People's Stories Democracy

No change in overall average of women in parliaments
by The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
Mar. 2018
The year 2017 saw some positive developments in women’s participation in elections, according to the Women in Parliament in 2017: The year in review, released by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ahead of International Women’s Day. However, in global terms, the number of women in national parliaments has only increased by 0.1 percentage point from 2016, from 23.3% to 23.4%.
A record number of women contested elections held in 2017, and more seats were won by women than in previous years: 27.1% compared with 22.3% in 2016. This was largely due to measures such as electoral quotas for women. In the 20 countries where the quotas were used, women won over 30% of the seats, while only 15.4% of the seats were won by women in the 16 countries where quotas were not used. Countries who elected the highest percentages of women in 2017 were Senegal (41.8%) and Norway (41.4%).
Europe, which made the greatest gains in the number of women MPs, also recorded the greatest losses. In France, for example, women MPs now hold 38.6% of seats in the National Assembly, up from 26.6%—an increase of 12 percentage points. On the other hand, Iceland and Liechtenstein dropped by at least 8 percentage points.
If women are to play a bigger role in politics, parliament should be a place where they are able to work without fear of being harassed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Women MPs have complained of being sexually harassed and have felt unable to could speak out against it (see IPU’s Issues Brief, Sexism, harassment and violence against women parliamentarians).
The #MeToo movement, which swept through the world in 2017, is changing this culture by raising awareness of sexual misconduct and sexism in all areas of work, not just politics. In 2017, more women MPs came forward, which led several parliaments—such as Canada, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the European Parliament—to examine their own working environment.
“It worries me that progress made in women’s political involvement is slowing. With the exception of some countries that have made a headway because of political will, this has been, overall, a disappointing year,” said IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong. “It is vital that women are part of decision-making institutions such as parliament. It is fundamental, not just for gender equality but also for democracy and the legitimacy of the process.”
Regional highlights:
The Americas
Women’s parliamentary representation in the Americas rose by 0.3 percentage points to 28.4%. The trailblazers were Argentina (38.1%), Chile (22.6%) and Ecuador (38%), countries that devised progressive legislation to promote women’s political leadership, resulting in increased female representation. In the Bahamas, the number of women appointed to the upper chamber nearly doubled from four to seven, and both the President and Vice-President of the Senate are women.
In contrast, elections in Honduras took place against a backdrop of violence, including systemic violence against women. In spite of the fact that Honduras had legislated gender quotas in 2009, the number of women MPs dropped by 4.7 points to 21.1%.
Latin America also recorded setbacks among the top echelons of power: between 2013 and 2015, the region boasted the largest number of female Heads of State. However, by the end of 2017, there were none.
Africa and the Arab States
There was not much change in these regions, as fewer elections were held than in previous years. In Kenya, numbers of women at all levels of government reached historic highs in 2017 despite political instability. Women now hold almost 22% of the seats in the lower house and just over 30% in the upper house. In a first, three women were elected governors, and two of the women elected at the parliamentary level were under 27 years old. In spite of these gains, women candidates reported numerous incidences and threats of violence.
Algeria was the only country in the Arab region to hold elections for its legislature in 2017. Algeria is a pioneer in the region: it has transformed its political system through successive electoral reforms. These include to the institution of a multi-party system in 1989, and the introduction of a gender quota in 2012. The gender quota resulted in an improvement in the percentage of women MPs to almost 32%, 6.2 percentage point increase. In the 2017 elections, however, this went down to 25.8%.
Asia and the Pacific
2017 elections across the Asia-Pacific region continued to push the boundaries of what constitutes “appropriate” women’s roles in politics. Gender norms continue to work against women’s entry into politics, as societies lay stronger emphasis on women’s role in the unpaid, domestic sphere. While Asian parliaments experienced a slight decrease in the number of women elected (down 0.7 points to 18.6%), there was progress in the Pacific region, up by 0.5 points to 17.9%.
In Tonga, reforms passed in 2010 increased the number of women in the Legislative Assembly from nine to 17 in 2017. This gain is remarkable given the conventional ideas about gender roles in the country that normalise men’s role in politics and women’s place in the home.
Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea witnessed striking setbacks. Although women make up 32% of the national parliament in Timor-Leste, that figure represents a drop of 6 percentage points from 38.5%. In Papua New Guinea, not a single woman was elected in spite of the fact that a record number of women candidates (167) contested the elections.
New Zealand, where 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern was elected Prime Minister, also saw the highest proportion of women MPs in the country’s history: they made up a total of just under 39%. Ms. Ardern''s pregnancy gave rise to a national debate on women’s ability to balance political leadership with motherhood.
