Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Holds General Discussion on the Equal and Inclusive Representation of Women in Decision-Making Systems
The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women today held a discussion on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making decisions.
In her opening remarks, Ana Peláez Narvaez, Chairperson of the Committee, said the consultation today was the first step in the process of elaborating a general recommendation on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems and provided an opportunity for the Committee to receive both oral and written inputs to assist in the drafting of the general recommendation.
Mahamane Cisse-Gouro, Director, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, said women constituted half of the world’s population, but this was not reflected in their representation at all levels of decision-making, including in political and public life, economic life, the private sector, peace negotiations and multilateral meetings. It was time for a paradigm shift from minimum quotas to parity between women and men. Half of the world's brainpower should not be neglected.
Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King’s College, London and Former Prime Minister of Australia, urged the Committee to do all they could to further women’s inclusion in decision-making across the world. This was morally and practically right. Women being included in decision-making was a necessity; their inclusion had huge practical benefits.
Martin Chungong, Secretary-General, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said reaching the 2030 targets on time required a meaningful strategy to prioritise transformative actions towards concrete results. Gender electoral quotas were a must. The Inter-Parliamentary Union was calling unequivocally for a target of 50 per cent representation. Leading organisations had an instrumental role to play in driving transformational change.
Nicole Ameline, Co-Chair of the Committee Working Group on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems, said equal and fair inclusion was part of the universal inclusivity of rights. The Convention was enshrined within the 2030 Agenda, and more steps needed to be taken to support women across the world.
Natasha Stott-Despoja, Co-Chair of the Committee Working Group on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems, said more women in decision-making positions had a positive effect on issues such as profit and loss. It changed the perceptions of the aspirations of young girls; you could not be what you could not see. More women in decision-making systems led to more efforts to address violence against women, which was highly important.
Sarah Hendricks, Director of the Programme, Policy and Intergovernmental Division, United Nations Women, said there was an opportunity to build on previous recommendations of the Committee and encourage adoption of temporary special measures.
Also making opening statements as keynote speakers were Mikiko Otani, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women; Hina Jilani, Member of The Elders; Melissa Semplicio, Youth Advocate, Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme and Girl Up Brazil; and Cristina Lunghi, President and Founder of Arborus.
Speaking in the General Discussion were France, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Spain, Malawi, Egypt, Australia, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Peru, Monaco, Uruguay, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Israel, Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Nepal, State of Palestine, Guyana, Mauritius and Bolivia.
Several speakers from civil society also took the floor.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-fourth session is being held from 6 to 24 February. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 5 p.m. on Friday, 24 February, to close its eighty-fourth session.
ANA PELÁEZ NARVAEZ, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed everyone to the general discussion on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems. To date, the Committee had received 55 written submissions and inputs. In the four decades since its inception, the Committee had adopted 39 general recommendations. The consultation today was the first step in the process of elaborating a general recommendation on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems and provided an opportunity for the Committee to receive both oral and written inputs to assist in the drafting of the general recommendation. The Committee anticipated a series of thematic and regional consultations during 2023 and 2024. It was envisaged that the Committee would be able to present a first draft of the general recommendation by the end of 2023, following which a call for written submissions to comment on the draft would be launched online.
MAHAMANE CISSE-GOURO, Director, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, said women constituted half of the world’s population, but this was not reflected in their representation at all levels of decision-making, including in political and public life, economic life, the private sector, peace negotiations, and multilateral meetings. In accessing decision-making positions, women faced a glass ceiling owing to gender bias, their disproportionate care burden, exclusion from powerful networking structures, and gender-based violence and harassment. Women needed to be present at all levels of decision-making, in equal numbers as men, and to hold the same decision-making power. It was time for a paradigm shift from minimum quotas to parity between women and men. Half of the world's brainpower should not be neglected. Mr. Cisse-Gouro said that the world must integrate a gender perspective and ensure that women and men were equally represented in the development of new technologies, including artificial intelligence. No effort should be spared to fight the gender bias that continued to exclude women from decision-making systems.
JULIA GILLARD, Chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, King’s College, London and Former Prime Minister of Australia, urged the Committee to do all they could to further women’s inclusion in decision making in the world. This was morally right and practically right. It was seen that women being included in decision making had huge practical benefits. For example, more women in parliament correlated with less corruption and more focus on the social security sector. More diverse teams make better decisions. These practical benefits meant that women needed to be included. This was justice, this was right and the future that the world wanted for every woman and girl.
