijing +5 Special Session of the General Assembly. "Our attention has also focussed on the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with a view to ensuring its universal ratification and respect of the rights it enshrines. Clearly parliaments and parliamentary committees need to keep close track of the implementation of the Convention. With this in mind, we have recently worked with the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women to produce a Handbook for Parliamentarians on the CEDAW and its Optional Protocol. The Handbook, which should be available shortly, presents easily accessible and concise information on the Convention and the Optional Protocol - the objective being to enhance parliamentary action for the ratification and implementation of this essential tool for the respect of women's rights". Mrs. Mahlangu thanked the Division for this "very fruitful cooperation. I am convinced that this is only the beginning of cooperation for the promotion of respect for women rights".

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