“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to take part in the Government of his/her country. The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of women’s social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of both transparent and accountable government and administration and sustainable development in all areas of life. The power relations that prevent women from leading fulfilling lives operate at many levels of society, from the most personal to the highly public. Achieving the goal of equal participation of women and men in decision-making will provide a balance that more accurately reflects the composition of society and is needed in order to strengthen democracy and promote its proper functioning. Equality in political decision-making performs a leverage function without which it is highly unlikely that a real integration of the equality dimension in government policy-making is feasible. In this respect, women’s equal participation in political life plays a pivotal role in the general process of the advancement of women. Women’s equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved” (para 181, p. 79, BPFA)
Across the Asia Pacific region, women’s representation in power and decision making processes remains low and in some cases is in decline. Women, especially women from marginalised groups, are inadequately in political processes, in civil society decision-making and in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building.
In the Beijing + 10 review it was noted of particular concern that patriarchal attitudes, conservatism, religious fundamentalism, increased use of violence and corruption in the electoral process, continuing masculinity of political systems, “top-down” planning and gender insensitivity of public decision makers, have led to the persistence of gender inequality. These remain the major obstacles to women’s equal, sustained and full political participation and representation.
Gains in the review highlighted affirmative action and temporary special measures such as quotas for women in politics were set. However, sanction for non-compliance was still virtually non-existent.
It was noted that once elected or appointed, women in decision making positions often lack support to advocate critical areas of concern to women, such as education, health and employment. Across the Asia-Pacific region women’s representation in power and decision making remained low and in some areas was actually in decline. All decision making institutions, including government and political bodies, had failed to meet quotas for women’s representation or to develop platforms for women’s full participation.
However, a major deterrent was the rise in fundamentalisms (religious and ethnic) and the use (or threat) of violence. Women are intimidated and are prevented from participating in decision making structures. Another key issue is that Women within political parties are often portrayed as fiery and aggressive without due reason, and are harshly punished for political mistakes by conservative elements within the electorate and within their party. Internal party processes often force women to ‘play the game’ and discourage them from calling themselves feminists publicly.