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women in politics - successes, failures and challenges

ICJW co-sponsored this event at CSW60 with the Permanent Missions of Israel, Albania and the Parliament of Fiji, the League of Women Voters, NGO CSW/NY, the World Jewish Congress, and PPSEAWA International. Madeleine Brecher & Fran Butensky report.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2016 was “Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. In order to achieve this goal, women’s political empowerment is key. The panelists from Israel, Fiji and Albania examined how to overcome the barriers facing women in achieving political participation and decision making parity.

Welcoming Remarks  -  H.E. Ambassador Danny Danon, Israel 

Ambassador Danon thanked the large crowd attending and said that Israel is committed to equal opportunity for women and men, Golda Meir’s legacy to her country. While Israel has made some progress toward that goal, with a woman as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and head of the Bank of Israel, only 32 of the 126 members  of Parliament are women.  Like all the other nations, they still have a long way to go to reach 50/50.

Moderator  -  Rosalee Keech, League of Women Voters

Rosalee listed some of the barriers to women’s participation in government: war, civil unrest, the time factor because they must care for the children and family, patriarchal cultures, jealousy, old stereotypes about women, and a negative response from the media. However, when women are in the mix, they change government in a positive way. Rosalee added insightful comments and questions to be addressed by the three speakers. “Empowering women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do” has become a positive chant for women advocates.

Israel  -  H.E. Gila Gamliel, Minister for Social Equality

Minister Gamliel is Israel’s first minister dedicated to gender equality. She is working toward Israel’s vision of equal rights for all regardless of gender, age and race. When women hold high positions in government and the public and private sectors, it’s a win-win situation for them, society and security. The government realizes that women should not be treated differently than men and is working to narrow that gap. To that end, Minister Gamliel has initiated a new system within the budget process whereby every department must submit an accounting of exactly how much money is designated for women.Another of her goals is to see more involvement of Arab women in society.

Fiji  -  Hon. Dr. Jiko Fatafehi Luveni

Dr. Luveni is the elected speaker of the Fiji Parliament. She is a trained dentist who dreamed of becoming a politician. Through an HIV project that she ran in Fiji, she traveled all over the island nation and created a strong link with the people. That is how she was able to break into politics. There are now 58 violence free communities in Fiji where men and women are working together on committees and establishing a relationship that values the women’s contribution. The Parliament has created Welfare to Work programs, pensions for 68+, Women Supporting Women programs, education programs to learn about the government and the Parliament, even opportunities to meet the Speaker of Parliament. Additionally, Fiji has created a gender budget and has an activist linked with communities which creates important leadership training opportunities. The programs Dr. Luveni discussed are a fine step in the direction of a 50/50 island State. She too talked about barriers women face with balancing domestic and public life and how to do it all. It’s an issue globally. Often women do not support other women and refuse to act as mentors, and a very major issue is that women haven’t the self-confidence due to the culture and so, refrain from accepting challenges in the public sphere. Things have come easier for her because her husband does all the housework which got a big laugh from the largely female audience. We chatted with Dr. Luveni as we were leaving and she is a most charming, approachable leader; one understands how she has met with many successes in her recent political career.

Albania  -  Ervin Nina, Charge d’affaires a.i.,  Albanian Mission to the UN

Mr. Nina added the male perspective to the panel. He cited statistics relating to the involvement of women in Albania’s government over the past 20 years. Apparently, this was not something that made the government proud. They needed to remedy the situation and in 2008, they passed a law that called for at least 30% of women to hold high political positions. This affirmative action step guaranteed representation of both genders’ involvement.

 

He believes that they are on the right path and that empowering women is the right thing to do. There have been many barriers that women have had to overcome: One is the negative media who project women as family first with no time for involvement in politics. Wrong!

 

Women are capable of achieving the right balance between domestic and public life. Women have changed the adage of “The Old Boys Club”. Women do things for women. They bring a different perspective that has brought changes to discussions and cooperation between parties on issues involving sexual harassment laws.

 

Gains have been made because women are encouraged to speak out and their strong voices are being heard. Today we have seen a commonality regardless of country on how women can achieve parity. In Israel, there is still a problem with religious parity because women are not able to participate and it throws off the balance to achieve 50-50. However, women’s roles in the army can actually be a leveller in support of their gain in political organizations.

 

Everyone goes into the army but women needed to pave the way and prove that they could use this as a stepping-stone into the political arena. Politicians can and do hear the voices of NGOs. Some of the issues pushed by NGOs include: breast feeding at work, equal pay for women and harassment in the work place. It is very important to encourage women’s organizations to speak out at the UN.