Women in Power and Decision-Making
In commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8 and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) hosted a Capitol Hill breakfast briefing on “Women in Power and Decision-Making.” Panelists sought to explore the global role of gender, leadership, and decision-making in peace-building and military operations, as well as the practical impact of the Beijing Platform in the Middle East, Africa, and south Caucasus.
The event, which was hosted by the office of Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), drew a diverse crowd of nearly 40 congressional staffers, as well as representatives from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Congressional Research Service, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
IFES Board Member Irena Hadžiabdić, a Commissioner of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Central Election Commission, began the event by welcoming participants and reflecting on the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, which produced the Beijing Declaration and subsequent Beijing Platform for Action. The Platform committed nations to carry out concrete actions in such areas as health, education, decision-making, and legal reforms, with the ultimate goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in both public and private life.
Hadžiabdić also shared how the Beijing Declaration – in particularly, Strategic Objective G of the Platform, “Women in Power and Decision-Making” – has propelled IFES’ work to ensure men and women participate equally as leaders in political and electoral processes. With that, she turned the event over to IFES Senior Gender Specialist Jessica Huber, who moderated and introduced panelists Stephenie Foster, Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State; Robert Egnell, Senior Faculty Advisor at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security; Rola Abdul-Latif, Research Manager for IFES’ Center for Applied Research and Learning; and Anthony Bowyer, IFES Senior Program Manager, Caucasus and Central Asia.
Foster briefed participants on the role of the Office of Global Women’s Issues, and used specific country examples to highlight the Office’s work to improve the political participation of women and girls. Egnell discussed the strategic importance of gender equality in the military, as well as practical ways to secure its successful implementation (i.e., utilizing both a rights-based approach and one that offers concrete incentives for change).
The second half of the panel featured IFES representatives Abdul-Latif and Bowyer. Abdul-Latif used IFES polling data to highlight the challenges that women face in participating in political processes, including pronounced gender gaps in voter information, lagging support – in some cases, among both sexes – for women in political roles, and the enduring obstacles presented by cultural beliefs and social attitudes. Bowyer provided a passionate, personalized contextualization of the other panelists’ presentations, by sharing the stories of several Georgian women who are overcoming cultural barriers and displacement caused by conflict to become leaders in their community.
The panel concluded with several audience questions on how “lessons learned” from countries with strong political participation by women can be applied in other States, how women can be successfully integrated into the military, and IFES’ field work and survey data.