Women Deserve Equal Role in Decision-Making, Pillay Says

Women remain under-represented in politics and business and won’t be recognized as equal partners in decision-making without institutional change, said the United Nations’ top human-rights official.

“With too few women leaders in politics, and woefully insufficient numbers of women leaders in industry, women are not taking part in decisive discussions on how to respond to global crises,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement today. “Such exclusion is at our own peril -- the refusal to embrace gender equality has led to many scourges, one tragic example being the ferocious spread of HIV/AIDS.”

UN statistics show that women held only 19.3 percent of seats in single or lower houses of parliament worldwide as of last year and just 12 of the Fortune 500 companies have women at the helm. The European Union’s justice chief Viviane Reding said in a March 5 interview she may impose quotas to compel EU companies to add more women to their boards.

Some 13.7 percent of board seats in the 27-nation EU are filled by women after a 1.9 percentage point increase between October 2010 and January 2012, the European Commission said in a March 5 report.

While women produce 60 percent to 80 percent of the food in developing countries, they rarely have rights to the land they cultivate. Figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization show that only a fifth of landowners globally are women.

Structural and institutional changes would help ensure that women are recognized as equal citizens and equal partners in decision-making, said Pillay, speaking in Geneva on International Women’s Day.

“Meaningful participation requires that women are able to access relevant information and are empowered, through education and political access, to make contributions,” she said. “And by women, I am also referring to women from minority groups, poor, elderly, women with disabilities and otherwise vulnerable women. We must think about these women as legitimate rights-holders and future leaders.”

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