Picture This: 51% of the World’s Leaders are WomenPosted: September 22, 2011
Top women leaders from around the world took to podiums at the United Nations to demand a greater global political role for women. The picture at the left shows US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff.
“Despite notable progress, gender inequality persists,” Rousseff, who became Brazil’s first female president earlier this year, said at a high-level event held at the United Nations ahead of this week’s UN General Assembly.
“Women are still the ones who suffer the most from extreme poverty, illiteracy, poor healthcare systems, conflicts and sexual violence.”
Rousseff noted that today she would become the first woman in the history of the United Nations to open debate at the UN General Assembly.
“As someone who tried to be a president, it’s very encouraging to see those who actually ended up as a president,” Clinton joked at Monday’s event, in a reference to her unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2008.
The event–held on Monday–was sponsored by UN Women.
Women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders, and globally less than one in five members of Parliament is a woman, according to UN Women.
Increasing gender equality and putting more women in leadership roles will promote economic development, said Michelle Bachelet, the head of UN Women and a former president of Chile.
“We now have data to show that countries with greater gender equality have higher gross national product per capita and that women’s leadership in the corporate sector results in improved business performance,” she said.
The participation of women in this year’s wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East demonstrated that women are “determined to fight for democracy,” Bachelet added.
“The message is loud and clear: There is no turning back,” she said.
Other participants in the event included the European Union’s top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, and female officials and leaders from Africa, Asia and the Americas.
“Women’s political participation is fundamental to democracy and essential to the achievement of sustainable development and peace,” the attendees said in a joint declaration.
“We call upon all States, including those emerging from conflict or undergoing political transitions, to eliminate all discriminatory barriers faced by women.”
Also present at the meeting was Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar promised her countries a “gender neutral budget”. She also shared her inspired personal story.
On a personal note, Persad-Bissessar shared with the audience her journey from a young girl to Prime Minister.
“I was 16 years old and I wanted to go to London to study and my uncle told my father, ‘Don’t send Kamla to England to study because she’s a girl, she has to get married and have children’… Let me say, I thank God for my mother, she insisted, and the rest is now history,” said Persad-Bissessar.
She noted she was this country’s first woman Attorney General, political leader, opposition leader and Prime Minister.
Persad-Bissessar spoke of her actions as Prime Minister towards the development of women, noting that she created a new Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development and also set a target of 40 per cent of women on State boards.
Her vision, she said, is one where women are transformational leaders comprising half the legislature, local government, State boards, private sector board rooms and all other spheres.
“A wise Chinese proverb states that ‘Women hold up half the sky’,” said Persad-Bissessar, which gained loud applause.
She said that it was “not okay” that so many women were suffering in the world.
She noted that 70 per cent of the world’s poor are women, that violence is perpetrated against women in homes, that young girls are victims of incest, sexual violence and bear the burden of teenage pregnancy and girls and women have the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS and bear the brunt of care.
Persad-Bissessar said change can be led though legislation, policies and programmes.
She proposed a global online mentorship programme targeted at young women leaders interested in a political career, who will engage with and learn from experienced women politicians.
Also speaking at the event, Clinton took note of Persad-Bissessar’s personal journey to leadership.
“Persad, when your uncle said no that young girls shouldn’t go to school and you said thank goodness for your mother, that’s a very familiar story, so parents need to recognise the values of their girls, invest in their futures, their education and then families, communities, societies need to do the same,” she said.
“There are stories like that that are percolating everywhere in the world and we have to do all we can to value the girl child, to provide support for families so they recognise and fulfil the promise of that young girl,” she said.
You can read more about UN Women and their efforts to improve the lives of women and girls around the world at their homepage.