Despite the progress that has been made around the world, six out of ten of the world’s poorest people are still women and girls, and everywhere in the world, regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious affiliation, women risk being subjected to various forms of gender violence, such as domestic violence, so-called honour crimes, female genital mutilation and human trafficking for sexual purposes.
We must pay attention to and address these serious issues. We must also make sure that women have equal access to the justice system, healthcare, education and development. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are human rights that lie at the heart of development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
In 2002, the first UNDP Arab Development Report was launched. It pointed to three deficits (knowledge, freedoms and women’s rights) impeding the human development in the Arab region. In the years that followed, some Arab countries initiated programmes to improve the educational system, expand certain political freedoms and appoint a few token women, but none of the countries undertook a real systematic process to build truly democratic societies, with systems of checks and balances, with true accountability and transparency, and with significant steps to address the gender imbalance.
It has increasingly become clear that status quo is unsustainable, both from a socio-economic and from a political perspective. Sustained efforts are needed to address all three deficits mentioned above, including ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women, throughout society.
Women constitute slightly more than half of the world population. Yet women around the world at every socio-political level find themselves underrepresented in Parliament and often far removed from decision-making level. Presently, women hold less than 16 per cent of parliamentary seats around the world.
Exclusion of women from decision-making bodies limits the possibility of fully entrenching the principles of democracy in a society and is an impediment to economic development. If women and men are not equally represented at the policy-making tables, the policy agenda will be set only, or mainly, by men - and society will loose out on the knowledge, experience and ideas that women have.
Full participation of both men and women will be to the benefit of the whole society. It is, therefore, of crucial importance to work on increasing the number of women around the policy-making tables, making sure that perspectives of both men and women are taken into consideration in forming policy agendas. This goes for all spheres of life - in political, administrative and judicial structures, as well as in education, business and other sectors.
Last year’s Jordanian parliamentary elections produced an increase in the number of women in Parliament thanks to an increase in the women quota. This was a step in the right direction, but women’s representation is still a very low percentage.
Criticism is sometimes raised against quota systems. However, many international studies show that quota is the single most effective policy tool for ensuring and increasing women’s political participation and correcting their under-representation. But to be effective, a quota system needs to ensure that women constitute a 20, 30 or 40 per cent minority, or even to ensure true gender balance of 50-50 per cent.
A quota system is not enough to increase the representation of women in political life. It is equally important, with sustained efforts, to change legislation, as well as attitudes. In this process, governments, parliaments, civil society, private sector and the media all have important roles to play. And it is important that both women and men take part in this process.
In the process towards greater gender equality, it is important to have sources of inspiration, examples and role models. Here in Jordan, I am continuously impressed by the many women who are playing that crucial role, leading the way for younger generations.
In celebrating the International Women’s Day today, my thoughts, my thanks, my encouragement and my congratulations go to the many Jordanian role models, women in public and private sector, in the civil society, in the judicial system, in schools and universities and from all different walks of life.
The writer is Sweden’s ambassador to Jordan. She contributed this article to The Jordan Times.
March 8, 2011
Congratulation to Eva Abu Halaweh, executive director of Mizan Law Group for Human Rights in Jordan. For sure we have more great women in Jordan.
Many thanks for the writer for the excellent contribution.