TITLE: Women's participation in Decision-making and Leadership: A Global Perspective (1997) ---------------------------------------------------------- This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) ---------------------------------------------------------- May, 1997 (Source: Coop Dialogue, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan-April,1997,pp.1-7) Women's Participation in Decision Making and Leadership: A Global Perspective ************************************************** For those of us who were privileged to attend both the NGO Forum in Huairou and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing proper, an outstanding feature of the experience was the very marked contrast in decision-making and leadership at the two events. The NGO Forum really was a women's forum, run by women, focused on women's issues and concerns and attended by a predominantly female audience. Although the comparatively small number of men who attended the Forum often participated quite actively and enthusiastically in individual events, overall they played a very peripheral and marginal role. Had they not been there, little would have changed. By contrast, at the UN Conference in Beijing the picture was substantially reversed. Although it was an event on which women and women's issues ostensibly comprised the entire agenda, the players, the environment and the sub-text were quite different. Although many of the delegations to the Conference included significant numbers of women and many of the NGO women from Huairou also attended, dark suits predominated. More than half of the official government speakers were men and one soon realized that their decisions would carry the day rather than those of the women. I was surprised to see that the women with whom we had worked in Huairou who also attended the Conference suddenly looked. They dressed differently, more somberly and more formally. They also behaved differently. Where colourful, laughing and informal cross-national groups had sprung up out of new friendships and common interests in Huairou, in Beijing national groups representing more specific country interests dominated. Delegates clustered around their (often male) leaders with serious expressions, lobbying, negotiating and dealing for the outcome they (that is, their country, the male leaders) desired. The emphasis on substantive issues at Huairou was replaced by a concentration on more symbolic and superficial concerns - how will the action be perceived by others rather than does it address the problem. Although the Beijing Platform for Action (see annexed to the end of this article) included very specific provisions advocating the equal participation of women in decision-making and leadership at all levels, it was far from practising what it preached. As I observed this rather startling contrast, it occurred to me that the usual sex roles in decision-making and leadership had been reversed in Huairou, while the Beijing Conference represented the status quo. The experience of marginality that some men undoubtedly felt in Huairou was one that women have learned to accept as 'normal': the consequence of living and working in an environment that was created by, and continued to be dominated by, people with different needs, interests and priorities from your own. The experience of "men as men" (rather than as individuals) in Huairou would tell us a great deal about why, despite the provisions of the Platform for Action, women are still so far from achieving equality in decision-making and leadership. Current Levels of Women's Participation in Decision-Making and Leadership -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tables 1 and 2 (annexed at the end of this article) show just how far women are from achieving equal participation in decision-making and leadership. From most perspectives, the picture is rather gloomy: women's share of decision-making and leadership is small and, in most parts of the world, shows no clear trend toward improvement. Only in the Nordic countries are women approaching equality in the political sphere, and even in those countries the picture in the private sector and such key institutions as universities is often much less satisfactory. For example, almost no women are managing directors in the 100 largest private enterprises in the Nordic countries. (Last week's British election gives cause for greater optimism: reports indicate that 125 women were elected in the Labour Party's 419 seat landslide win.) By 1995, only 24 women had ever been elected as heads of State of Government in modern times. In this case the trend appears more encouraging: half had been elected to office since 1990. Between 1987 and 1995, the number of countries where women held no ministerial posts fell from 93 to 59. However, less than 6 per cent of cabinet ministers were women in 1994 and women held more than 15 per cent of ministerial positions in only 16 countries. Changes in women's participation in government show no clear trend. For example, most countries where women hold top ministerial positions do not have comparable representation at the sub-ministerial, suggesting that women senior ministers are not pioneering a new trend. Women's membership in parliaments has declined in eastern and western Asia and fell sharply in eastern Europe after 1987, although women seem to have increased their share of seats in recent elections. However, measures such as the 33.3 per cent reservation for women introduced by the Government of India at the local level and now being considered for other levels of decision-making can be expected to create a pool of experienced potential women leaders. These women may