Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Revisiting Women’s Political Participation on the International Day of Women 2017

By Ameena Mohyuddin Zia

The 1995 Beijing Platform For Action recognized that women faced barriers to full equality and advancements in society due to factors of race, age, language, ethnicity, culture, religion or disability, indigenous status and obstacles of family status, socio economics, living conditions, environmental disasters, diseases and violence. These barriers translated into lack of women’s capacity to participate in political discourse, decision-making and leadership. As a result, strategic objectives of the Beijing Platform outlined measures to ensure women’s equal access and full participation in power structures and decision making (Strategic Objective G.1., UN 4th Conference of Women, 1995).

Fast forward 21 years and in 2016 the world witnessed women leaders working towards shattering the glass ceiling with the United Nations Secretary General Selection and the United States Presidential Election. These events served as global reminders that women are still sidelined and excluded from key discussions, policy and politics are still perceived as a male dominated spaces and half of the world’s population continues to be marginalized by the lack of access and participatory avenues.

Women’s representation is just one of the many factors that measure gender quality and strong female participation in politics is viewed as a transformative change. Although it is difficult to measure the quality and nature of women’s political participation, researchers have resorted to understanding part of the puzzle by investigating the number of women in office to serve as a reflection of participation and indicator of empowerment.  A critical mass of 30% is identified as a facilitator of representation.

Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2017, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) data ( identifies a worldwide increase of women in national parliaments by 6.5 percentage point gain over the last decade as 23.3 percent women now serve as parliamentarians. Similarly, progress is witnessed in the number of women Speakers of Parliaments with a 3 percent increase as now 19.1 percent of parliamentary chambers are headed by women. Although these increases signify positive steps towards inclusive representation, these percentages remain much lower than the established critical mass required for balanced gendered representation.

It is an observed phenomenon that impactful participation of women in parliaments brings new perspectives on political issues and modifies the stereotypical role of women in society. Therefore, institutional structures must continue to make space for women to not only receive an invitation to the decision-making table, but rather have a seat at the decision-making table so they have access to discussions on poverty; education and training; health; violence against women; armed conflicts; economy; human rights; media; environment and the girl child. 

Hillary Clinton stated at the 2011 High Level UN Women Event on “Women and Political Participation” in New York City that women’s political participation “begins by the universally valuing the girl child, and providing support for families to fulfill the promises and dreams of education for the young girl and then make sure that the doors are open” (UN WebTV, 19/09/2011). Governments must continue to ensure institutional reforms allowing women space to participate and to change the historic imbalance of power structures if we as a global community are to value the girl child, the young girl and the woman.

Ameena Mohyuddin Zia serves as the UN ECOSOC Civil Society Representative and an Adjunct Lecturer. Her PhD coursework included political economy & gender politics and her work examines social constructs through both research and visual documentation. She is also involved in community development advocacy and philanthropy education.