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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Europe leads on women's rights
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark
Few heads of government are women

A new report by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) shows Europe led the way in promoting political gender equality in 2002.

Seven Western European states were among 11 nations to reach a 1995 goal of having at least 30% of parliamentary seats taken by women.

But Sub-Saharan Africa had greater female representation in parliament than some of the world's leading economic powers, Unifem's latest two-year survey of global women's rights revealed.

Despite these gains, however, women still accounted for only about 14% of members of parliament worldwide in 2002.

Increasing women's share of seats in parliament is not a panacea - it can only level the playing-field

"There is much more to be done to ensure that women are accepted as equal partners in key decision-making processes," said Noeleen Heyzer, Unifem's executive director, at the launch of the report in New York.

"Real progress towards gender equality will be seen when women have more say in the decisions that affect their lives."

Parliamentary representation, Unifem said, was still the only indicator of advancement not tied to national wealth.

It noted that in a number of Gulf Arab states women had neither the right to sit in parliament nor even to cast a vote.


Unifem's report - Progress of the World's Women 2002 - measured countries against the target set by the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women for parliamentary representation.

Emily Pankhurst (1858-1928), British campaigner for women's political rights
Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, Costa Rica, South Africa, Mozambique - 30%
Rwanda - 25.7%, Uganda - 24.7%
US - 12%, France - 11.8%, Japan - 10%
Britain - 17.9%

Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands and Germany had all reached the 30% goal by the end of 2002 along with Argentina, Costa Rica, South Africa and Mozambique.

The organisation noted that states had met the target through quota systems.

It also pointed out that 13 developing countries in the sub-Saharan region - the poorest area on Earth - had higher proportions of women MPs than the US (12%), France (11.8%) and Japan (10%).

Of those Gulf states which have parliaments, neither Kuwait nor the United Arab Emirates give women the right to vote or stand for election.

Poverty trap

"Increasing women's share of seats in parliament is not a panacea," Unifem warns in its report.

"It can only level the playing-field on which women battle for equality."

On non-political indicators of gender equality, the old rule that the richer a country is, the better conditions for women still largely held in 2002, Unifem found after surveying education for girls, women's literacy and non-farm employment worldwide.

The UN organisation cited as a success its role in helping promote women's issues at the 2002 parliamentary election in Kenya.

Not only was the number of women MPs increased, but six women cabinet ministers were appointed - the first ever to take office - and a ministry for gender, sport and culture was established, Unifem said.

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