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International Women's Day
Published: 03-08-12This article is reprinted from the UN Cyber School Bus: http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/womensday/pages/peace_content_1.asp
Over the past 50 years, the most progress has been achieved in securing political rights for women -- the right to vote and to be elected. Today, there are only a few countries where women cannot vote or run for public office.
It is widely believed that increasing the number of women in decision-making positions will lead to positive changes for women and society. However, even though women can run for office in most countries, their presence in government is still very low.
Consider the following:
- Only 24 women
have been elected heads of state or government in this century.
In 1995 there were 10 women heads of state. Although women's
representation at the highest level of government is generally
weakest in Asia, four of these 10 held office in this region.
- Only 14.1
percent of representatives elected to Parliaments around
the world are women, up from 11.7 in 1997. The percentage
of female cabinet ministers worldwide has risen from 3 in
1987 to 6.2 percent in 1996. In early 1995, Sweden formed
the world's first cabinet to have equal numbers of men and
- Of the 189
highest ranking diplomats to the United Nations, only eleven
- Almost no
women served on the military staff of UN peace keeping between
1957 and 1979. In 1993, 2 percent of the military contingent
of peace-keeping were women. Throughout the history of UN
peace-keeping, there have been only 2 women in top decision-making
It has been suggested that political systems have something unique to gain from the participation of women. Women, it is argued, have a different approach to peace and conflict resolution, so that increasing their participation in decisions concerning these issues has the potential to move political and international systems closer to peace.
For example, research in a number of countries confirms that, compared to women, men show a 10 to 15 percent greater preference for the use of military force. They also pointed to evidence that indicates women have a more cooperative style of decision-making that is not primarily based on coercion, or the use of force.
However, the experts also cautioned against jumping to conclusions. For one thing, they said, none of the research indicates that women or men are born more aggressive or peaceful than the other. They added that often bringing one or two women into high-level political positions might not have any impact on the way decisions are made. The political style only changes if women are represented in large enough numbers -- a critical mass -- estimated at a level of about 30 to 35 percent.
In war-torn countries, often a significant amount of the male population is lost to conflict. The remaining women are forced to flee to areas of safety with whatever of their family remains. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that typically 75% of displaced people due to war are women. They become both the breadwinner and primary caregiver to their families. In many countries, women are not given the training and skills needed to secure jobs that adequately provide for their family. Their dislocation often brings them to poor, insecure regions, where they no longer have access to health care, proper nutrition, or education. These women may fall further victim to systematic gender-based terrorism and violence.
- In 1994 the
country of Rwanda experienced a genocide that left 300,000
parentless children. 60,000 children became the providers
of their brothers and sisters. Of these 60,000 children,
two thirds were young girls.
- In the aftermath of Bosnia, economic recovery is slow. Women with no work experience and little vocational training are being forced to find jobs to provide for their families. To make matters worse, women are unable to inherit land or property and married women cannot pursue employment without permission from their husbands.