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Global 21 fourth quarter 2015

Gender agenda The Commonwealth is a leader in initiatives aimed at achieving gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment Dr Josephine Ojiambo The Commonwealth Heads of Government target for the proportion of women in parliament is 30 per cent, which has already been achieved by 28 countries. Pictured: Parliament House, Islamabad www.global global four th quar ter 2015 -br ief ing.org l 83 commonwealth network Postscript © Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com The Commonwealth recognises poverty eradication; the protection and promotion of human rights; the strengthening of democracy; and gender equality as intrinsically interrelated to sustainable development. Gender equality is one of the fundamental values of the Commonwealth, as articulated in the Commonwealth Charter. Globally, and within the Commonwealth, progress has been made in advancing women’s participation in development and democratic processes, yet challenges persist. On the political front, for example, according to UN Women, the percentage of women in parliament globally, has nearly doubled in the last 20 years. However, this only translates into 22 per cent of parliamentary seats going to women today. Furthermore, 20 years after the Beijing Declaration, women’s participation in leadership has only increased by ten per cent. The Commonwealth is a leader in this space. According to recent data from 179 branches of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), 28 parliaments and legislatures have reached the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) target of 30 per cent representation of women, of which two have more than 50 per cent representation and nine have more than 40 per cent representation. Twenty-five CPA branches have representation between 20 and 30 per cent. However, 18 branches have no women members at all. On the development front, the violation of women’s rights, as well as women’s access to economic opportunities, remain major concerns across the Commonwealth. Despite concerted action over the years by a wide range of development actors and institutions, the feminisation of poverty has a Commonwealth face: 43 per cent of the world’s poorest are women of the Commonwealth. Gender inequalities continue to persist across the Commonwealth, due to a wide range of fundamental factors, including lack of respect and understanding for the human rights of women; differential access to social and economic opportunities for women and men; and unequal representation and participation of women in decisionmaking and leadership. These issues, which are often interrelated, are exacerbated by weak and gender neutral policies, as well as inadequate systems and mechanisms for advancing commitments to and resolutions on gender equality. Drawing on its body of work on gender equality, the Secretariat continues to facilitate reforms with tried and tested models, platforms for policy advocacy and technical support through four main approaches: promoting women’s political participation; broadening women’s access to economic opportunities and their involvement in economic decision making; promoting respect for the human rights of women; and gender mainstreaming. The Secretariat’s work programmes aim to contribute to the reduction of structural, political, legal and economic barriers to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in Commonwealth member states, through policy dialogue, advocacy, knowledge sharing, publication and dissemination of research findings, best practice, and other gender-specific activities. The Fifth Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (5WAMM) in Trinidad and Tobago in 1996 recommended that member countries be encouraged to achieve a target of no less than 30 per cent women in decision-making positions in the political, public and private sectors by 2005. A 2013 trends analysis conducted to review progress, found that, overall, women constitute 20.9 per cent of members of parliament (upper and lower houses) of the Commonwealth, almost identical to the global average of 20.8 per cent. The more recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) figures, quoted above, show that Commonwealth member states continue to build on this progress in achieving the 30 per cent target. Yet, with the Sustainable Development Goals’ emphasis on achieving gender parity in political and economic decision making, the Commonwealth still has far to go when it comes to advancing women’s political participation. Recognising that elections remain a


Global 21 fourth quarter 2015
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