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International Women's Day

Published: 03-08-12

This 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 women.

  • Of the 189 highest ranking diplomats to the United Nations, only eleven are women.

  • 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 positions.

    I
    t 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.

One area in which women have gained very little access is at the highest levels of diplomacy and political decision-making related to peace and security. While women have been very active calling for an end to war and the arms race, they have been less visible at the negotiating table. Yet, ironically, it is women and children who suffer the most in today's wars.

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.