MARCH 2010

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World of Parliaments

Gender equality pays off

eqiality The year 2010 will be a crucial one for gender equality. The 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is more than just a date to commemorate. It allows us to take stock of the progress achieved so that both halves of humanity - women and men - can have the same chances to live in dignity and achieve fulfi lment in their personal and family life, and for our societies - both in the North and in the South - to achieve more harmonious development.

Although there have been some notable achievements, as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues, Ms. Rachel Mayanja, points out, a lot still remains to be done in order for women to finally have their rights respected, especially in the workplace, because in a number of countries, equal work does not always mean equal pay for men and women. And for women to not have to deal with the threat of violence infl icted by their spouse, father, brother or cousin in so many cases throughout the world.

It is also high time for women to be allowed to express themselves freely in all parts of the world, such as Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, or former Afghan MP Malalai Joya, and high time that their opinion is listened to and respected as much as that of their men counterparts. Gender equality should no longer be considered only as a feminist slogan, but a fundamental right to democracy. According to the Universal Declaration on Democracy adopted by the IPU in 1997, “The achievement of democracy presupposes a genuine partnership between men and women in the conduct of the affairs of society in which they work in equality and complementarity, drawing mutual enrichment from their differences”.

Systematic efforts must be made from the earliest years in children, in school and in the family, to promote respect for men and women and equal opportunities in terms of education and employment. A change of mentality brought about by eliminating stereotypes about femininity, paternity, parenthood or the economic role of men is needed urgently for the well-being of us all - men and women.

How can we achieve this? By passing appropriate laws and clearly displaying and implementing political will. One country, Rwanda, boasts over 56 per cent women in parliament, and another, Norway, has recorded 55.6 per cent women in government (just behind Finland with 57.9%), a birth rate of almost two children on average and 43 per cent women in the board rooms of large companies. In the words of the Norwegian Minister for Social Integration, Mr. Audun Lysbakken, in the final analysis, equality pays off.