MARTIN CHUNGONG, Secretary-General, Inter-Parliamentary Union, said reaching the 2030 targets on time required a meaningful strategy to prioritise transformative actions towards concrete results. Transformative actions for gender equality were vital in leaving no one behind. Women’s full participation in decision-making positions was the path towards a more sustainable future for everyone. Mr. Chungong fully supported the noble efforts of the Committee to issue a recommendation on the support of women in decision making positions. Key points to include in the general recommendation included ensuring that institutions were able to operate inclusively and embrace diversity. Inclusivity could not be reached overnight. To wait for it to happen was not an option. Gender electoral quotas were a must. Ambitious targets needed to be maintained and strictly enforcement. The Inter-Parliamentary Union were calling unequivocally for a target of 50 per cent representation. Gender-based violence against women in politics was rampant; more than women parliamentarians from all over the world were facing gender based psychological violence and intimidation. Violence against women in politics needed to end. Leading organisations had an instrumental role to play in driving transformational change. It was vital to ensure the voices of future generations were heard and reflected in policy making. The general recommendation being created was a way to challenge the status quo, and help new heights be reached.
NICOLE AMELINE, Co-Chair of the Committee Working Group on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems, said equal and fair inclusion was part of the universal inclusivity of rights. The Convention was enshrined within the 2030 Agenda, and more steps needed to be taken to support women across the world. It was time to achieve equality in decision-making structures. This was a structural response to strategic challenges including climate change and migration. Ms. Ameline said it was only global movement which could carry enough impulse to make change. The barriers in decision-making needed to be dissembled. Work needed to be done with the private sector on artificial intelligence, on which the future world would be built. There needed to be a paradigm shift to benefit all.
NATASHA STOTT-DESPOJA, Co-Chair of the Committee Working Group on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems, said Australia had undergone a reckoning in recent times, and there was now a roadmap which looked to ensure that women were better represented. There were compelling reasons for the General recommendation. More women in decision-making positions had a positive effect on issues such as profit and loss. It changed the perceptions of the aspirations of young girls; you could not be what you could not see. More women in decision-making systems led to more efforts to address violence against women, which was highly important. It was about ensuring that women’s diversity and difference was reflected in all decision-making systems. No one should be subject to harassment or intimidation.
SARAH HENDRICKS, Director of the Programme, Policy and Intergovernmental Division, United Nations Women, said the Convention had paved the way for many critical advancements in women’s rights. The world was not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. By now, it was known what tools would turn this calculus around. There was an opportunity to build on previous recommendations of the Committee and encourage adoption of temporary special measures. When well-designed temporary special measures were instigated, they could help level the field for women. Gender based violence in political life presented the biggest threat to women’s participation in politics. It was important to take a zero-tolerance stance against gender based violence. There was now an opportunity to be bold and innovative. The new general recommendation could reaffirm principles and targets to advance the international normative framework for promoting and protecting women’s political rights.
KOBAUYAH TCHAMDJA KPATCHA, Human Rights Committee Member, said 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights reminded States parties of their obligations to respect the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through promoting equal rights of men and women; the right to take part in public affairs; the right to make decisions on the creation of a family; and the right to be equal before the law. Unfortunately, there was still a long way to go to achieve equality between men and women in decision-making positions. In keeping with the Convention, the Human Rights Committee reminded States parties to take measures to address the lack of equal and inclusive representation of women in all sectors, to eliminate discrimination in access to decision-making positions, and establish a system of substantive equality.
The Human Rights Committee regularly invited States parties to take measures, including sensitising religious and community leaders that women claiming their rights should not be stigmatized; strengthening the implementation of the national strategy to end forced and early marriage; and strengthening measures to enable women to participate fully and equally in political and public life, among others. The Committee had consistently stressed the importance of girls and women's full access to and completion of quality education, free from gender stereotypes.
The main concern needed to be the promotion of the rights of the next generation to enjoy all rights. Equality was a process that needed to begin with the birth of the female baby, with successful intervention by the family, society and finally the State. A failure in one of the links in the chain would be a handicap for the achievement of this objective. With the intensification of awareness sessions, the future would be promising.
