Forum: General Assembly 3
Issue: Establishing platforms for greater expression for women and minority groups
Student Officer: Varshini Jayakumar
Position: Deputy Chair
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognizes the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings without distinction of any kind. This reaffirms equal rights for women and minorities. There is no agreed definition that incorporates all possible groups that may be considered minority groups, but the term can be understood to generally correspond to people belonging to groups in the non-dominant position that includes, migrants, stateless persons, victims of forced displacement and persons with disabilities. Establishing platforms for greater expression and fair representation of all groups is vital to ensure that their rights are protected. Moreover, increasing representation of woman and minorities in politics has the potential to improve the efficiency of government, in terms of limiting corruption, and promoting development by ensuring the participation of all disadvantaged groups present in society.
Political participation of women and minority groups has been an issue for many years and the international community is still discussing this subject. The fact that these groups continue to be marginalized from political institutions, even in the 21st century, highlights the domination of the majority groups in the political sphere. This issue has been a challenge to societies for a long period of time. This is one of the reasons why there are many institutions within the scope of the United Nations that are attempting to tackle this issue. It is possible to pursue the perception and the evaluation of female and minority participation in the political sphere via the international provisions regarding this topic.
Definition of Key Terms:
Inclusive Political Participation
Political participation of different minority groups that is not limited to only voting and representation in parliaments but also active participation in the political sphere.
Minority groups refer to groups of people in society that are relatively disadvantaged compared to the people present in the dominant social group.
Socio-economics is the study of how economic activities affect and are shaped up by social activities. It generally analyzes how societies develop because of their different levels of economies.
Political PartyA political party is a group of people, usually with multiple common views of society that are organized together and contest in elections so as to gather power in the government.
Vienna Declaration and Program of Action
The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action was adopted on 25 June 1993. It was the outcome of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. This document is vital in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights with an emphasis on fundamental freedoms.
Women and minority groups continue to struggle to take part in the decision-making process as a result of the lack of economic resources and poverty. They are challenged by their socio-economic status, which in some cases is the cause of them earning less while having to prioritize the needs of their families and relatives. Lack of proper education and leadership training, especially in rural areas; hinder the ability of women and minorities to fully participate in the political sphere. For example, the indigenous Batwa people have very limited access to educational opportunities. As a result, they have an extremely low literacy rate. Consequently, these people earn well below the average per capita income of $200 USD.
Lack of identification
Lack of identification is one of the most common obstacles faced by women and minorities with regards to voting. Lack of identification can be a result of racial suppression, inability to pay state identification fees, or illiteracy that hinders the ability of minorities in properly filling out the paperwork required to obtain an identification card. Beyond the lack of identification, the actual act of physically voting can be a huge burden to those living in areas that are impoverished. In most third world nations, polling stations are limited and the distance needed to reach a polling station from a rural area is a burden on the families residing in the area. Electoral fraud, that includes vote buying, intimidation, vote rigging, intentionally spreading misinformation, and confusing or misleading ballots, is also a serious problem in many countries, especially those with transitional governments.
Culture of Political Parties
The culture of political parties can prove to be a major obstacle to the involvement and representation of women and minorities in the government. Political parties decide matters of candidate selection, and their decision-making bodies are often mostly composed of members of the majority groups in a nation. As the internal hierarchy and procedures of many political parties can be quite uncompromising, women and minorities can find it very difficult to overcome institutional obstacles and achieve positions of any significant political importance. For instance, Lebanese women gained suffrage in 1952, however, only 2.3 per cent of the parliament is composed of women. In general, political parties tend to marginalize both the struggle and the voices of women and minorities, making it quite difficult to increase participation levels.
Major Parties involved:
United States of AmericaIn the United States of America, even if both two major political parties have quota applications, quotas for women and minority groups in elected positions have never been evaluated within the scope of the political agenda. Nevertheless, a possibility of having a female president in the 2020 elections is creating an active debate in the country.
Russia and Commonwealth of Independent StatesRussia and CIS are still having an irregular progress. Generally, women and minority groups are not included in policy and security issues and they are not allocated in the high levels of the political sphere. The progress is slow but in terms of political representation of women, there are reforms being introduced regarding the empowerment of women.
AfricaAs a result of constitutional quotas and institutional changes, African countries saw a great progress regarding the issue. 12 countries in Africa have elected more than 30 women to their lower or single houses; five have elected more than 40%, and one has elected more than 60%. Four of the world’s top 10 countries, in terms of women’s share of single or lower houses of parliament, are in Sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda, with 63.8%; Seychelles, with 43.8%; Senegal, with 42.7%; and South Africa, with 41.5 per cent.
Evaluation of Previous attempts:
Various resolutions have been adopted in order to encourage Member States to promote political participation and representation of disadvantaged groups. In 1990, the UN Economic and Social Council adopted Resolution 1990/15, which urges “governments, political parties, trade unions, and professional and other representative groups to adopt a 30 per cent minimum proportion of women in leadership positions, with a view to achieving equal representation.” Additionally, in 1992, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UN Minorities Declaration) that grants minorities the right to participate in decisions which will affect them at the national and/or regional levels. Furthermore, the General Assembly adopted A/RES/58/142 (2003), which expresses the importance of ensuring that women are given equal opportunity in reconciling their familial and professional responsibilities. It also stresses the importance of developing programs that will educate women with regards to skills such as campaigning techniques and public speaking, in an effort to provide potential female candidates with the tools to overcome institutional as well as cultural barriers to their participation in politics. In 2011, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/130, which calls for the removal of barriers that discriminate against women directly or indirectly, and to take important measures that will encourage them to participate in all levels of the decision-making process.
In addition to these instruments, the international community has established multiple programs specific to gender rights issues, most notably the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known simply as UN Women, adopted through UN General Assembly Resolution 64/289 in 2010. The organization is committed to promoting women’s leadership and political participation. UN Women provides civic education for voters as well as sensitization campaigns on gender equality for female political candidates. UN Women encourages women’s fair access to political spheres as voters, candidates, elected officials and civil service members through legislative and constitutional reforms. Working in tandem with UN Women is the United Nations Girl Up program, which attempts to empower young girls by providing them with opportunities to become global leaders by channelling their energy to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs that assist some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls.
The United Nations must support the effective participation of persons belonging to minorities by ensuring their participation in the development and evaluation of UN programmes, through civil society advisory or consultative bodies to the United Nations. The UN needs to promote their participation in decision-making through inclusion in public and political life, at the international, national, regional or local level, particularly through advisory bodies. Affirmative action programmes need to be put in place to increase access for persons belonging to minorities to jobs and internships or fellowship programmes.
Efforts should be made to ensure access to the United Nations work by minority groups, including making information available in minority languages, Ensure ownership by minorities through participation, ensure the participation of persons belonging to non-dominant groups in programme planning and analysis of situations affecting women and children and promote joint initiatives with minority organizations.
Equitable participation and representation of women and minorities in government is not a far-fetched dream, but it also cannot be done easily. Incessant efforts are needed to fully achieve this goal of equity. Denying or limiting the role of women and minorities in the process of governance is not only an affront to the rights of such individuals but also a threat to development and good governance programs.