Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 September 2019

More female leaders must stand up

Parliaments across the world must ensure they encourage women to stand and serve
The Federal National Council in session. Parliaments all across the world must do more to ensure women stand and serve. Fatima Al Marzooqi/ The National
The Federal National Council in session. Parliaments all across the world must do more to ensure women stand and serve. Fatima Al Marzooqi/ The National

The Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament, which ended yesterday in Abu Dhabi, was both a cause for celebration and a moment of reflection. A celebration because dozens of female speakers from around the world gathered to share ideas, discussing peace and security and their roles in their respective governments.

But also a moment of reflection because the number of women in government across the world still lags from where it ought to be, which is half. Of all the countries in the world, just two have parliaments in which women take up more than half of the seats – Rwanda and Bolivia. Scandinavian countries also do well, as do a number of African countries such as Mozambique and Namibia. The United States, which almost elected its first female head of state, languishes at 19 per cent, behind the UAE, at 23 per cent.

Comparisons are good, but everyone must do better. One of the topics discussed at the conference was ways to get more women into parliament. Margaret Mensah-Williams, chairwoman of the National Council of Namibia, suggested adding baby rooms to parliaments and discussed scheduling sessions early so that women could go home to their families.

Such changes are certainly controversial, but they must be discussed. The starting point for discussions must be how to get more women into parliament. If that means structural changes, then those need to be made. For example, late parliamentary hours are often cited as a reason why women who have families are reluctant to stand for parliament. Traditionalists will say that if women don’t want to work late hours, they should not become parliamentarians.

But late hours are bad for the family lives of both men and women. Of course some sacrifice is required – being in government is a privilege, after all – but as much as possible must be done to level the playing field so that all of those who wish to contribute can do so.

Having more women in parliament is not a “favour” for women. As the conference shows, the amount of talent on display is extraordinary. Those parliaments that are not actively considering how to get more women to stand and serve are missing out on a vast pool of talent – a pool that quite literally extends to an entire gender, or half the society.

Updated: December 13, 2016 04:00 AM

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