India 'only setback' in Asia for women's representatio

India 'only setback' in Asia for women's representatio

India was the only country in Asia which suffered a "setback" in women's representation in parliaments in 2016, a report by a global inter-parliamentary institution said on the eve of the International Women's Day.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union's (IPU) 'Women in Parliament in 2016: The year in review' released ahead of International Women's Day on March 8 said more ambitious measures and stronger political commitment are needed to enhance women's representation in parliament and keep apace with the significant progress achieved worldwide over the last decade.

The report calls for renewed momentum to ensure women's voices everywhere are included in the decision-making processes.

As in previous years, the report stressed that women's political empowerment cannot be taken for granted.

Outlining the regional grouping's performances, it said in Asia, women's representation in parliament increased by 0.5 per cent, from 18.8 per cent in 2015 to 19.3 per cent in 2016.

Increases, while moderate, were registered in all the countries holding elections - Iran, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea and Viet Nam - "with one notable exception" of India.

"India recorded the region's only setback. Reserved seats were successfully introduced for women in local government elections in 1994. However, a proposed constitutional amendment introduced in 2008 and intended to reserve national- level seats for women continues to be bogged down in parliamentary debate," it said.

Direct and indirect elections and Government appointments in June and July 2016 returned a total of 27 women of the 244 members of Rajya Sabha.    This was a 1.7 per cent decline in the number of women to 11.1 per cent from 12.8 per cent at the previous renewals.

The report said the worldwide average of women in national parliaments increased marginally from 22.6 per cent in 2015 to 23.3 per cent by the end of 2016.

Ten years ago, women held 16.8 per cent of parliamentary seats in the world – a 6.5 percentage point gain over the last decade.

However, the rate of progress has stabilised in the recent years, underlining the need for relentless efforts in order to achieve gender balance in politics.

"We must seize the opportunity to build on the successes of recent years because hard-won progress can often be fragile and readily lost, particularly at a time when engaging in politics has become even more challenging.

"Parliaments are crucial to ensuring women are among the world's most high-profile leaders and to strengthening the policies and legislation needed to meet the goal of gender equality and women's full and equal participation at all levels by 2030," IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong said. 

The slight increase in the number of women MPs contrasts with the higher rate of progress for women Speakers of Parliament, which has reached an all-time high, with 53 women heading a parliamentary chamber (out of the 273 posts globally).

Women hold now 19.1 per cent of all presiding officer posts in the world, an almost three-per-cent point increase since 2015. India is among the countries that has a women speaker in the Lower House of Parliament.

Nine new women Speakers were elected or appointed in 2016. The new Speakers of the Parliaments of the Syrian Arab Republic and Viet Nam made history last year, becoming the first women to be elected to that position in their respective countries.

The report added that the year 2016 showed once again that quotas, as they stand today, are clearly effective in delivering greater number of women in politics and ensuring a minimum level of women's representation in the parliament.

However, they do not always extend beyond the so-called "critical mass" of 30 or 35 per cent of women's seats in parliament, and remain difficult to adopt for various reasons.

The IPU report also highlights the misogynistic and sexist sentiments that permeate public and private spheres when women claim their space in politics, revealing the extent to which women still struggle every day to be considered legitimate political actors.

Efforts must be redoubled to address those factors that deter women from entering politics.

"It is time for more ambitious measures to take women's participation and political voice to the next level. A great deal has been achieved in the recent years, but more needs to be done to effectively embody gender equality and deliver it," Chungong said. 

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