"There is no development strategy more beneficial to society as a whole - women and men alike - than the one which involves women as central players".
- Kofi Annan, 7th UN Security General, 1997-2006
Peace and security are key goals in achieving a stable and inclusive society. As such, decision-making and policy implementation should involve the equal participation of both men and women in the community. Having more women in governance and other prominent public office positions generally contributes to greater focus on women's issues and also encourages more political engagement at the grassroots level by ordinary women.
Women's perspectives and experiences are important in helping to reinforce gender justice through the promotion of inclusive political systems and legal reforms in post-conflict situations. In addition, the participation of women in peacekeeping efforts can have a profound impact on societal stability through conflict resolution and the reconciliation of human relationships.
However, women in many parts of the world continue to be denied their right to participate in important decisions that affect their lives, leading to the neglect of women's concerns. Therefore, in order to build and maintain a stable and peaceful society, governments should actively incorporate women into political processes and peace building efforts.
Facts and Figures
Women are outnumbered by men, four to one, in legislatures around the world.
51% of women in Vietnam are involved in women's organisations compared to 3% in the United Kingdom.
Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide since the election in September 2008 (56% of seats).
A 30% minimum for women in representative assemblies was set as a target at the Fourth World Conference for Women held in Beijing in 1995, although the parity zone is considered to be between 40 to 60 percent. Since 1995, this 30% benchmark set as the 'critical mass' has been attained in 22 countries, including six African countries.
The proportion of women in national assemblies has increased by 8% to the current global average of 18.4% in the decade from 1998 to 2008, compared to an increase of just 1% in the two decades after 1975. However, even at the present rate of increase, developing countries will not reach the 'parity zone', where neither sex holds more than 60% of seats, until 2045.
95 countries worldwide apply some form of quotas to increase the number of women in parliament. Out of the 22 countries that boast 30% or more women in national assemblies, 18 of them applied quotas in some form.
Women's participation in peace negotiations remains extremely low, constituting approximately 7.6% of the 11 peace processes.
Today, more than 110,000 peacekeepers from across the world serve in 18 UN peace operations as police and military personnel, with women constituting a greater presence than ever before.
Compiled from UNIFEM resources
Governance, Peace and Security
The building and maintaining of peace and stability in a society rests upon the equal participation of men and women. Therefore, the inclusion of women in all sectors of society is crucial, whether as decision makers in positions of public office or as participants in advocacy, capacity building and peacekeeping activities at the ground level.
Presently, women's presence in public office represents one indicator for Goal 3 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals - to promote gender equality and empower women. However, while the number of female leaders and parliamentarians has increased in the last decade, there is still a need for greater female representation in order to highlight women's issues and help enact policies for necessary and positive change.
Women have also often been relegated to the sidelines of formal peace talks and reconstruction processes. Research conducted by UNIFEM indicates that women constituted only 6 percent of negotiators and below 3 percent of signatories in ten major peace processes in the past decade. This has serious implications since women's insights and opinions on these issues can shape a future of sustainable peace and security.
The exclusion of women from politics stems primarily from entrenched patriarchal attitudes that lead gender discrimination, thus creating obstacles that prevent women from taking up political roles in society. It also results in the formulation of laws and policies that neither reflect the needs of the entire community nor support the progress of women's rights. Such imbalance can potentially undermine women's efforts to assert themselves or seek legal redress when their rights are abused.
Therefore, in order to provide greater protection of women's needs and rights, governments should adopt more democratic and inclusive policies to increase female participation in politics. Indeed, studies on female governance across the world have shown that there is generally a greater focus on women's issues, such as childcare and social protection, when there are more women in parliament. Moreover, the experiences and perspectives offered by women also allow for a greater plurality of views to be considered in policy design.
