JAPAN -- Japan's foregin minister Makiko Tanaka is being viciously sabotaged by her vice-minister and other people on her staff because she is a woman in a man's job. Female ministers in Japan and, for that matter, in Korea do not last very long in their jobs. In Korea, for example, a female minister was forced to resign because she allegedly cried too often and kept her hands in her pockets on formal occasions.

Why is Tanaka being humiliated and undermined not only by her own staff but also by the Japanese press? Tananka's outspokenness and level of authority upsets the male politicians' acute sensibilities which have to be gently fanned and finely tuned in the hallowed halls of the Ministry, where female ministers rarely survive if they are not wilting flowers that are seen and not heard. It is virtually impossible for female ministers to speak with more authority, even about pressing issues, than their male counterparts.

In both Japan and Korea there is always a vicious political backlash being circulated to discredit the female minister's ability for the job. It is such a tired old ploy. When are the male politicians of both countries going to move out of the 15th century and into the 21st century and support their female ministers on the world stage? The rest of the world is waiting. (THE KOREA HERALD, November 27, 2001)

KOREA -- Given the challenge around women's representation here in Korea, quite a lot of emphasis needs to be on what are the practical things that can be done to help advance the cause of the greater involvement of women in political institutions here,'' said Heather Rabbatts, chief executive of the London-based iMPOWER company.

During the seminar held at the National Assembly in Seoul, she encouraged women's participation -- and ways in which women's views are communicated -- in government at both the national and local level. She also stressed the need for women to get involved more.

I gave them practical pointers, if you like about how they can network and how they can share their experiences,'' said Rabbatts. Above all, how important it is to change the political institutions.'' Rabbatts shared many of her own experiences in local politics. Before assuming her position at iMPOWER, she was the former Chief Executive of Lambeth in 1995, one of the largest boroughs in London. Once touted as a possible mayoral candidate, her task was to get the borough out of crisis and root out the corruption. Lambeth had become infamous for being the most fraudulent, corrupt and worst performing local authority in the country,'' said Rabbatts. I was brought in to sort it out.''According to Rabbatts, because of the near collapse of party politics in London, many people had taken notice of how she tried to lead change in Lambeth and saw that as a mayoral approach. When the Labor Government introduced the idea of a mayor for London, quite a few people asked her if she would stand.

In addition to talking about her own experiences in politics, Rabbatts also looked at how in securing women's involvement in political institutions there are numerous advantages.
There's a World Bank report that's just been produced which shows that the more women are involved in political institutions, the greater their success at increasing their GDP (gross national product), but also correlates with a decline in corrupt and fraudulent behavior at government levels,'' explained Rabbatts.

With local autonomy restored to the Republic of Korea in 1991, after a 30-year suspension by authoritarian governments, the country has become increasingly democratized and the role of NGOs has also significantly increased. Nonetheless, the appalling number'' of women represented in government embarrassed Rabbatts. Of the 275 seats in the National Assembly, women hold only 16 seats. Likewise, women's participation in local government is similarly low.

This has to change or South Korea will lag behind other countries. Although many Korean women now work, most are in junior positions or in traditional teaching or caring roles. The government now promotes equal opportunities and has appointed a Minister of Gender Equality to represent women's interests. In addition, there are also many active women's groups and organizations. Clearly the women at the seminar got a sense of solidarity by just being in the room together,'' said Rabbatts. After the seminar they could go back to their areas of endeavor with a renewed sense of energy. (Korea Times, November 24, 2001)

INDIA, NEW DELHI -- It's the classic catch 22, say irate women parliamentarians. The Women's Reservation Bill will never see the light of day if the government has its way, the prime minister's assertions notwithstanding.

The MPs are astounded that the Bill, hanging fire since 1996, has not even been listed for discussion in the current session of Parliament. A livid Margaret Alva of the Congress says: "You can't say you want a consensus and do nothing about it, not take the initiative. This government wants to avoid the issue altogether."

While Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party have openly opposed the move to reserve 33 per cent seats in Parliament and state assemblies, seeking a further quota in this for women belonging to backward classes, some constituents in the ruling National Democratic Alliance also oppose the Bill. Government officials admit that some allies in the NDA have been equally eager to create bottlenecks, though not as overtly. Alva, whose party is supporting the Bill, calls for a vote on the issue. "Let them bring the Bill for discussion and then talk about a consensus. There are enough voices in Parliament supporting the Bill to see it passed. Jayaprada, who brought up the issue in House on Thursday, takes a softer line, but agrees that the government seems to lack will on the controversial piece of legislation. "At least bring it up for discussion. The government is just not interested." Her party is one NDA ally that has been vocal in its support for the Bill.

The MPs also reject the quota within the quota concept. "Women are saying, don't divide us further," says Alva. The others nod in agreement. The government has so far shrugged in elaborate helplessness, putting the onus on other parties. Asked earlier this year about the Bill, the Human Resource Development had said the government hoped to bring it in the monsoon session of Parliament. The monsoon session, however, too passed without the Bill seeing the light of day. A cagey BJP admits the quota Bill could be more incendiary than even the Prevention of Corruption Ordinance. Asked why the party was not being as proactive on this Bill as on POTO, BJP spokesman and party chief whip in Lok Sabha V.K. Malhotra said: "There won't be as much noise on POTO as there will be on the Women's Bill." (The Times of India, November 24, 2001)

KENYA -- I hope the good and faithful women of Kenya were keeping up with the debate last week on their country's nominations to the East African Legislative Assembly. I certainly did. Not that it did me any good. It was like that toothache thing. It pains you every time you touch the bad tooth, but you can't help poking at it every now and then. You flinch at the agony of it, but it's a pain that is quickly forgotten. And so you keep repeating the experiment. I guess there's something of a masochist in those of us who stick out their necks on women's rights.

This is not entirely unexpected, of course, Kenya having the least representation of women in Parliament - or anything political - in the East and Central Africa region. We have only nine women in Parliament when a country as young as Eritrea has 22. Kenyan leaders with any conscience should be ashamed of ranking last on a matter such as this.

Thirty-eight years of independence plus hosting the End of Women's Decade Conference in 1985 into the bargain, and we are still reneging on promises made to women. We routinely send large delegations to UN conferences on women, at massive cost to the taxpayer, and cabinet ministers still get up in Parliament and attempt to force right-thinking Kenyans to go along with amendments to reduce women's representation in matters officially approved.

One of the lessons coming out of the parliamentary debate was that a significant number of youthful politicians in Kenya have the right handle on the place of women in our society. And they are ready to stand up for what they believe in. But some of our leading hawks clearly think women are good for just one thing. Take the case of Assistant Minister Yusuf Haji. He reportedly told Parliament during the heated debate, generated by Kanu's refusal to nominate a second woman to meet Kenya's quota of three, that guys in his party loved women so much that they shared beds with them.

Honestly. Here was Parliament debating representation in the regional legislature and the assistant minister could think no higher than the waistline! Someone ought to give this man a drubbing in the next General Election. And then there was the exchange between Trade and Industry Minister Nicholas Biwott and Gichugu MP Martha Karua. In response to a question as to whether he had vested interests in the nominations, he suggested she wanted to become part of his household. She hit back with a reference to bloated households and the small matter of being vertically challenged. Deputy Speaker Joab Omino ruined the effect when he said: "I now ask Members to keep their amorous intentions out of the House."

I would like to have been a fly on the wall in Kampala and Dar es Salaam as the leaders of those countries read Friday's newspapers. They have cause to wonder exactly what they are getting themselves into. They rose above this man-woman thing so long ago that we might be from different planets. Tanzanians have not only committed themselves to quotas to boost women's representation in Parliament and local authorities since the 1970s, but those quotas have systematically been raised through the decades. Right now, they stand at 20 per cent for Parliament and 30 per cent for local authorities.

Indeed, Tanzanians can be said to have internalised respect for women's rights so well that it is news when a party has no women in its leadership. It is a legacy, they will tell you, largely bequeathed them by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. There are 60 women in the current Parliament and at least four Cabinet ministers.

To the west, the Ugandans are the only country in Africa with a female vice-president. They have 71 women in parliament and a myriad others in local authorities. Even President Yoweri Museveni's bitterest foes will tell you that he has done well in terms of entrenching women's rights in his country's psyche.