The most prominent increase in the region was in France, where women now make up 38.6% of the National Assembly, catapulting it from 64th to 17th place in the IPU’s global ranking of women’s parliamentary representation. President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move party not only fielded gender-balanced electoral lists but also promoted diversity by nominating half the candidates from civil society. Two countries, Albania and Armenia, with historically low numbers of women in elected office, also made significant progress. In Albania, the proportion of women jumped from 17.9% to 27.9%, while Armenia saw an increase of 6.5 points from 2012.
In the United Kingdom, a record-breaking 208 women were elected to the House of Commons (32%) and women lead three political parties (Conservatives, Scottish National Party and the Democratic Union Party). Kazakhstan, Slovenia and Bulgaria saw increases of 4.3, 2.5 and 3.8 points respectively. However, the gains were offset by some significant losses: Iceland recorded a decrease of 9.5 points to 36.5% representation; women’s representation in Germany also declined by 5.7 points to 30.7%; and in Liechtenstein, the proportion of women MPs fell by 8 points to 12%.
* The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global organization of national parliaments.

Visit the related web page

U.N. Human Rights chief alarmed by global retreat from human rights
by Zeid Ra''ad Al Hussein
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mar. 2018
(Annual report and update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his Office and recent human rights developments. Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra''ad Al Hussein to the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council)
''A few days ago, we celebrated the centenary year of Nelson Mandela’s birth. We spoke of his example; his fortitude, his suffering and compassion, while recalling also the declaration that he and my predecessor Mary Robinson signed in 2000 on diversity and tolerance.
And it was right for us – not just to have remembered Mandela’s greatness, but to have, almost unconsciously, contrasted it with all the narrow politicians who continue to proliferate across the face of the world. Authoritarian in nature, many of them are wily political in-fighters, but most are of thin mind and faint humanity – prone to fan division and intolerance and just for the sake of securing their political ambition. While some do this more openly than others, all are well aware what they practise comes at the expense of vulnerable humans.
To them I say: you may seize power, or stubbornly hold onto it, by playing on and stoking the fears of your followers. You may congratulate yourselves for this and you may think yourself so clever for it. But we know all you’ve done is copy the behaviour of previous generations of once strong, but ultimately catastrophic, leaders and politicians. Yours will in the end become a mouse-like global reputation, never the fine example of the leader you think you are – and never even close to a Mandela. To deserve global respect, you must begin to follow his example – committing to the spirit and letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What makes it so difficult for us to understand this Declaration, its universality and how to view our fundamental sameness relative to our differences? We are all humans. We are almost identical genetically – on average, in DNA sequence, each human is 99.9% the same as any other human. We have the same organs, we all have to breathe, eat, sleep and, to survive as a species, reproduce. We have feelings, we love, we think, we have hopes and, if fortunate, we will grow old before expiring. This is the core of what it is to be a human being.
Everything that’s bolted on – that is colour, race, ethnicity, gender and all the rest – comes only after the acquisition by each of us of our rights as human beings. And this is what the adoption of the Universal Declaration formalized seventy years ago. The present-day hatred, and its corresponding rising uncertainties, seem to come from humans who view the relationship between the core and the bolted–on characteristics in reverse. In their view, the differences decide everything. But this approach, if each of us were to adopt it, and act upon it, would be an open invitation to human self-annihilation. It cannot be – it simply cannot be!
Since my last update to this Council I have conducted missions to Libya, Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Recognising that not all States will accept a visit, I express my deep appreciation for these invitations, which demonstrate commendable openness to discussing human rights issues. In my statement to the Council in June, I will be addressing the issue of refusals of access to international human rights mechanisms, and to my Office.
In every instance, I encourage the concerned States to embark on deeper dialogue and cooperation with my Office and the human rights mechanisms. Before I begin what will sadly prove to be a very long list of human rights violations and abuses, I would like to highlight a sample of advances which are underway in several countries.
In Ecuador, I commend the Government for conducting a very broad dialogue, including with media and human rights defenders, as a first step towards overcoming the country''s polarization. In Saudi Arabia, I note with great interest the royal directive stipulating that all government services must from now on be provided to women without prior approval from male guardians.
I commend The Gambia for its announcement of a moratorium on the death penalty last month. In Somalia, I welcome a number of positive developments, including the establishment of a national human rights commission with a diverse composition, and I encourage the Government to continue its efforts to build institutions and bring peace. Portugal has made noteworthy strides towards ending discrimination against Roma, sharply increasing the number of Roma aged 16 to 24 engaged in work, training or education.
Many people have suffered the violence of extremist and terrorist groups over the past few months, and I want to emphasise that I and my Office condemn acts of terrorism wherever they occur, unreservedly. There can be no justification of this blind violence which lashes out against ordinary people.
I will now turn to the geographic sections of my statement, emphasising the urgency of two situations: Syria, where the horror of eastern Ghouta needs to be spoken of time and again; and Myanmar, where the most recent reports gathered by my Office point to the continuation of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State.
