and men

Women´s Issues After Beijing
Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women
Positions - Networks - Results

Chapter III

The Twelve Critical Areas of Concern of the Beijing Platform for Action: A Women´s Agenda for the Twenty-first Century

7 Women in power and decision-making: without empowerment hopes turn into illusions

"Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives", as stated in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Platform refers back to this and declares that women´s perspective is only marginally included in public decision-making. Women are under-represented at most levels of decision-making in the majority of countries. Globally, only some 10 percent of the members of legislative bodies are now women, and the percentage is even lower for ministerial positions and other executive bodies.The one-sided gender-specific concentration of power operates at many levels of society, "from the most personal to the highly public".

Almost everywhere women are powerless

As long as power relations prevent women from "leading fulfilling lives", sustainable development will not be feasible at any level of society. In changing power relations, "women´s equal participation in political life plays a pivotal role. ... 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 women´s participation in power no equality, no development and no peace

Although women make up half of the electorate and have attained the right to vote and to hold office in almost all members states of the United Nations, they are seriously under-represented as candidates for public office. This situation has not changed in recent years, in fact it has become worse.

Political representation of women is decreasing

There are hardly any women in leadership positions in institutions of art, culture, sports, the media, education, religion and law. Discriminatory attitudes, the burden of family responsibilities and frequently the high costs of seeking public office deter women from participating in politics, or public life generally. Limited access, deeply-ingrained prejudices and male-dominated communications and decision-making structures reinforce "the tendency for political decision-making to remain the domain of men".
The Platform acknowledges that women have an innovative impact on Parliaments and Governments; they contribute to redefining traditional policy priorities and to placing new items on the political agenda which "address women´s gender-specific concerns, values and experiences". Women have demonstrated at all levels, in all forms of organizations and public offices that they are not short of ideas or leadership qualities. And still it holds true that "Governments, transnational and national corporations, the mass media, banks, academic and scientific institutions, and regional and international organizations, including those in the United Nations system, do not make full use of women´s talents as top-level managers, policy makers, diplomats and negotiators".

No lack of women´s leadership qualities

"Equality in decision-making is essential to the empowerment of women", the Platform declares, while today women have neither equal rights nor equal power. Women are discriminated against because they are powerless, and they are powerless because they are discriminated against.

Without equality no power, without power no equality

Discriminatory attitudes create unfair structures, unfair structures in turn reinforce discriminatory attitudes. Women have thus no opportunities to influence political priorities and the allocation of public funds in a way "so that their interests may be recognized and addressed".
The Platform sees these "structural and attitudinal barriers" as the crucial gender-related dilemma which can only be addressed "in mainstreaming a gender perspective in policy development and the implementation of programmes". In Beijing, the Governments have committed themselves to make visible the real distribution of power and decision-making by "undertaking statistical gender analysis" and then to draw political conclusions because "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".

Attitudes and structures hostile to women are fundamental barriers

In this context, the Platform underlines the positive experience made in some countries, meaning the Scandinavian countries, with the system of affirmative actions. This selective quota-based preference of women has led to 33.3 per cent or more representation in local and national Governments. The formal right to participate in institutional power and political decision-making does not suffice to implement the necessary changes. In Beijing, the Governments therefore committed themselves to "achieving this goal...".

Affirmative action has been successful

Strategies and actions to be taken

The Platform wants to address the de facto exclusion of women from power structures and decision-making with two strategic objectives and thirty-three actions to be taken. These commitments imply a concrete obligation to implement the goals:

  • "Take measures to ensure women´s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making".
  • Qualification initiative for management and leadership positions.

Governments accept obligation to implement goals

Progress made on the path towards empowerment in the public and private sectors must be monitored, evaluated and annually reported on by Governments.

Obligation to present annual report has been agreed upon

The Platform deems it necessary to study more intensively the conditions for and opportunities of women to participate in political life. Governments wish to promote research in this field.
Electoral systems should be reviewed in respect of gender-specific disadvantages and be reformed when appropriate.
In Beijing, the 189 delegations have also accepted an obligation on the part of their Governments "to establish the goal of gender balance in governmental bodies and committees, as well as in public administrative entities, and in the judiciary". They are called upon to set specific targets and implementing measures.

Obligation of affirmative action for judiciary and public administration

Measures should also be taken to ensure that women are adequately represented at all levels of political parties. Political parties are called upon to examine party structures and procedures to determine whether they are directly or indirectly discriminatory. Generally, all social forces are called upon to encourage and strengthen the feeling of self-esteem, solidarity and leadership qualities of women; this should also form a part of education and training. Disabled women and indigenous women are explicitly included by the Platform.

Equality for women in political parties as well

The UN should set a good example; the Platform requires it to "achieve overall gender equality, particularly at the Professional level and above, by the year 2000". The UN is also called upon to develop mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment in senior posts in the United Nations, its specialized agencies and other organizations and bodies. In order to fulfil these obligations, the member states should "aim at gender balance" in the lists of national candidates for UN appointments.

Concrete obligations for the UN as well


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© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | Net Edition mv&ola | Oktober 1997