begin to more into political decision making in increasing numbers in future. Table 2 suggests that women are excluded from decision-making by more than just lack of education. Women's position in the labour force as a significant source of highly skilled and qualified labour as professional and technical workers is not matched by an equivalent contribution as administrative and managerial workers. In the world as a whole, women provide almost 40 per cent of professional and technical workers but less than 15 per cent of administrators and managers. Even in the industrial countries, the proportions are quite unbalanced: almost half the professional and technical workers but just over one quarter of the administrators and managers. As the experience of the United Nations suggests (Table 1), the imbalance becomes more pronounced in the higher levels of decision-making. The UN experience also shows how fragile improvement may be; in 1949 there were more women in the UN, although heavily concentrated at the lowest levels, than a quarter of a century later in 1975. Why should women share decision-making and leadership? ----------------------------------------------------------------------- The Beijing Platform for Action includes a strong statement calling for governments to ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making. It also called for government to increase women's capacity to participate in decision making and leadership. Why is it necessary or desirable for women to share in decision-making and leadership? Two kinds of argument may be advanced, a human rights argument and a more pragmatic, efficiency-based argument, although there is considerable overlap between the two. In democratic countries, rights-based arguments are difficult to deny (although the Beijing Platform merely noted that women's participation in decision making is needed in order to "strengthen democracy and promote its regular function"). It is a basic principle of democracy that adult citizens from all walks of life should have equal access to participation in decision-making and leadership. Ideally, representatives of groups with specific interests and perspectives should participate directly in decision making processes and leadership to ensure that both the agenda of issues to be considered and the decisions subsequently made incorporate their views. It is untenable that any specific interest group, say a particular ethnic or religious group, could be systematically excluded from direct participation in decision-making on the grounds that others can "speak" for them. Since women and men play different roles in society and therefore have different needs, interests and priorities, it follows that women also cannot be adequately represented in decision-making by men. The pragmatic, efficiency-based argument for women's participation in decision making and leadership also starts from recognition that women and men have different needs, interests and priorities arising from their specific roles and situations. Even when men are aware of and seek to represent this difference, they lack information in the same way that mainstream decision makers are unable to capture the perspectives and needs of minority cultures or the poor. This failure to incorporate women's concerns in decision making represents a major loss for society as a whole. Women's needs, interests and concerns are not just those of women themselves, but reflect their primary roles as mothers, wives and caregivers. Therefore, incorporating a woman's perspective in decision making should result in better decisions that more adequately reflect the needs and interests of children and families (including the male members). Finally, the Beijing Platform recognizes that women's equal participation in decision making and political life is vital for the advancement of women. Women remain in a position of inequality compared with men partly because their situation, needs and concerns are not even inequality compared with men partly because their situation, needs and concerns are not even considered in current decision making: they do not even reach the mainstream agenda. Much of the discussion at the NGO Forum focused on women's need to become involved in "setting the agenda". The advancement of women demands that women participate actively in setting the agenda and determining issues on which decisions are to be made. An Australian woman politician recently pointed out that it was only when women entered Australian Parliament in significant numbers that issues such as child care, violence against women and the valuation of unpaid labour were even considered by policy makers. As a result of these issues entering the agenda, Australia now promotes family-friendly employment policies, including work-based childcare. It also recently undertook a nationally representative survey of violence against women, collects time allocation data and is now using that data to try to incorporate the value of unpaid work in national policy making. Why are women marginalized in leadership? ----------------------------------------------------- Women are marginalized in decision making and leadership by a variety of processes that begin in infancy. In most societies, women lack experience of decision making and leadership in the public arena because girls, in contrast to boys, are socialized to play passive roles and given little opportunity to make decisions or develop leadership skills outside the family context. In most traditional societies girls are kept largely within the confines of the household and family where they are protected and taught to accept the decisions that others - parents, teachers, brothers - make on their behalf. As a result of this lack of experience in a public context, girls tend to lack self-confidence and skills needed to function effectively in positions of formal leadership. An added handicap for many is their lack of capacity due to discrimination in access to education and training: in most countries, women have higher levels of illiteracy and fewer years of schooling than men. Even when women succeed in gaining education and enter the decision making mainstream, they are often marginalized by an institutional setting that reflects men's needs and situation and ignores women's different needs and experience. Modern work patterns and practices are designed for men who have a supportive wife to take care of their essential domestic needs and family responsibilities at home - hence the saying that every career woman needs a good wife! Because it is designed to fit the needs and expectations of men, the modern work environment is not family friendly. The hours and inflexibility of the working day, overtime, the location of work and commuting times make it difficult for working women to meet the dual expectations of their family and work roles, giving rise to role conflict. Most men do not face such rule conflict because society regards their family and personal roles as discretionary, meaning that they are subsidiary to and have to be fitted in with the primary work role. Thus, although men play important roles as husbands and fathers, these generally do not interfere with their primary work role as family breadwinner. For example, if a man's wife or child falls ill or is otherwise in need of his assistance, he is not expected (nor, in most cases, permitted) to leave his work in order to attend to them. Nor will he be considered as "bad" father or husband as a consequence. By contrast, women's primary roles as wife and mother require their attention 24 hours a day and thus, for working women, must be carried out simultaneously with the work role. Even where a working woman has domestic assistance, she is still held responsible for managing her family. If her child or husband is ill, she is expected (and grudgingly permitted) to interrupt her work in order to ensure that their needs are met. If she fails to do so, society tends to judge her as a "bad" wife or mother. In addition to role conflict, women often find themselves isolated and marginalised in unfriendly, if not hostile, male-dominated institutional cultures. A colleague recently described the situation of women in her office in the following terms: women must continually prove themselves to be capable, but the men are assumed to be competent - even when they are demonstrably not. Women must provide strong arguments to support their views; men are simply believed on the basis of their professional qualifications and personal relationships. In the work place, women are often judged by two quite different and conflicting standards, as women and as workers, placing them in a classic no-win situation. For example, good employees at the management level are usually expected to be decisive, articulate, assertive and clear about their goals and objectives. However, in most cultures women as women are expected to be submissive, passive and demure. Thus a woman who displays the characteristics of a good manager may find that her supervisors are not appreciative because they are actually - and probably unconsciously judging her as a woman, as well as a worker. Some women also find that there is no "space" for them to perform effectively as decision makers because men dominate debate, male networks determine promotions and sexist stereotypes (for example, assumptions such as "women cannot work in the field", "will not take transfers away from their families", made without actually consulting women concerned) bar them from gaining the experience required for senior decision-making positions. What can be done? ----------------------- This analysis of the reasons for women's exclusion from decision making and leadership suggests a number of strategies to work toward equal access for women to decision making and leadership. The Beijing Platform for Action also identifies several specific issues that need to be addressed, including socialization and negative stereotyping, which have kept decision making the domain of men. The Platform calls on actors to: create a gender balance in government and administration; integrate women into political parties; recognize that shared work and parental responsibilities promote women's increased participation in public life; promote gender balance within the UN system; work toward equality between women and men in the private sector; establish equal access for women to training; increase women's capacity to participate and in decision-making and leadership; and increase women's participation in the electoral process and political activities. At the personal level, perhaps the first thing that needs to be done is to change the way we rear our children. We must provide our daughters with opportunities to develop their decision making skills and leadership capacities, and we must train our sons to respect their sisters as equals. In particular, we must ensure that daughters have equal access to the same quantity, quality and type of education as sons. Since this is a long-term objective, we must also take immediate steps to place more women in decision-making and leadership positions and, at the same time, provide them with the necessary catch-up training and experience in order to be effective. However, as the experience of capable women decision makers has demonstrated, these measures alone will not be sufficient. We also