MIKIKO OTANI, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said girls under 18 were an important group who needed to be given special attention. Girls were already participating in decision-making systems. In some countries, they could vote in elections for local parliaments or even for national parliaments. Children’s calls for lowering the voting age to under 18 years had been growing louder. However, most girls were not given voting rights or the right to be heard, which was guaranteed to children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Participation was particularly crucial for adolescent girls. Children needed to be involved in the development, implementation and monitoring of all relevant legislation affecting their lives. Girls were actively participating in decision-making processes at various levels, and girl human rights defenders were increasingly visible, particularly online.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child regularly recommended that States parties conduct awareness-raising and education programmes to promote the meaningful and empowered participation of all children at all levels of society at the community level. Empowering and protecting girls’ participation was key to the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems. It was vital to encourage, empower, provide knowledge and create accessible and safe spaces. These measures should start with adolescent girls, even with younger girls. Human rights education should empower children on how to exercise civil and political rights as children and as future adults, providing action-oriented information and tools.
REEM ALSALEM, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, warmly welcomed the Committee’s move towards the General Recommendation on equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems. Despite being limited, the data still painted a bleak picture regarding women’s full and equal participation. It would take close to 300 years to achieve gender equality. Women served as heads of State in only 22 countries, and 119 countries had never had a female leader. Women who claimed their place in society were subjected to very gendered attacks, usually of a sexualized nature. Violence against women in politics was not only a human rights violation but went against the fundamentals of democracy, and threatened to offset the positive impact of measures adopted by States to increase women’s representation in political parties, parliaments and governments.
It was also welcomed that the Committee would highlight efforts that many countries were making to adopt a feminist agenda. It was hoped that the Committee’s recommendations would emphasize the need to “walk the talk”, particularly by providing examples of what benchmarks of a feminist foreign policy could look like. The Committee also needed to insist that there be coherence between a country’s foreign and domestic policies when it came to women and girls. It was hoped the recommendations would elaborate on the equally important role of the media in stemming the tide of violence against women and girls. Ms. Asalem commended the Committee for explicitly recognizing the role of local and regional governments. She encouraged the Committee to spell out how the characteristics of sex and sex-based rights should be taken into consideration in the design and implementation of such measures, with the view of ensuring genuine fairness and non-discrimination for women and girls.
HINA JILANI, Member of The Elders, said she was aware of the challenges which the Committee faced in developing the Recommendation and ensuring it was having an impact at all levels. The Committee would be able to overcome these. Multiple initiatives had been taken at regional and national levels, however these had been unable to bring women to a level of equal representation. This could be seen in the field of women, peace and security. Unfortunately, while women had been involved in resolutions, women were mostly involved in looking after internally displaced people, which was important work but not empowering. It would be empowering to craft an agenda on how security measures would affect women’s lives. The Committee needed to take into account gender-based violence, social barriers which limited freedom of speech, and the regression of women’s rights in Afghanistan.
MELISSA SEMPLICIO, Youth Advocate, Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme, Girl Up Brazil, said gender equality remained a pervasive issue. It was vital to promote the development of young assertive females to access decision-making roles. Through her work, she had received guidance and support needed to become a better leader. Alongside other young girls, she had led a campaign in Brazil against menstrual poverty. To empower young girls, there needed to be safe spaces where girls could learn and grow. These spaces could take many forms including school clubs or youth-focused programmes. Empowering girls was not only a moral obligation but a strategic imperative. It was important to work together to ensure all girls had the opportunity to thrive and become the leaders of tomorrow.
CRISTINA LUNGHI, President and Founder of Arborus, said the Recommendation was essential to set a framework for reflection and action for all the actors concerned, whether public or private. Since 1995, Ms. Lunghi had been working on methodological tools aimed at developing new organizational models for a better world. In France, this had led to the creation of an equality label in 2004, then in 2010 to the establishment of an international standard, the Gender Equality European and International Standard. This tool was intended for private and public organizations, and many large corporations worked with the tool.
