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New Study Shows Ups and Downs in Gender Equality

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By Caroline Mwanga

NEW YORK (IDN) – This year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 has been celebrated on an unprecedented scale by the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations around the world. And, a new analysis shows improvements in gender equality. But there is a rather long way to go until gender parity has become a reality.

According to the data presented in the 2019 edition of the biennial IPU-UN Women map of Women in Politics, women’s participation in political decision-making continues to rise slowly, with slight improvements since 2017.

Nevertheless, the map, which presents global rankings for women in the executive and parliamentary government branches as of January 1, 2019, shows the proportion of women ministers is at 20.7 per cent (812 out of 3922). This is an all-time high and 2.4 percentage points higher compared to 2017. It also shows that the types of portfolios women ministers hold are diversifying.

The map was launched at a press conference during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 63) at the United Nations headquarters in New York on March 12. The map follows the publication of the IPU analysis of women in parliament which showed that the global share of women Members of Parliament (MPs) – 24.3 per cent – has increased by nearly one point compared with 2017.

The share of women parliamentary speakers also increased by 0.6 percentage points to 19.7 per cent, and the share of women deputy speakers increased by 1.6 percentage points to 28.2 per cent. These marginal improvements do not give a reason for rejoicing.

The analysis further shows that women’s representation in top-level leadership has decreased from 7.2 per cent of elected Heads of State to 6.6 per cent (10 out of 153), and from 5.7 per cent of Heads of Government to 5.2 per cent (10 out of 193).

Against this backdrop, IPU President and Mexican MP, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, said: “Equal representation in government positions is fundamental for a democracy to be truly representative and effective. Despite some positive movement, the overwhelming majority of government leaders remain male. It is a shared responsibility between men and women to change this and ensure gender equality at all political levels. It is important to identify the main barriers that are stopping women from accessing decision-making positions.”

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said: “More women in politics leads to more inclusive decisions and can change people’s image of what a leader looks like.”

She added: “We still have a steep road ahead, but the growing proportion of women ministers is encouraging, especially where we see a rise in the number of countries with gender-balanced ministerial cabinets. These are the types of bold moves that we need if we are to dramatically increase women’s representation in decision-making.”

According to the analysis, nine countries, up from six in 2017, have 50 per cent or more women in ministerial positions. 64.7%: Spain; 55.6%: Nicaragua: 54.4%: Sweden; 53.3%: Albania; 52.9%: Colombia; 51.9%: Costa Rica; 51.9%: Rwanda; 50%: Canada; 50%: France.

Ethiopia saw the largest increase in the share of women’s political representation in the executive, from 10 per cent women ministers in 2017 to 47.6 per cent in 2019.

Mexico made the biggest strides in the Americas, with the addition of 5 women ministers, increasing the overall share of women ministers by 26.3 percentage points to 42.1 per cent.

Among countries in Asia, Pakistan progressed from having no women ministers since 2012 to reaching its highest-ever share of women ministers at 12 per cent.

In the Middle East and North Africa, Mauritania maintains the largest share of women ministers in the region at 31.8 per cent, with the UAE following closely at 29 per cent. In the Pacific region, Palau gains two female ministers, and Tonga one.

Biggest decreases in women ministers were noted in some countries of Europe and Asia. In Europe, Slovenia dropped the most percentage points since 2017 from 50 per cent to 25 per cent women ministers. Lithuania no longer has women in ministerial positions, compared to 2017 when there were three out of 14, or 21.4 per cent.

In Asia, the share of women ministers in the Philippines decreased by 14.7 points to 10.3 per cent. Japan lost two female ministers, leaving one woman out of 19 cabinet ministers, or 5.3 per cent.

There are also countries with no women ministers. The number of countries with no women ministers decreased from 13 in 2017 to 11: Azerbaijan, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Iraq, Kiribati, Lithuania, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vanuatu.

Besides, there were shifts in women-held ministerial portfolios. Although women continue to mainly hold portfolios on Social Affairs (109 out of 1412 portfolios) or Family/ Children/ Youth/ Elderly/ Disabled (107 out of 1412 portfolios), the Trade/ Industry portfolio is among the top 5 ministries held by women for the first time, while the Women’s Affairs portfolio drops out. Also, for the first time since 2012, portfolios held by women ministers covering Employment/ Labour/ Vocational Training return to the top 5.

Strikingly, notes the analysis, more women are in charge of portfolios traditionally occupied by men compared to 2017: 30 per cent more women ministers cover Defence, 52.9 per cent more women cover Finance, and 13.6 per cent more women cover Foreign Affairs. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 March 2019]

Photo: A wide view of the ECOSOC Chamber as UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka (on screen) speaks at the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day 08 March 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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