Similarly, just as the presence of women in influential decision-making processes is crucial, women at the ground level can also have a powerful impact on maintaining peace and security, especially in parts of the world that are facing war and conflict. Given the sharp increase in sexual violence perpetrated against women as a military and political tactic in situations of conflict, women's contribution in decision-making becomes even more important. In fact, the United Nations Security Council specifically addressed the impact of war on women for the first time in its groundbreaking Resolution 1325, stressing the importance of women's inclusion in conflict resolution and their essential role in peace building. Therefore, while women play an important role as advocates for women's issues in times of peace, their role as military, police and civilian peacekeepers during times of conflict is even more vital due to the unique skills they bring to the struggles and frontlines around the world.
Solutions for Change
Increasing the number of women in key public decision-making and peacekeeping processes is a matter of democratic justice and ensures better government accountability to women.
Implementing quotas can be an effective method for increasing women's political engagement. In elections held in 2007, the average representation of women was 19.3% in those countries that used some type of electoral quota, as opposed to 14.7% for those countries without quotas, regardless of electoral system.
The designing and implementation of gender-sensitive policies and legislative reforms, backed by strong commitment and political will. In Afghanistan, the government recently committed to increasing women's participation in the civil service at all levels to 30% by 2013. Currently, only 22% of all regular government employees are women and only 9% of these are at the decision-making level.
Providing public institutions with the skills, incentives, resources and procedures to respond to women's needs and issues while monitoring the progress of these measures.
Teaching women and girls to understand and assert their rights while equipping them with the skills and resources to become active participants and leaders in various sectors of society.
Facilitating women's grassroots peace work and linking them to formal organisations. For example, to improve women's capacity to take public decisions, UNIFEM launched a global project known as Making Politics Work with Women, which aims to bring the concerns of women to political parties and also help them follow up on campaign promises made by the various political parties.
Women's movements can play a pivotal role in lobbying for change. For example, women's movements in countries such as Argentina and Nepal have played an important role in challenging authoritarian regimes, while in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, Burundi and Timor-Leste, women have been active in lobbying for peace.
In the Philippines, Gabriela Women's Party has successfully used the party list system to win a seat in Congress. The women's movement in Fiji have launched a '10 year Women in Shared Decision Making Plan of Action' and conducted voter education programmes. In the Solomon Islands, women's groups are preparing a campaign strategy to have a minimum of 30% women in parliament by 2015.
Increasing awareness about the role that women can play in reinstating peace and security; and also to urge for the government to curb practices that are detrimental to women and girls in times of conflict.
Insisting on accountability regarding government actions when women's needs and rights have not been protected, and where necessary, to initiate investigations or to get compensation and redress, especially in post-conflict situations.
An interview with Linda Tarr-Whelan, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos, New York and former Ambassador and U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women - this video explores the various aspects through which women can contribute to better governance.
This United Nations video highlights the importance of increasing the overall number of women military, police and civilian peacekeepers, and underscores the vital and unique role they play in conflict resolution around the world.
This UNIFEM report demonstrates that the Millennium Development Goals and other international commitments to women will only be met if gender-responsive accountability systems are put in place both nationally and internationally. Acknowledging that different groups of women encounter distinct challenges in gaining access to their rights, the publication examines how women are strengthening their capacity to identify accountability gaps and to call for redress.
Published by the Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA), this handbook focuses on efforts to bring women into governance, illustrating ways that organisations and activists around the world can foster greater gender equity in civic engagement, advocacy, voting and governance efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone. Five chapters highlight key approaches to supporting women's leadership to make governments worldwide more responsive to the needs of women.
This publication provides concrete recommendations to support women's effective participation at all stages of a peace process, promote gender-sensitive peace negotiations and agreements, and encourage the mainstreaming of a gender perspective throughout the implementation of peace accords.
This handbook focuses on efforts to bring women into governance, illustrating ways that organisations and activists around the world can foster greater gender equity in civic engagement, advocacy, voting and governance efforts to improve the quality of life for everyone. Six chapters highlight key approaches to supporting women's leadership to make governments worldwide more responsive to the needs of women.