Aussie women gain political power without quotas

Sistas are doing it for themselves

AUSTRALIAN women have bucked the international trend by achieving 30 per cent of seats in Parliament without the use of quotas. The first major report by UN Women – the new United Nations body given the job of promoting gender equality – has found that of the 28 other countries that have broken this 30 per cent “critical mass mark”, 23 got there by using quotas.

Australia is a recent entry to this exclusive 30 per cent women’s club, with the new Senate from July 1 having three more women than before, giving a total of 67 female parliamentarians out of 226 seats, or 30 per cent (rounding up from 29.6%). Australia is also one of just 19 countries with women serving as elected heads of state or government.

The report by UN Women advocates the use of quotas to boost the amount of women legislators to lead to more female-friendly legislation. “From Nepal to Costa Rica, Rwanda to Spain, where quotas have been used to boost the number of women legislators, progressive laws on land rights, violence against women, health care and employment have been passed.”

The report also busts the myth that greater female representation is an automatic byproduct of greater economic development, with six of the 28 countries with more than 30 per cent female representation having just emerged from conflict.

Indeed, Rwanda is home to the highest proportion of female legislators in the world, at 51 per cent, after introducing a 30 per cent gender rule in 2003.

“Progress has more to do with political will than level of development,” the report says.

Increased use of female quotas is just one of the recommendations of UN Women’s first report “Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice” which focuses on women’s participation in legal systems as the first, and most important, step towards ensuring broader gender equity.

So far, efforts to enshrine gender equity in constitutions have proven “hollow promises, having little impact on the day-to-day lives of women”, the report finds.

Indeed, of the US$874 billion in grants and loans allocated by the World Bank over the decade from 2000 to 2010, less than 0.001 per cent ($US7.3 million) had been allocated to programs aimed solely at increasing women’s access to justice, including projects to make courts more “women-friendly” and boosting legal aid.

The report also recommends putting women on the front line of law enforcement. Worldwide, one in 10 women say they have experienced sexual assault, of which just 11 per cent reported it, and, in Europe at least, only about 14 per cent secured a conviction against their perpetrator.

A stronger focus on gender equality would help advance flagging progress on the eight Millennium Declaration goals by the target time of 2015, including eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV and AIDS.

“With the target date of 2015 in sight, it is increasingly clear that progress towards meeting many of the goals is off-track. Inequality, including gender inequality, is holding back progress and there have been the fewest gains on those goals that depend the most on women’s empowerment, for instance maternal health.”

Read a summary of the full report here

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