need to address the institutional context of decision making and leadership to create more women - and family-friendly institutions and organizational cultures. Some industrial countries have already begun slowly to move in this direction, reducing working hours, introducing flex-time and career structures for part-time workers (most of whom are women) and providing government-subsidized or work-based child care, maternity and parental leave and emergency leave for caregivers. In addition, institutions need to re-examine their organizational culture and work practices. An interesting example of this may be found in a study of organizational culture in the Bangladesh NGO BRAC in the most recent issue of the Oxfam Journal Gender and Development (Volume 5, No.1 February 1997). We also need to ensure that there are women in senior positions able to act as role models and mentors for young women and to establish women's networks that can support women in the same way that conventional male-dominated networks support the career development and promotions of men. An essential step towards the more equal participation of women in decision making and leadership is awareness-raising for men. Institutional cultures that are unfriendly to women are not usually the result of deliberate policies but the consequences of their development over time to meet the needs and situations of men, who have for so long dominated the public domain and who have different needs, priorities and concerns from women. Men need to become aware of the ways in which their assumptions, attitudes and behaviour are gendered to reflect their own situation, exclude a woman's perspective and thus obstruct women's equal participation. Women and men together must then negotiate a new institutional setting that provides space for both groups. What is being done? ------------------------ As noted, a number of countries have introduced measures designed to promote women's equal access to decision making and leadership. Some of these, particularly in the industrial countries, are ongoing activities that are part of a long-standing drive toward equality. Others are more recent and seem to be specifically related to commitments made at the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women or to the equally important awareness raising processes that preceded it. An exciting example of these is the introduction of a 33.3 per cent quote for women in the local panchayati raj elections in India. This has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of women decision makers at the local level and provided an important training ground for women to move on to higher levels of decision making and leadership. The Government of India is now considering introducing a similar quota at higher levels of government. Over the last two decades, most interventions have been directed toward strengthening women's leadership through women's organizations and national machineries. While this is clearly essential, perhaps the time has come to pay more attention to complementing these measures with programmes to strengthen the capacities of individual women. In the private and public sectors, mentoring and other leadership programmes for women are being introduced in a number of countries. Although most of these activities have been in the industrial countries, some developing countries, particularly the Philippines, are now exploring the potential for such programmes. One area of decision making in which developing countries in the Asia Pacific region have been particularly active is politics and the electoral process. As part of the preparatory activities for the Beijing Conference, most regions of the world held national and regional meetings seeking a more active role for women in political decision making at all levels. These culminated in Regional Conferences and the First Global Congress on Women in Politics held at the NGO Forum in Huairou. Women around the world are now preparing for the Second Global Congress on Women in Politics to be held in New Delhi in February 1998. The Secretariat for this conference is the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP), a regional network of national and sub-regional bodies. CAPWIP is currently setting up a regional training programme to support women who are already in or who are considering entering politics at any level. A number of countries also held training programmes to prepare women for participation in specific elections. For example, in Thailand a number of training programmes were set up to assist women participate in local elections in 1996. In the Pacific, a sub-regional training course was held in conjunction with the regional WIPPAC Congress in November 1996 and others are planned to prepare women for forthcoming elections in several Pacific countries in the next two years. Can a man be Prime Minister? ------------------------------------ In conclusion, I would like to share with you an enlightening story told by Mrs. Gro Hart Bruntland at the Beijing Conference. It illustrates both the power of the stereotypes that currently obstruct women's participation in decision making and the ways in which they can, and must be, broken. Mrs. Hart Bruntland recalled how, when she first became Prime Minister, many Norwegians were shocked at the idea that a woman could hold the key decision-making and leadership post and predicted disaster and a short tenure in office for her. Many years later, after successfully holding her post for more than a decade, she was told of a conversation overheard in a primary school play ground. A small boy had boasted to his friends that he was going to be Prime Minister when he grows