Countries across Asia plan ways to foster gender equality in politics

04 Apr 2012

Regional conference in Mongolia tackles obstacles for women in leadership roles

Ulaanbaatar -- Representatives from 11 countries across Asia developed national plans to increase women’s role in politics during a two-day regional conference in Mongolia. They concluded the event by drafting strategies for their respective countries that include ways to reform their current electoral and political processes to enhance gender equality.

Organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National Committee on Gender Equality of the Government of Mongolia, the conference drew on collective regional experiences to help the representatives devise their national plans. Participants explored ways of drafting gender quota laws, building skills of women to take part in elections, making parliaments more gender sensitive, and strengthening political party decision-making and recruitment processes for women. They also discussed the importance of seeking alliances with male politicians in order to increase gender balance in representative bodies.

While there is no simple formula that works for every country, participants concluded that a comprehensive approach is needed for women’s equal political participation. Change will not happen overnight. Despite Asia’s impressive economic progress in recent decades, gender equality is still a distant reality for many in the region.  Globally, the Asia-Pacific region is second from the bottom on women’s political participation, with women holding on average only 18.2 per cent of legislative seats.

“A basic condition for sound planning and formulation of development policies, in particular, human development policies, is the integration of gender equality goals,” said Mr. Sukhbaatar Batbold, Prime Minister of Mongolia, in an address delivered on his behalf to the regional conference on women’s political participation, Charting a path for political equality in Asia.

“However, the National Report on Millennium Development Goal Progress has also alerted us about the slow progress, or even the regressing trend in women’s political participation,” said the Prime Minister.

“Without access to established networks of influence, limited resources, few role models and mentors, and in many cases limited family and community support, it is understandable that women’s participation in the political arena has remained woefully behind that of men,” said Ms. Sezin Sinanoglu, UNDP Resident Representative in Mongolia, in her opening statement. She commended Mongolia for its new election law which includes a 20 percent quota for women candidates by political parties.

“But quotas alone will not get women elected nor ensure them a seat in Parliament. Political parties need to embrace women candidates and actively promote them,” said Rebeca Grynspan, UNDP Associate Administrator in a video address to the conference.

The conference participants emphasized that women’s political empowerment is crucial for achieving inclusive and equitable development. “Equal representation in public life is not only a human right, its achievement promises social and economic benefits,” said Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director, UNWOMEN in her video message to the conference. “Women’s full and equal participation makes economies and democracies grow stronger. A government cannot be truly representative of society if women are excluded from power and decision-making processes,” she said.

There are no one-size-fits all answers for ensuring more equitable gender balance in the political arena. Participants urged a holistic approach over time that must include a range of ingredients. Anne Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director for South Asia for UNWOMEN said that it is essential to engage with men to build support for women in governance.

Providing women with the right kind of training can also give them a boost when it comes to entering into the political sphere. Maria Paixao, Vice President of the National Parliament of Timor-Leste added that building women’s skills and improving their education are priorities, as are developing gender-sensitive policies and budgeting.

The issue of quotas for women in politics was a recurring theme throughout the conference. Pippa Norris from Harvard University said outside the meeting hall, “It is not just a simple formula of ‘add women and stir, she said. There are many “other windows of opportunity” for countries to improve the situation of women in politics. She said that constitutional debates open up new possibilities, and changes in party rules can provide new opportunities for women, or reforms that provide public funding for elections can help women who otherwise would not have financing to run for office.  

“Political parties need to step up and reform and be institutions that include women and other excluded groups,” said Winnie Byanyima, Director of the UNDP Global Gender Team. “Political parties are the gatekeepers for political leadership and women remain on the outside,” she added.

Eighty delegates from Cambodia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Timor-Leste participated in the regional event. Delegations included Members of Parliament, representatives from political parties, government ministries, civil society, media and UN agencies.

Contact Information

In Mongolia, Jargalsaikhan.purevdorj@undp.org; 976 11 99 13 5393

In Thailand, Cherie.hart@undp.org; 66 8 1 918 1564