As this Council session opened, the conflict in Syria entered a new phase of horror. In addition to the staggering bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta, which was discussed in urgent debate last week, escalating violence in the province of Idlib is placing some two million people in danger. In Afrin, the offensive by Turkey is also threatening large numbers of civilians. People in Government-controlled Damascus are suffering a new escalation of ground-based strikes. And the offensive against extremist groups has resulted in large-scale loss of civilian life.
More than 400,000 people have reportedly been killed in the Syrian conflict, and more than a million injured, many very severely; many are children. Hundreds of thousands of people are living under sieges, the vast majority imposed by Government forces and their allies. Over 11 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Tens of thousands of people are detained, frequently in inhuman conditions, including torture; many others have been forcibly disappeared.
Hospitals, schools and marketplaces have been massively, and in some cases, deliberately, damaged and destroyed: in 2017, one health centre was attacked every four days. My Office also documented over a thousand airstrikes and ground-based strikes in 2017, and numerous intolerable human rights violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict: Government forces, their allied militias, international actors, and armed opposition groups – among them, ISIL.
It must be recalled how the massive violations committed by the Government of Syria and its local allies, beginning in 2011, created the initial space in which extremist armed groups later flourished. Remember the Shabeehah? Recent attempts to justify indiscriminate, brutal attacks on hundreds of thousands of civilians by the need to combat a few hundred fighters – as in Eastern Ghouta – are legally, and morally, unsustainable.
Also, when you are prepared to kill your own people, lying is easy too. Claims by the Government of Syria that it is taking every measure to protect its civilian population are frankly ridiculous.
This month, it is Eastern Ghouta which is, in the words of the Secretary General, hell on earth; next month or the month after, it will be somewhere else where people face an apocalypse – an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the Government, apparently with the full backing of some of their foreign supporters. It is urgent to reverse this catastrophic course, and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The conflict in Yemen continues to escalate, creating a humanitarian disaster of new magnitudes. Civilians suffer indiscriminate shelling and sniper attacks by Houthi and affiliated forces, as well as airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led Coalition forces; these remain the leading cause of civilian casualties, including child casualties, in the conflict.
I am particularly concerned about the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city of Taiz. The Council will receive a detailed update of my concerns on 21 March.
My Office will brief this Council on Libya on 20 March. During my mission there in October I was alarmed by the near-complete lawlessness throughout the country, with almost total impunity for even the most serious crimes. I encourage all States to support the International Criminal Court''s investigation into crimes against humanity committed in the country.
The Council will be briefed on 21 March on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, where my concerns continue to deepen on protection of civilians, with ever larger suicide attacks in Kabul and other urban areas. Accountability for those responsible is imperative, and I welcome the ICC prosecutor’s decision in November to proceed with an investigation of the situation.
I deplore Iran''s odious practice of executing people for crimes committed when they were children. I am also concerned about the excessive use of force against demonstrators in December and January for economic and social rights, as well as the subsequent deaths of a number of protestors held in custody. Widespread resentment at high levels of youth unemployment, inequality, lack of accountability of State institutions and the greater demand for rights should be addressed through dialogue and reforms. Repressive measures – such as arrests and prosecutions of human rights defenders, journalists, international environmental activists and women protesting against the compulsory hijab – can only deepen the people''s resentment. The Secretary General''s report on Iran will be presented to the Council on 21 March.
In Egypt, I am concerned by the pervasive climate of intimidation in the context of this month''s Presidential elections. Potential candidates have allegedly been pressured to withdraw, some through arrests. Legislation prevents candidates and supporters from organising rallies. Independent media have been silenced, with over 400 media and NGO websites completely blocked.
My Office continues to receive reports pointing to the ongoing targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, civil society activists and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as reports of torture in detention.
Egyptians have legitimate aspirations to live in a free, inclusive and democratic country, and I urge much greater respect for their fundamental freedoms and rights. I note Egypt''s recent invitations to a number of Special Procedures mandate holders and invite the authorities to engage in discussions with my Office.
In Iraq, the application of Anti-Terrorism Law 13 of 2005 remains of particular concern, especially in regard to lack of respect for due process and fair trial standards, and the large number of death sentences handed down following convictions under this law. It is essential that the Government take urgent action to ensure that due process and fair trial standards are implemented fully in domestic law – including the Anti-Terrorism law – and observed in practice. I also remain concerned about reports of violations by forces linked to the Government; forced displacement of civilians; and the continuing unknown status of several hundred men and boys who disappeared in Saqlawiyah in June 2016, after coming in contact with armed groups. I urge the Government to fully investigate these incidents, publish the findings, and hold those responsible to account.
In Bahrain, human rights defenders and civil society organisations continue to suffer from intimidation, harassment and restrictions. The recent, and deeply regrettable, five year sentence against Nabeel Rajab over a tweet is yet another serious setback for Bahrain’s international reputation''..
* Access the complete briefing:

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook