speech - Zonta International

Title: Equal participation in decision making positions: A human right to be respected
Women's empowerment and their full and equal participation in public life are
human rights issues that need to acknowledged and respected.
From the Universal declaration of Human Rights, articles 1, 16, 19 21 and 26 are
crucial to achieve full and equal participation in positions of power and decisionmaking. Among others, this declaration states that everyone has the right to take part
in the Government of his/her country. The empowerment and autonomy of women
and the improvement of women's social, economic and political status is essential for
the achievement of both transparent and accountable government and
administration and sustainable development in all areas of life.
Zonta envisions a world in which every woman is able to develop her full potential. A
world in which women have access to all resources and are represented in decision
making positions on the same level as men. A world in which no woman suffers from
Governments have made commitments to ensuring the realization of the Human
Right to full and Equal Participation in decision making positions at the Earth Summit
in Rio (1992), at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen (1995) and
at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul (1996) and yet in many countries we are far
from the goal.
At the European level, the European Commission adopted a Women’s Charter on 5
March 2010 and committed to strengthening gender equality in all its policies. And
although considerable progress has been achieved, gaps still remain: Women are still
 Under-represented in decision-making positions
 Concentrated in the lower-paid sectors of the labour market.
This is true in most EU Member States.
What holds women back from top jobs? Recent surveys reveal that the former
perception that women are not tough enough and that women don’t make as
good managers do not hold. The main reasons are that
Women are held to higher standards
Companies are not ready to hire/elect women leaders
Family responsibilities don’t leave enough time
Women don’t have sufficient connections or support
Women at all positions, also in leadership positions, excel at compromise, while men
excel at risk-taking. This is clearly illustrated by the numbers in this slide.
Realization of the full spectrum of human rights for women depends on women's full
and equal participation in decision-making. As an evaluation of the Beijing Platform
for Action is being undertaken, equal participation in decision making positions has
been identified as one of the 12 critical areas of concern.
Although this study has been the base for the work of the Open Working Group in the
preparation of the draft for the Sustainable development goals, equal participation in
decision making positions is not addressed directly in any of the 17 proposed
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There are 3 SDGs that might contribute in the positive direction:
Goal 4.
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long
learning opportunities for all
Goal 5.
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 8.
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and
productive employment and decent work for all
And of the 3, Goal no 5 is a pre-requisite for reaching any other goal.
As Zontians, we shall concentrate our efforts around the achievement of this
Development Goal no 5, by calling upon parents, educators, administrators, law and
policy makers to work on a transformative framework that
- Determines the root causes of gender inequality
- Addresses the structural impediments to gender equality
- Ensures the implementation of sound legislation that effectively addresses
gender inequality
We Zontians believe that the path forward is Prevention of the root causes through
education. And that equality can be achieved by
1. Increasing the level of non-discriminatory education AND
2. Guaranteeing women access to all resources and representation in decision
making positions on the same basis as men
Allow me please to elaborate these 2 items a little more.
1. To increase the level of non-discriminatory education we need
a) Laws and policies guaranteeing equal access to education for girls and boys
regardless of marital or parental status.
b) The adoption of a human rights-based approach through and in education:
Learning of human rights, Respect of human rights, Practice of human rights
within the education system.
2. To guarantee women’s access to all resources and representation in decision
making positions on the same basis as men:
There is no general agreement worldwide, neither in the EU about the most
effective way to achieve a more balanced representation on company boards.
The great majority of Europeans share the view that women should be equally
represented in company leadership positions. However, when given the
possibility to choose between different options to achieve gender balance on
company boards, Europeans’ opinion is divided with a slight preference for selfregulation, as you can see in the image.
This is where we are today and I look forward to the workshops and discussions
during this interdistrict seminar.
Let me finalize by thanking you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts
with you today. Thanks for all the efforts you have demonstrated and the
commitment to sustainable changes. If we want to achieve sustainable development,
we need to focus on specific and targeted initiatives and actions to achieve gender
equality. We – men and women – can not change the past. But it is our responsibility
to build the future – TOGETHER!
Maria Jose Landeira Oestergaard,
President, Zonta International & Zonta International Foundation