A new challenge which had recently appeared was the development of Artificial Intelligence. In the field of human resources, recruitment algorithms from Amazon and Google had led to the exclusion of women. These had finally been withdrawn from the market just before the Covid-19 pandemic. An international charter had been developed which now had 130 signatories, and the Gender Equality European and International Standard label had been launched to verify that the algorithms used throughout the value chain were inclusive. This was a unique opportunity to create a new framework of values that would overhaul the systems of organization and governance. But for that, parity was needed.
Speaking in the general discussion, speakers said among other things that equality needed to be achieved in all areas of life, including public life. They welcomed the General Recommendation, which was an opportunity to advance a paradigm shift. The shared long-time goal should be parity, and speakers were mindful of obligations in ensuring the equal representation, equal protection and equal enjoyment of rights by women. The effective participation of women and minorities in public life was a fundamental goal to ensure substantive gender equality and the full realization of human rights. For women to be able to perform leadership duties and roles at their full potential, they needed to be free of legal, and societal obstacles. Countries needed to implement policies to eliminate violence against women, empower women and girls of all circumstances and give them the necessary tools and support to be able to balance their home and work lives.
Some speakers said the General Recommendation should spell out measures for governments to promote participation in public life and to achieve the equal representation of women. It was important that the Recommendation addressed the structural obstacles which were still in place, and provided guidance on how to overcome gender stereotypes and promote access to high quality sexual health services. It was not possible to legislate for women without the involvement of women.
Speakers spoke about the ways that gender equality was being promoted in different countries including through parliamentary quotas; the creation of Committees and laws; the development of public policies which encouraged the participation of women in decision-making bodies; and the adoption of gender-specific national action plans, among other measures. There was active support of women within the peace and security agenda, and the participation of women in civilian crisis management missions was encouraged and supported. E-portals for decision makers, printed guidelines and gender studies textbooks were being developed as a whole-of-society approach to increasing women’s representation.
Speakers recognized that work needed to be done to achieve the collective goal of gender equality. It was important to tackle obstacles to gender inequality within workplaces. Women were not a homogenous group, and there was often underrepresentation of women with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, among others. It was essential to improve the participation of women and girls in decision-making on climate and disaster risk management, as studies clearly demonstrated that gender equality was a key factor for environmental sustainability. Furthermore, the active and meaningful participation of women at all levels of peace and security processes was vital for achieving sustainable peace. Women in rural and hinterland areas needed to be given special attention to ensure that they were not excluded from decision-making systems.
Speakers said the equal participation and representation of women with disabilities was imperative, and these women were still fighting to enter decision-making spaces. The Committee was encouraged to recognise women with disabilities as a group which required special attention. Some speakers said it was troubling that stereotypes and stigmas continued to exist, particularly for women and girls who were participating in public life. Women and girl human rights defenders, activists and journalists were confronted with multiple forms of discrimination and in some cases gender-based violence. It was vital to create the necessary conditions for women and girls to participate in decision-making spheres. Access to education and technology for women and girls were vital steps in this regard.
No progress could be realized without the full participation of women, which was needed to reach the goals outlined in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
The world should be spurred to double its efforts to overcome social barriers. This ultimate goal could not be attained unless every layer of society was equally represented by men and women. This included issues such as budgetary allocations and access to public resources and services such as education, health and land, among others. Speakers were supportive of efforts which would contribute to the drafting of a General Recommendation on Equal and Inclusive Representation of Women in Decision-Making Systems.
Interpretation for the General Discussion ended at 5pm.
NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said gender bias was still an all-too-common mindset that permeated many aspects of culture. Despite important progress, decision-making systems reflected strict patriarchies. According to United Nations Women figures, it was estimated that gender equality in the highest positions of power would not be reached for 130 years. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only one year ago, only 26 of national parliamentarians worldwide were women. The Committee’s future General Recommendation on this matter would be pivotal in assisting States in complying with their legal obligations to women in decision-making roles. It was important to highlight the benefits of all society of women’s equal and inclusive representation in decision-making systems. It was time to take concrete action to change discriminatory systems and structures. Ensuring equal representation was more than a legal obligation; no meaningful social contract was possible without the representation of women and girls.
ANA PELÁEZ NARVAEZ, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked all those who had been involved in the constructive and fruitful discussion. Today’s discussion had not only provided the Committee with a wealth of information but also with a strong foundation upon which it could elaborate its General Recommendation on the equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems, which would hopefully contribute to strengthening gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world.
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