Establishing Gender Equity in the Asia-Pacific Region

September 17, 2012
By Doug Gavel

The glass ceiling keeping women out of most elected offices in Asia-Pacific is also retarding economic, social and cultural forces that could help generate development in the region. That is the finding by researchers who compiled data for a new report, "Gender Equality in Elected Office in Asia Pacific: Six Actions to Expand Women’s Empowerment," authored by Pippa Norris, Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.

"The Asia-Pacific region continues to confront major challenges in actualizing gender equality in education and the labor market, in social policies, healthcare, and reproductive rights, as well as in the home and care of dependents," the report states. "Some issues face women and men equally. However, women of all ages are particularly vulnerable to problems arising from lack of access to land, credit and decent paid work, poverty within single parent households, gender-based violence, female infanticide, sex trafficking, lack of marital and inheritance rights, access to justice as well as the challenges of sexual assault and rape in war-torn societies. Development cannot be effective if decision-making excludes 51% of the world’s population."

The report, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) lays out a six-point action plan which countries can use to increase gender equality in decision-making roles throughout the Asia Pacific region. The plan calls for:

  • Embodying basic civil rights for women in national constitutions;
  • Ensuring that electoral systems and party laws guarantee equal access to voting booths and elected offices for women;
  • Utilizing legal quotas in certain cases to guarantee a minimum number of seats for women in important political institutions;
  • Using party rules and procedures to ensure that sufficient numbers of qualified women are recruited for and support in runs for public office;
  • Building and supporting the initiatives necessary to build the capacity of potential women leaders in the pipe-line, and to strengthen their skills once in office;
  • Reviewing internal parliamentary procedures to ensure the enforcement of gender-sensitive policies throughout national elected bodies

"In all these initiatives, National Action Plans should be developed and published to establish clear targets, to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of gender equality policies, and to disseminate and share lessons learned from these experiences," the report concludes. "Through implementing these types of initiatives, it is hoped gender balance will gradually be achieved in all areas of political leadership and public life, strengthening women’s rights and deepening the quality of democracy."

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Pippa Norris

Pippa Norris, Paul F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics

"Women of all ages are particularly vulnerable to problems arising from lack of access to land, credit and decent paid work, poverty within single parent households, gender-based violence, female infanticide, sex trafficking, lack of marital and inheritance rights, access to justice as well as the challenges of sexual assault and rape in war-torn societies," writes Norris.