DR. ARUN KASHYAP: Partnerships on Political Leadership and Gender Equality

Dec 9, 2014




Steering Committee - Partnerships on Political Leadership and Gender Equality

9 December 2014



·       Honourable Julian Robinson Minister of State, Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy & Minerals;

·       Senior Women Leaders of Jamaica from the two important political parties;

·       We also have a women youth leader;

·       Representatives of Electoral Commission of Jamaica;

·       Chairperson, Ms. Dorothy Pine-McLarthy and Mr. Alvin Wint, Member;

·      My UN Colleagues; A very good morning to all of you!


I am delighted to be here with you all today and would like to welcome you to the Steering Committee Meeting on Political Partnership & Gender Equality. 


This is a transformational meeting; thank you for coming. Throughout the world, women and men have different opportunities for political participation.  When it comes to participation as elected officials and candidates in the electoral process, women on average make up only 21% of elected members of Parliament.


The issues of equality (the state of being equal in terms of quantity, rank, status, value, or degree) and equity (the social justice ramifications of development viz., fairness, justness, and distributive justice) are critical as we address the issues relating to gender equality especially in women’s leadership.  There is enough global evidence that validates the damaging attributes of inequality.  It is paradoxical that despite unequivocal evidence of equality as the fundamental basis for enhancing trust and social cohesion and therefore a thriving and an inclusive democracy, women worldwide have a minor presence in positions of political leadership. Wealth and income disparities resulting from such inequalities are a serious threat to social mobility, cohesion, political stability, good governance, and peace.  


In the 193 countries that are members of the United Nations, at any given time the number of women politically elected leaders worldwide has not exceeded twenty.  A Millennium Development Goals target aims to ensure that we have at least 30% women legislators by the end of 2015.  In Jamaica while we are privileged to have a woman as the Prime Minister, the 2011 data indicates that the accounted for 13.3% of the Parliamentarians.   Globally the average continues to be under 20%.


The MDGs that are lagging worldwide and also in Jamaica relate to maternal mortality and access to sexual and reproductive health.  Every day approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.   Importantly, issues such as maternal mortality and morbidity that have been considered simply as public health issues have to be increasingly understood as human rights challenges and issues of social justice.


There are several factors that contribute to gender inequalities in politics. Even though political parties promote women’s political empowerment in their campaign manifestos, most political parties are yet to incorporate gender equality in their policy documents.  The lack of party rules and regulations for identifying, selecting and nominating women candidates for leadership positions within the party and other positions of power and decision making. 


As a part of a Party’s advocacy strategy, it would be useful to publicise data on political parties’ compliance with national and international commitments for gender equality and women’s empowerment so that the electorate can take this information into account when deciding on their electoral choices. 


At the same time, institutions like the constitutional courts, electoral management bodies and tribunals and political party registrars and monitoring agencies should enforce the legal and policy provisions related to political participation and representation of women. 


While there is an important connection between political finance and gender equality, the ongoing debates on the subject rarely consider the impact of financial resources on the level of representation of both men and women in elected offices.  Parties seen as more inclusive in their leadership where both men and women have equal access to funding have a better opportunity to reach out to their constituents and broaden their base that can impact the vote-winning potential of a political party.  And, equally importantly, public funding of political parties need to be linked to the implementation of gender balance and gender-equality policies in parties. 


It is for the reasons in the preceding discussion that I term the meeting as transformational.  I am delighted that you are taking on a challenging subject of pursuing equality in women’s political participation and leadership through innovative and participatory approaches.  By making them operational, you will be setting an example for Jamaica and the Caribbean region, which would eventually percolate to the entire small island developing states.  As you diligently review the terms of reference and the composition of the Steering Committee kindly devote quality time to the nature and content of partnerships that would be vital to make gainful progress in advancing this important topic.


As we know in the patriarchal political structure, hard power, and aggressive rhetoric and actions define the ability to attack and defeat opponents.  You will need women power brokers, political leaders, and communications and media leaders who can assist in enhancing and eventually achieving gender equality in political leadership and lead the political structure towards intelligent arguments and deliberations to arrive at decision that strengthen inclusive development and social cohesion.  Consistent messaging, communication and dialog are central as is the need for a broad based network of people backing you; in its absence it could follow the path of the oft familiar tenet – out of sight, out of mind.


There is evidence that women-led councils lead to decisions that uplift communities.  In an example drawn from India decision making councils led by women were found to make potable water a priority for its constituents by over 60% compared to the councils led by their male counterparts.  And, from yesterday’s Gleaner’s cover story you would recall the two courageous women who worked with the faith based leaders to express their sexual preference openly in Jamaica in defense of their human rights.     


It would not be too implausible to extrapolate that a commitment to gender equality by political parties in Jamaica could catalyze less antagonizing politics, enhance equitable access to basic resources by large population and generate inclusive development and social cohesion.  To accomplish the unmet need of gender equality in political leaderships at local and national levels, it is necessary that men and women in the political parties work in a unified manner to achieve this objective.  It is only then will we be able to achieve the goal of Jamaica’s National Policy for Gender Equality in line with Vision 2030 Jamaica, viz., “a society marked by sustainable and humane development processes in which the rights of all persons are guaranteed and protected and where men and women enjoy equal access to opportunities, resources and rewards and where women are empowered to share equally in governance structures and decision making at the micro and macro levels of society.”


In his book Price of Inequality, Stiglitz emphasizes the need to implement Alexis de Tocqueville’s “self-interest properly understood” as a solution to reducing inequalities.  It implies “Paying attention to everyone else’s self interest, i.e. to the common welfare which becomes a precondition for one’s own ultimate well being.”

In closing, and for the women leaders, I would like to refer to the example of the farm girl that became Prime Minister of New Zealand and is now head of UNDP.  She believes women can do anything. It’s part of her belief system, and she’s living proof to support the rallying cry: Yes, we can.  Helen Clark - is also my boss.

Thank you!

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