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Let women lead in Asia
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Each year, International Women’s Day reminds us of the remarkable progress that has been made in the empowerment of women around the world. A century ago, just two countries in the world allowed women to vote. Today, there are more female heads of state, ministers and parliamentarians than ever.
Asia is not without
of female political leaders. Corazon Aquino was elected as the Philippines’ first female president in 1986. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize winning opposition leader in Myanmar, led the National League of Democracy to election victory in 1990, although the results were eventually overruled by the military junta. In 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra was elected Thailand’s first female prime minister at the age of 44.
But these are the exceptions. The political world in Asia remains dominated by men, and we need more women leaders who can broaden our political horizons.
There are certain strengths that women bring to the table that are important to leadership roles. In many countries around the world, women legislators have played a key role in passing progressive laws on domestic violence, employment, health care, social welfare and land reforms. As former Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye has
, this is partly because women leaders tend to be more collaborative and understand how to use the soft powers of persuasion and diplomacy in addition to the hard power of command. Perhaps we could draw inspirations from Lung Ying-tai, a female cultural icon and the newly-appointed cultural minister of Taiwan, who
that she wanted to be the defense minister so that she could spend the hefty military budget on increasing mutual understanding by throwing cultural events!
Asia stands out for its gap between female and male participation in politics and government. According to the UN report
The World’s Women in 2010
, the average proportion of women in parliament in the four subregions of Asia ranges from 14% in East Asia to 20% in Southeast Asia.
from the World Economic Forum show that, with the exception of Nepal, no Asian nations have reached the 30% mark for women participation in parliament and ministerial positions.
Governments can play a key role in bringing more women into political decision making. According to a recent UN report,
2011 - 2012 Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice
, at least 23 of the 28 countries that have reached or exceeded 30% female participation in parliaments have used quotas to boost the number of women legislators.
The Nordic countries were early pioneers in bringing more women into governments and legislatures. In the 1970s, political parties in Denmark, Sweden and Norway introduced voluntary gender quotas. Today, Sweden has among the highest percentage (45%) of women in parliament in the world, while other Nordic countries are also strong in this respect. Finland and Norway now have more female ministers than male ones. Nepal is one rare bright spot in Asia. In 2007, it passed the Interim Constitution which stipulated that at least one third of parliamentary election candidates must be women.
Of course, reserving quotas for women in government is far from what is needed to empower women politically. It can take a long time to change outdated gender views, not only among men but also among women themselves. But these quotas send an important signal to societies, and will stimulate change and encourage women to be more publicly visible. Together with other supportive policies, women can contribute much to the social well-being of Asia.
For more information, check out the
Global Gender Gap Index
in Google’s Public Data Explorer.
posted by Andy Yee, Policy Analyst at Google
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