Asia-Pacific women waiting for local leadership roles

Mar 7, 2011

While women have reached the pinnacles of leadership in some national governments of the Asia and Pacific region, there is still a long way to go for women’s representation in decision-making roles at lower levels of government, according to a new report released today.

The region’s success in appointing women as heads of state or government in, for example, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and the Philippines has not been widely replicated at sub-national level, closer to the lives and livelihoods of communities, says the report from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Women’s Representation in Local Government in Asia and the Pacific, the first report of its kind, finds that even in Asia-Pacific countries with the highest levels of women’s representation at rural, urban, district, regional and provincial levels, leadership positions, such as council chairs or heads, are mostly filled by men.

“Bold steps are needed to significantly increase the numbers,” said Nicholas Rosellini, UNDP Deputy Regional Director for Asia-Pacific. “For most poor people in Asia-Pacific, local governments are the most important political arena. They also have an important role in encouraging women’s political participation.”

The region’s largest representation of women overall is found in the highest tier of sub-national government, provincial and regional assemblies. Women make up 37 percent of seats in India, 30 percent in Afghanistan, 29.4 percent in New Zealand, 27.8 percent in Australia and 23.8 percent in Viet Nam.

Compared to other levels of sub-national government, provincial and regional assemblies also have a larger number of women in senior positions, including 15 percent in Afghanistan, 19.8 percent in Philippines and 16 percent in New Zealand.
However, provincial and regional level women’s leadership still languishes below 10 percent in Japan, Thailand and Viet Nam, and the Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka and Indonesia each have zero women as chairs or heads of council.

At other sub-national levels women occupy few leadership positions even in countries that have introduced quotas, such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, or other affirmative action policies, such as Viet Nam. Relevant data is scarce for the lowest sub-national tier, district level.

For example, despite the relatively high representation of women at rural council level in Bangladesh (25 percent) and Pakistan (30 percent), both countries show some of the lowest percentages of women as heads of rural councils with only 0.17 percent and 0.36 percent respectively.

One of the main obstacles to women’s progress across the region is the process of candidate selection in political parties, where women are less likely than their male counterparts to be nominated to offices traditionally held by men, says the report.

With 18.2 percent of women in national politics in Asia and 15.2 percent in the Pacific, the areas rank as the second and third worst for women’s parliamentary representation in the world. The Pacific has one of the lowest percentages of women in national politics of any region in the world.

Global representation of women in national parliaments rose from 11 percent in 1995 to 18.4 percent in 2009, still falling short of a 30 percent target set in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

The report - published jointly by UNDP, UN Women, United Cities and Local Government, and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum - concludes that the way forward lies in action to broaden the scope of women’s participation at all levels of government.

It is available online at:

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