For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/WOM/475
Release Date:   7 March 2000
 Inter-Parliamentary Union Presents "Politics: Women's Insight"
Survey at Headquarters, 6 March

 NEW YORK, 6 March (UN Headquarters) -- Why do we need women in politics?  What difference does their presence make to politics and society in general?

 The Inter-Parliamentary Union put these questions to 187 women politicians from 65 countries. The interviewees represented the widest possible range of ideological and personal backgrounds. Their replies, as well as the life stories of a few women from each of the world's major regions and cultures, are prominently featured in the survey "Politics: Women's Insight" being presented by the Union today, 6 March, at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The presentation coincides with the meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which is evaluating the follow-up to the 1995 World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, and preparing for the celebration of International Woman's Day.

 The survey will be launched at an 11:15 a.m. Headquarters press conference with:  Sheila Finestone, Senator from Canada, Chairperson of the Inter- Parliamentary Union Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians and member of the Union Executive Committee; Angela King, United Nations Assistant Secretary- General, Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; and Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union

 The survey is based on extensive written interviews in which women politicians from all over the world speak frankly of their personal experiences as party members, parliamentarians or members of government, as well as of their vision of society. It clearly demonstrates the world's growing awareness that it takes two to achieve democracy. The survey reminds us that, as a saying from the Comoros puts it, "you cannot clap with only one hand". The survey supplements the women's replies to the interview questionnaire with a review of the world situation in terms of the presence of women in parliament and in government today, and in history. It, thus, offers what amounts to the full story of women's qualitative impact on political and electoral processes and practices, as well as on the welfare of society as a whole. It shows that a slow revolution in politics -- a revolution more or less pronounced depending on the culture concerned -- is in progress.

 Najma Heptulla, President of the Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Vice-President of the Rajya Sabha (Indian State Council), believes that "there is a greater participation of women today at all levels of decision-making and a greater commitment by governments to remove gender discrimination from the system. The feminist movement around the world has gathered momentum and it is encouraging to see that even men have come to accept women as equal partners in the progress of civilization".

 Describing the participation by women in the decision-making process as "an international priority", Ms. King, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, said the June Special Session of the General Assembly, which will review and appraise the Beijing Platform of Action, will reinforce the need for sustained action to ensure the advancement of women in all areas. She said, "the demand for equal participation by women in leadership and decision-making positions is not just a demand for simple justice, but a necessary condition for women's issues to be taken into account. Anything less than equality for women in this area is a "deficit of democracy" and we must work to ensure that there is equal participation with men. We can no longer exclude those who represent the interests and concerns of over half of the world's population from the corridors of power where decisions are made".

 For his part, Mr. Johnsson, Inter-Parliamentary Union Secretary-General, does not hesitate to affirm that wherever they are present in sufficient numbers to represent an embryonic political force, "women are beginning to initiate a change in the political environment and decision-making process and to influence the outcome of political activity". He nevertheless points out that "the political world, which is intrinsically conflictual, is still broadly unwelcoming to women. They have to fight hard for every inch of ground and their encounter with power politics, the constraints of party discipline and disparaging media coverage is often a bitter experience. Women have to learn the rules of the game and the language of politics while fully preserving their identity as women and avoiding the pitfall of demeaning imitation of their male counterparts. They are also engaged in a permanent 'balancing act', seeking to do political work without sacrificing their family life and incurring severe criticism for putting their political ambitions before the welfare of their children".

 The clash between politics and sexual stereotyping is not yet a thing of the past. The women politicians interviewed say that, while gender equality is generally embodied in the law, the obstacles and difficulties faced by women in politics are clear evidence that the principles of parity and equality in a democracy continue to be thwarted by well-established sets of rules and practices which have been developed in the absence of women. These difficulties cannot, however, be solely blamed on men: "women, too, may act against women's interests through being blinded by selfish interests and ambitions or overwhelmed by the divisiveness of politics".

 Because political life continues to be full of rivalries, the questionnaire responses were obtained and reproduced on the express condition that speaking freely would not create any difficulties for the persons concerned. This is why the authors of the survey chose to indicate only the region of origin and not the individual identity of the women interviewed. The data were analysed by: Marilyn Waring, formerly her country's youngest woman parliamentarian, now Associate Professor of Social Policy at Massey University, New Zealand; Gaye Greenwood, an expert in women's questions from the same country; and Christine Pintat, Assistant Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

 The authors would have preferred the "burden of proof" not to rest on women alone; it was quite clear to them that the same questions should be put to men. But the Inter-Parliamentary Union is aware that women are, in most cases, still expected to justify the need for and the efficacy of their participation in politics, and, in any case, the survey was devised to be debated by both men and women.

 The survey focuses, in 10 chapters, on ways in which the new style and new insights introduced by women makes a difference in politics. Another interesting feature, in the authors' view, is that the survey opens "a window seldom opened -- and in any case never yet opened so wide -- on the day-to-day experience of women holding political posts, their views of society and of the impact of relations between men and women on the conduct of politics, their hopes, the moral and material limitations they encounter and how they reconcile their political commitment with the demands of their private lives and their emotional life".

 The study was produced by the Union with the financial support of the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency.

 The Union was founded in 1889 and has its headquarters in Geneva. Its membership includes 139 affiliated national parliaments and 5 associated regional parliamentary assemblies. It promotes partnership between men and women as one of the cornerstones of democracy. In 1994 it adopted a Plan of Action to remedy existing imbalances in the participation of men and women in political life. The Union has a Liaison Office at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

 Interviews may also be conducted: In New Delhi, Najma Akbarali Heptulla, Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of India), President of the Inter-Parliamentary Council, tel.: (91 11) 301 7371/301 6391. In Geneva, Christine Pintat, Assistant Secretary General of the Inter- Parliamentary Union, Programme Officer of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians and Programme for the Promotion of Partnership between Men and Women, tel.: (41 22) 919-41-23/50

 Contact for information or interview requests: Luisa Ballin, Information Officer, Geneva, tel.: (41-22) 919-41-16 or 919-41-27, fax: (41-22) 919-41-60, e- mail: or New York: tel.: (212) 557-5880, fax: (212) 557-3954, e-mail:

 Or contact Elisabeth Ruzicka-Dempsey, Development and Human Rights Section, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.: (212) 963-1742, fax: (212) 963-1186 or e-mail:

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