The Impact of Women's Political Leadership on Democracy and Development

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Farah Deeba Chowdhury, Margaret Wilson, Colleen Lowe Morna, Mukayi Makaya Magarangom
06 Dec 2013
9781848591677 (PDF)

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Women’s minimal leadership role in national and local political spheres remains a serious concern worldwide. The Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2005–2015 calls on governments to introduce measures to promote at least 30 per cent representation of women in parliament, government and business.

The Impact of Women’s Political Leadership on Democracy and Development describes the barriers to women’s political participation and explains why the contribution of women is so crucial to democracy. It identifies established strategies – electoral reform (New Zealand), party voluntary quotas (South Africa), and legislative quotas (Bangladesh and India) – that have helped these Commonwealth countries to meet the global target of 30 per cent and thus to effectively advance the participation of women in decision-making at all levels.

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  • Foreword and About the contributors

    As part of the global landscape, our achievements in the Commonwealth often mirror the trends across the international arena. The global target of 30 per cent of women in decision-making across all sectors was adopted at the Fifth Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (5WAMM) in 1996. It is encouraging to note that some Commonwealth countries have gradually been able to achieve this target in parliament and local government. In 2013, at least 11 member countries were in the top 40 countries of women in parliaments: Rwanda tops the list with 56 per cent women, closely followed by Seychelles with 43 per cent and South Africa with 42 per cent. A third of members have a minimum of 20 per cent representation of women in parliaments, and the share of women ministers averages at 20 per cent.

  • Abbreviations and acronyms
  • Women's Political Participation in the Commonwealth: Issues and Challenges

    Recognition of the importance of women’s effective participation and representation in democratic processes has been widely acknowledged, and that genuine democratic elections must contribute to women’s empowerment and strengthen gender mainstreaming at all levels of decision-making. The Commonwealth’s guiding principles and values in the 1991 Harare Declaration, reaffirmed in the 2011 Perth Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM), emphasised improving gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Commonwealth, and called on Heads to demonstrate commitment by entrenching measures to advance women’s political participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making. The proposed ‘target of no less than 30 per cent of women in decision-making in the political, public and private sectors by 2005’ (Commonwealth Secretariat 1996) is attracting increasing support from member countries. Actions to realise this global target, especially the equitable representation of women in the political arena, are constantly evolving.

  • The Impact of Women's Political Leadership on Democracy and Development in South Africa

    In less than 20 years South African women leaders have contributed to radical changes in laws, policies and service delivery that have resulted in far greater gender awareness and responsiveness in South Africa’s governance than ever before. These changes reflect in new institutional norms and discourse; sea changes in the lives of women previously excluded from the corridors of power; and in the ‘new men’ emerging to champion gender causes. They also reflect in the lives of ‘ordinary women’ now claiming access to land, mineral resources, finance and other means of production with which to enhance their livelihoods and those of their families. Even so, women remain the majority of the poor, the dispossessed, those living with HIV and AIDS, and daily violated as a result of high levels of gender violence. Women’s names do not feature in ongoing power struggles for the top leadership of the African National Congress (ANC), although the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has three women at the helm. In the countdown to 2015 – the deadline for the 28 targets of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development and of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3: promoting gender equality and empowering women – South Africa needs to redouble its efforts to ensure the achievement of gender parity in all areas of decision-making. South Africa also needs to ensure that this translates into real changes in the lives of the majority of women.

  • Impact of Women's Political Leadership on Democracy and Development in New Zealand

    On 19 September 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections, following the landmark Electoral Act. As a result, New Zealand’s world leadership in women’s suffrage became a central part and image of a ‘social laboratory’ for other democracies. This was achieved after many years of effort by suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard, through a series of massive petitions calling on parliament to grant the vote to women. The 1990s was an outstanding period for women’s appointment to new positions, particularly with the change of the electoral system to Mixed Member Proportionality (MMP), which opened up the political space for women. In modern New Zealand, the idea that women could not or should not vote is completely foreign to New Zealanders. In 2012, 32 per cent of Members of Parliament were female, compared with 13 per cent in 1984. In the early twenty-first century women have held each of the country’s key constitutional positions: prime minister, governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and chief justice. The chapter will therefore interrogate how the MMP system has impacted women’s participation in politics. It will further examine the contribution, status and role of women after a period of extensive social and political change in New Zealand, and how this has translated into women’s voting and representation, women’s role in conflict and co-operation, participation and protest, equal access to power, institutional culture and feminism.

  • Women's Participation in Local Governments in Bangladesh and India

    Women are beginning to stand for elections and have won seats or held political office at different tiers of government in India and Bangladesh, but the numbers are still very low. These two countries have excelled in mainstreaming women in local governance structures. Following constitutional amendments to reserve one-third of all local government seats for women in India after the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in 1992, more than one million women were elected to local government positions. Similarly, institutional reforms to reserve seats for women’s active participation in local governance in Bangladesh in 1997 resulted in many women councillors being elected. Despite various problems faced by women in both India and Bangladesh, reservation of seats for women in local bodies increased women’s visibility in public life and provided them with social legitimacy. Reservation of seats for women in local bodies has shown that women are increasingly playing an important role in social, economic, environmental, dispute resolution, legal and political areas. These in turn have an impact on democracy and development, which is the crux of this research study.

  • Conclusion: The Impact of Women as Transformative Leaders

    In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the need to evaluate the impact of women on democracy and development. It is evident that with at least a 30 per cent majority of women involved in decision-making, a society’s overall performance improves. For example, Global Gender Index reports have shown a correlation between the increased participation of women and the development of societies in the areas of health, education, family care, social welfare, the environment etc. By contrast, countries with a low participation of women have seen a fall in the quality of social-related services. Consequently, more efforts are still required to ensure that a critical mass of women are elected into positions of authority and at all levels of decision-making.

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