Beyond Equal Rights

By Bachelet, Michelle | Americas Quarterly, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Beyond Equal Rights

Bachelet, Michelle, Americas Quarterly



Women's political and economic participation strengthens democracy, equality and the economy. And while women's empowerment and full participation in society are important goals in themselves, they are also vital for reducing poverty, achieving universal education, improving maternal and child health, and fulfilling other development goals.

Increasing the presence of women in politics not only responds to their rights as citizens; it enriches political discourse, decision-making and inclusiveness, and improves social conditions through the passage of equitable laws and policies.

These are some of the reasons why the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), is placing special focus this year on promoting women's economic empowerment and political participation, and on ending violence against women. More than goals in and of themselves, these priorities are particularly important to achieving the sustainable development discussed at the Rio+20 Conference last June.

UN member states have shown their support for the advancement of women's political participation and leadership. For example, on September 16, 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution (A/RES/66/455) that represents a major step forward for advancing women's political participation globally. Inspired by a joint statement signed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and others, the resolution reflects the goals of UN Women to expand women's political participation and leadership. With the resolution, member states reaffirmed that the active participation of women-on equal terms with men at all levels of decisionmaking-is essential to achieving equality, sustainable development, peace, and democracy.

The UN General Assembly also called on all countries to eliminate laws, regulations and practices that prevent or restrict women's participation in the political process through discrimination. During a political transition countries are further asked to take effective steps to ensure the participation of women on equal terms with men in all phases of political reform. This includes decisions ranging from whether to call for reforms in existing institutions to decisions on transitional governments, government policy formulation, and procedures for electing new democratic governments.

Economic empowerment is just as important as political participation for women's full participation in society. When women take an active and equal part in the economy, societies are better equipped to reach their economic and social potential. In fact, numerous studies show that closing the gap between male and female employment rates increases productivity and economic growth.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2011 of the World Economic Forum shows that across 134 countries, greater gender equality correlates positively with higher GNP per capita. The Food and Agriculture Organization finds that providing equal access to land, credit, fertilizer, and other inputs could increase national agricultural output by up to 4 percent and reduce hunger by 100 to 150 million people.

Economic empowerment is also a strategic tool to expand women's political participation and leadership. Without the capacity to generate their own income, women face considerable barriers to reaching the higher levels of education, health care and autonomy needed to participate in politics.

What is needed, then, to increase women's political representation and economic empowerment?

Our work has shown that some measures are transitional, such as temporary quotas to increase women's participation in parliaments, public offices and privatesector leadership positions; still others are permanent, such as laws and policies that ensure equality. …

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