up. His playmates - girls - laughed and told him: "Don't be silly! A man can't be Prime Minister - it has to be a woman." *************************************************** Platform for Action - Recommendations of Beijing Conference *************************************************** The Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, China (4-15 September, 1995), in their Platform of Action, made the following recommendations on: POVERTY * Review, adopt and maintain macro-economic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty; * Revise laws and administrative practices in order to ensure women's equal rights and access to economic resources; * Provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms and institutions; * Develop gender-based methodologies and conduct research to address the feminization of poverty. EDUCATION & TRAINING * Eradicate illiteracy among women. Governments are to reduce the female illiteracy rate at least to half its 1990 level; * Improve women's access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education; * Develop non-discriminatory education and training; * Allocate sufficient resources for and monitor the implementation of educational reforms; * Promote lifelong education and training for girls and women. HEALTH * Increase women's access throughout the life cycle to appropriate, affordable and quality health care, information and related services; * Reduce maternal mortality by at least 50 per cent of the 1990 levels by the year 2000 and a further one half by the year 2015; * Encourage both women and men to take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour; * Undertake gender-sensitive initiatives that address sexually transmitted diseases, HIVAIDS and sexual and reproductive health issues; * Increase resources and monitor follow-up for women's health. VIOLENCE * Adopt and implement legislation to end violence against women; * Work actively to ratify and implement all international agreements related to violence against women, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women; * Adopt new laws and enforce existing ones to punish members of security forces and policy or any other state agents for acts of violenc against women; * Set up shelters, provide legal aid and other services for girls and women at risk, and provide counselling and rehabilitation for perpetrators of violence against women; * Step up national and international co-operation to dismantle networks engaged in trafficking in women. ARMED CONFLICT * Increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision making levels; * Reduce excessive military expenditures and control the availability of armaments; * Work towards the universal ratification of the anti-mine Convention and Protocol by the year 2000; * Recognize the important roles and contributions of women in peace movements throughout the world; * Recognize the need to protect women living in situations of armed and other conflict or under foreign occupation, or who have become refugees or displaced. ECONOMY * Promote women's economic rights and independence, including access to employment and appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources; * Facilitate women's equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade; * Provide business services, training and access to markets, information and technology, particularly to low income women; * Strengthen women's economic capacity and commercial networks; * Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination; * Promote harmonisation of work and family responsibilities for women and men. DECISION-MAKING * Ensure women's equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making in governmental bodies and public administration entities, including the judiciary, international and non governmental organizations, political parties and trade unions; * Increase women's capacity to participate in decision making and leadership positions. INSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS * Create or strengthen national machineries and other governmental bodies; ensure that responsibility for the advancement of women is vested in the highest possible level of Government; * Integrate gender perspectives in legislation, public policies, programmes and projects; ensure that before policy decisions are taken, an analysis of their impact on women and men is carried out; * Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation; measure, in quantitative terms, remunerated work that is outside national accounts. HUMAN RIGHTS * Promote and protect the human rights of women by fully implementing all human rights instruments, especially the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women' * Review national laws to ensure implementation of all international human rights agreements; * Ensure equality and non-discrimination under the law and practice; * Achieve legal literacy. MEDIA * Increase women's participation in and access to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication; governments should aim at gender balance through the appointment of women and men to all advisory, management, regulatory or monitoring bodies; * Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media. The media organizations, NGOs and the private sector should promote the equal sharing of family responsibility and produce materials that portray diverse roles of women leaders; * Develop within mass media and advertising organizations professional guidelines and codes of conduct and other forms of self-regulation to promote the presentation of non-stereotyped images of women, consistent with freedom of expression. ENVIRONMENT * Involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels, including as managers, designers and planners, and as implementers and evaluators of environmental projects. * Integrate gender concerns and perspective in policies and programmes for sustainable development; * Strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to assess the impact of development and environment policies on women. THE GIRL CHILD * Eliminate all forms of discrimination against the girl-child; enact and enforce appropriate legislation that guarantees equal right to succession and ensures equal right to inherit, regardless of the sex of the child; * Eliminate negative cultural attitudes and practices against girls; * Eliminate discrimination against girls in education, skills development and training; * Eliminate discrimination against girls in health and nutrition; * Eliminate the economic exploitation of child labour and protect young girls at work; * Strengthen the role of the family in improving the status of the girl child. INSTITUTIONAL & FINANCIAL ARRANGEMENTS * At the national level, commitment at the highest political level is essential for the successful implementation of the Platform. By the end of 1996, all governments should have their own national strategies or plans of action. Governments should establish or improve effectiveness of national machineries for the advancement of women, and seek the active support of a broad range of other actors; * At the regional and sub-regional levels, the regional commissions of the United Nations should promote and assist national institutions. Regional institutions should develop and publicize regional plans of action for implementing the Platform within given time-frames and resources. * At the international level, all entities of the United Nations system should have the necessary resources and support to carry out follow-up activities. International financial institutions are encouraged to review and revise policies to ensure that their investments and programmes benefit women. To ensure system-wide implementation of the platform and to advise on gender issues, the Secretary-General of the United Nations is invited to establish a high level post in his office. The Platform also calls for committing adequate financial resources from all sources and across all sectors. (Extract from a brochure published by the United Nations Department of Publication Information, N.Y. 10017, USA - November, 1995) ********************************************************** TABLE 1 Women's Participation in National and International Leadership - 1995 ********************************************************** Heads of State or By 1995, only 24 women had been elected as heads Government of State or Government, half since 1990 Government and 1994 women were 5.7 per cent of cabinet ministers Cabinet (3.3 per cent in 1987) 1994 Women held no ministerial position in 59 countries (93 countries in 1987) 1994 Women held more than 15 per cent of ministerial positions in only 16 countries (8 countries in 1987) Sweden 1994 - 52 per cent of ministers were women. Sub-ministerial 1994 Women held more than 15 per cent of level positions in 23 countries (only 14 countries in 1987) Parliamentary Wide variation representation 1987-1994 proportion of women declined in eastern and western Asia. Strongest in northern Europe (Nordic countries). Overall Women's representation at highest levels of government weakest in Asia In Southern Asia, women hold 5-6 per cent of senior positions, but in other regions of Asia, women hold not more than 2 per cent. Women most represented in social, law and justice ministries. 1991 Formation of International Association of Women Judges. United Nations First woman Assistant Secretary General - 1972 1993/94 12 women at this level 1985 General Assembly first set goals for women staff. 30 per cent women in the Secretariat achieved 1990. By end of 1993, only 13 per cent of women in senior management. No women ever elected to the International Court of Justice (89 male judges elected since 1945). No woman ever appointed executive head of a UN autonomous or specialized agency. Private Sector 1993, women comprise only 1 per cent of CEOs and 2 per cent of senior managers in the largest US corporations. Outside the US, there was no woman at the top level, 1 per cent in the second level and only 2 per cent at the third. Source: United Nations, 1995. The World's Women 1995. Trends and Statistics, United Nations: New York. ********************************************** Table 2 : Women's Participation in Decision-Making 1990 and 1995 *********************************************** Country HDI Women in Admini- Profes- Rank Government 1995 strators sionals Minis- Sub- Total & & terial Minis- Mana- Techni- terial gers, cal '90 '90% % female female Japan 3 6.7 8.8 8.3 9 42 Australia 11 13.3 26.7 23.7 43 25 New Zealand 14 7.4 20.0 16.8 32 48 Thailand 52 3.8 4.5 4.4 22 52 Korea, Rep. of 29 3.4 1.2 1.5 4 45 Singapore 34 0.0 7.1 5.1 34 16 Fiji 47 8.7 10.7 9.8 10 45 Malaysia 53 7.7 4.7 5.8 12 45 Iran, Isl.Rep. of 66 0.0 0.5 0.4 4 33 Philippines 95 8.3 26.3 23.9 34 63 Lao, PDR 138 0.0 4.1 2.7 - - Vietnam 121 6.5 2.4 3.9 - - Myanmar 133 0.0 0.0 0.0 - - Pakistan 134 3.7 1.0 1.6 3 20 India 135 4.2 6.3 6.1 2 21 Bangladesh 143 4.5 3.0 3.4 5 23 Nepal 151 0.0 0.0 0.0 - - Papua New Guinea 126 0.0 3.1 1.6 12 30 Indonesia 102 3.6 1.4 1.8 7 41 China 108 11.1 21.1 16.2 13 48 Samoa (Western) 88 6.7 7.4 7.1 12 47 Mongolia 113 0.0 8.7 4.7 - - Korea, DP Rep. of 83 1.2 0.6 0.6 - - Sri Lanka 89 12.5 7.9 8.7 17 25 Cambodia 156 0.0 6.6 5.1 - - Developing Countries 7.7 8.5 7.6 10 36 Industrial Countries 12.6 11.3 10.8 27 48 Source: UNDP, 1996 - UNDP Human Development Report 1996.