How can we move forward for women’s leadership?

On 7 October 2016, IIMA and
VIDES attended the UNOG Library Event on the topic “UN and Women’s Leadership: How can we move
forward?” The theme took a cue from Torild Skard’s book Women
of Power
: Half a century of female
presidents and prime ministers worldwide
which is a comprehensive
overview of how and why women in 53 countries rose to the top in the years
since the World War II. 

Michael Møller, Director General, UNOG,
and Geneva Gender Champion gave his welcome remarks. The
panel was moderated by Sigrun
Habermann, Chief, Cultural Diplomacy and Outreach
Section, Alternate UNOG Gender Focal Point. The other panelists were Christian Friis Bach, Executive
Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and Geneva
Gender Champion; H.E. Mr. Andreas
Ignatiou, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of
Cyprus to the United Nations and other international organizations in
Switzerland, and Geneva Gender Champion; Cécile
Molinier, Former UNDP Director, Geneva Speakers and Torild Skard,
Norwegian psychologist, senior researcher, politician and author. 

Torild Skard started her presentation
providing a slideshow of gender parity at United Nations since 1945 when the
Charter of the United Nations declared equal rights of men and women and human
rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex,
language or religion. However, it was still evident that the UN
Conferences were male dominated.
The Declaration of Mexico in 1975 confirmed the unequal treatment
received by women and recognized the urgency of improving women’s status so as to enable them
to have the same opportunities as men. Thus, women can participate actively in
the development of their countries and in the attainment of world peace.

Then came
the Beijing Declaration and Platform for
Action
  of 1995 which is
considered the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights. It
envisioned that with gender equality and women’s empowerment humanity will be
empowered. It focused on developing  a strategy for
change to eliminate all obstacles to women’s full and equal participation in
sustainable development and for women’s equal access to and control over
resources. Today, the Sustainable
Development Goal n. 5
, aims  to
enhance gender equality and empowerment of women and girls through
participation and equal opportunities for leadership, the decision making in
political, economic and public life.

Since 1955 to 2015 women to rise to the top must not
only be exceptionally well qualified but must have a
democratic political system where active women’s movement demand gender parity
in the political leadership.

Globally,
political parties are extremely male dominated with only 10 per cent women on
the average in the executive leadership. They promote the interests of men,
prefer male candidates for election, particularly to high positions, uphold
voting systems favoring men and assist in the financing and media coverage of
male politicians. To counteract these undemocratic processes it is essential to
adopt affirmative measures such as competence and confidence-building of women,
consciousness-raising of men, quotas and electoral reforms in addition to
continuous research and analyses of the political system and equality policies,  involving top and bottom.

There
are different categories of women, some
conformed to the norms and values of male-dominated politics and acted in the
same way as their male colleagues, while others, on the contrary, challenged
male domination and explicitly promoted woman-friendly policies. About half of the female leaders, however, compromised
between men’s and women’s interests, trying to look after both.

In spite of the difficult circumstances, women
politicians made a difference in the governance of the nation. But the difference will be greater with more women in
political office and stronger women’s movements: training,
consciousness-raising, counter reaction to dominance techniques and change of
attitude are required; women’s rights champions and organizations, gender units
and women’s networks are essential.

Both men and women must act to promote
gender equality, particularly men in leadership positions and also in this
context education plays an essential role.