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Women hold just 18 percent of parliament seats - Inter-Parliamentary Union report

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UNITED NATIONS – Women hold just over 18 percent of the seats in parliaments around the world, a 60 percent increase since 1995 but a long distance from equality with men in national legislative bodies, the Inter-Parliamentary Union said Thursday in its annual report card.

“We still feel that progress is slow,” said Senator Pia Cayetano, the president of the IPU committee of women parliamentarians, stressing that on average fewer than one in five legislators is a woman.

“The challenges that women face in accessing politics are immense,” she told a news conference. “Prejudices and cultural perceptions about the role of society are among the greatest obstacles to women’s entry.”

During 2008, parliamentary elections and renewals took place in 54 countries and women’s representation increased to 18.3 percent – up from 17.7 percent last year and 11.3 percent in 1995, the IPU report said.

The UN Economic and Social Council had set a target of having a minimum of 30 percent women lawmakers in all parliaments by 1995. The UN women’s conference in Beijing in 1995 noted that little progress had been made in achieving that target, and the IPU and many women’s groups started promoting the election of female legislators.

According to the IPU, 15 percent of parliamentary chambers reached the 30 percent goal for the first time in 2008. That translates to 39 out of 264 chambers in 32 countries.

Forty percent of those chambers are in Europe, 33 percent in Africa and 23 percent in Latin America, the report said. At the other end of the spectrum, however, 25 percent of parliamentary chambers have less than 10 percent women members and Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Micronesia have never had a woman parliamentarian.

“It is unfortunate that we are not seeing progress being made across all parliaments of the world,” IPU President Theo-Ben Gurirab said in a statement. “While there were some impressive gains made in 2008, particularly in Africa, where Rwanda’s lower house elected a majority of women members, more needs to be done in those countries where women are largely absent from decision-making bodies.”

Rose Mukantabana, speaker of Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies which is the only body to have a majority of women members – 56.3 percent – told reporters that the high female representation is the result of a quota of 30 percent of seats set aside for women and the large number of widows in the country following the 1994 genocide.

“We represent more than 50 percent of the whole population,” she said of women, explaining that many were killed in the mass slaughter. “After the genocide, (women) are more engaged in the public arena than in the past. Because of our culture, in the past, women were not prevalent in public life.”

Of the 2,656 seats that went to women in 2008, the IPU said 1,707 women were directly elected, 878 were indirectly elected and 71 were appointed.

Latin American women registered “some impressive gains,” taking a 26.5 percent share of seats in the 12 chambers that were renewed – largely due to the success of women candidates in Cuba, Belize and Grenada, the IPU report said.

In the United States, both houses of Congress elected their highest proportions of women members – 17 percent in each chamber, the report said. But that still ranks the US below the global average.

Europe, with Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands ranked in the top five countries for women in parliament, sustained its “consistent pace of progress” with gains in Belarus, Spain, Macedonia, Monaco and France’s upper house, but drops in women’s representative in Romania, Malta and Serbia, the report said.

The IPU said African countries continued to make strides in 2008.

“Asia has registered the slowest rate of progress in terms of women’s access to parliament over the past 15 years, reaching a regional average of 17.8 percent,” the IPU said.

It cited significant gains in Nepal where women took 32.8 percent of the seats, a contrast to Iran where women won just 2.8 percent of seats.

In the Arab world, women took just over nine percent of seats, but the lowest percentage of women – less than four percent on average – was in the Pacific island nations, the IPU said. – AP

BELIZE AND GRENADA

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL

FINLAND AND THE NETHERLANDS

IPU

WOMEN

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