leadership
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Where are the women?

This week, as world leaders join together in New York City for the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, there will be a serious lack in representation of women involved in the discussions. As highlighted in a recent article in the New York Times, most of the world failed to meet the goal, set in 1995, for at least a 30% representation of women in decision-making positions.

Some success has been achieved – for example, the global average of women in national parliaments increased from 11.3% in 1995 to 22.1% in 2015. However the growth lost significant momentum in recent years as the average only rose 0.3 percentage points in 2014. Why have we stalled in progress?

One thing is clear: There is no shortage of capable women.

There is, however, a shortage of success in achieving goals related to gender equality, including those related to maternal health, child mortality and gender parity in education. Perhaps a higher share of women in leadership positions would have strengthened the focus on gender equality on a more broader level, and maybe we would be closer to achieving the initial Millennium Development Goals.

To get women to lead we need more women leading.

There are a variety of sociological, historical and political factors contributing to the lack of women in leadership positions, one of which being that there are not enough existing women leaders paving the way for younger generations. I am fortunate to have strong female role models in my personal life. I also have women such as Samantha Power to look up to as a policy change-maker. But with only 10 of the 193 UN heads of state as women, who can young girls in the 183 countries look up to? I see how difficult it is for a woman to enter the political arena in the U.S. when Hillary Clinton is described as “nagging” and the media focuses on Carly Fiorina’s face, both current US Presidential candidates. I am both disgusted by these portrayals and disinclined to think, “I want to do that, too.”

Ultimately, it is frustrating that this goal was not achieved because we are not even aiming to have equal representation. Women make up over half of the world’s population and yet we cannot reach a 30% mark? I understand that it is the nature of democracy to move slowly but I would hope that so few women in decision-making positions would warrant urgency and swift action.

Additionally, as parliaments are all on varying election cycles, time is required.  But an imminent decision with the ability to create positive change is the next UN Secretary General. While not a democratic vote, UN leaders and members of the Security Council should use their voices to appoint the first female Secretary General. This decision would be a sign that world leaders are ready to take this injustice seriously.

I hope that this year, with the world’s focus on the new Sustainable Development Goals, the perspectives of women representatives like Maria Emma Mejia of Columbia and Maleeha Lodi of Pakistan will be amplified at the UN General Assembly. Furthermore, I hope that over the next 15 years increased women’s leadership will contribute to the success of all goals, not only those directly related to gender equality.

As diplomats, humanitarians and politicians are descending on NYC this week for the annual United Nations General Assembly I hope that they notice the severe gender imbalance in the room and start asking: where are the women?

Girls’ Globe will be reporting live at UNGA, focusing on events, discussions and issues pertaining to girls and women. Throughout the week, follow #GlobalGoalsLive and sign up to the Daily Deliveries for live coverage of key conversations and presentations related to women’s and children’s health and rights at the 70th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Illustration by Elina Tuomi.

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