In contrast, gender dimensions of political leadership in Kenya are treated much like a game of musical chairs. Before 1978, they were as good as non-existent; since then, it's been a case of two steps forward and 1.9 backwards.

Lucy Oriang' is the Deputy Managing Editor, 'Daily Nation'. Email: [email protected] (Africa News, November 26, 2001)

INDIA -- Former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto called on India's main opposition leader Sonia Gandhi Sunday amid a flurry of high-profile meetings in New Delhi on ways to improve relations between the South Asian nuclear-armed rivals. The 48-year-old Bhutto drove to the opposition leader's barricaded 10 Janpath residence and met Gandhi, 55, for talks on a "series of issues," officials from her Congress party said.

Bhutto, who became the first woman to head the government of a Muslim-majority state when she was sworn as Pakistan's prime minister in 1988, said she hoped to improve "people-to-people" contact between India and Pakistan during her talks with Italian-born Gandhi. "They met for an almost an hour," a Congress official said as the two women dressed in traditional South Asian ankle-length silk suits met behind closed doors in Gandhi's home, considered one of India's main centres of political power.

Gandhi is the widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by a woman suicide bomber in May 1991. They were married in 1968 and Sonia discarded her Italian nationality 16 years later to become an Indian citizen just after her mother-in-law and then prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by two Sikh police guards in October 1984.

Sonia led a reclusive life for six years after her husband's death but in 1998 she became the eighth person of foreign origin to be elected president of the 114-year-old Congress party, which is the largest opposition party in India's 545-seat parliament.

Bhutto, who had met Rajiv Gandhi during her two separate tenures as premier, spent six years in prison or under detention in the preceding decade of political battles in Pakistan. Bhutto's elected administrations, however, supported campaigns by Islamic groups demanding an end to Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir. Both Bhutto and her successor Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by General Pervez Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, were charged with corruption in Pakistan.

Just before she met Gandhi, Bhutto urged India to use its warming influence with the United States to pressure Islamabad's military regime to restore democracy. Bhutto, on a private visit here, told Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani that she expected New Delhi to pressure the US and other world powers to push for a return of democracy in Pakistan. In an interview with the SAB private TV station she also urged India and Pakistan to shun hostilities.

"The world is moving in one direction and if India and Pakistan continues to squabble with each other, we can end up being marginalised. We owe too much to the people of South Asia to allow that to happen," she said. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, since their independence from Britain in 1947. (Agence France Presse, November 25, 2001)

FRANCE -- French legislation designed to provide equal access for men and women to political office will apply to the country's next general elections in 2002. All the political parties from both ends of the spectrum are facing the problem of presenting enough female candidates to escape heavy financial sanctions and managing the outgoing parliamentary deputies. Michele Alliot-Marie, chairwoman of the RPR, says she aims to finance 40 per cent of female candidates, and that political office gives women real problems in terms of day-to-day organisation of their lives. Caroline Cayeux, the mayoress of Beauvais, who was elected in March, nevertheless aspires to national office. (Le Monde, November 25, 2001)

CHILE -- Chile has one of the worst records in Latin America for the percentage of women lawmakers in national parliament, and is set to slide even further in the ranking because there are fewer female candidates running in the Dec. 16 legislative elections than there were in the balloting four years ago.

"Every time there is an election this problem resurfaces, and grows worse. It shows that the male sector is not willing to give up any political space," Rosa Ferrada, co-director of the non-governmental Movement for the Emancipation of Chilean Women (MEMCH), told IPS.

On Dec. 16, voters will decide who will fill the 120 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Of the 420 candidates in the running in 60 districts, just 58 are women. In the last legislative elections, in December 1997, there were 81 female candidates for posts in the lower house. The electorate will also choose among candidates running for 18 of the 38 senatorial seats. Just two of the 46 aspirants are women.

Women hold eight percent of the seats in the Chilean parliament today, and that portion is likely to shrink in the Chamber of Deputies after the upcoming elections. The situation in the Senate cannot become any worse because the only two women currently serving in that chamber hold seats that are not up for election until March 2006.

According to the annual Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Chile's relatively high ranking for social and economic progress is contradicted by the scarce presence of women in public office. In the UNDP's report this year, Chile ranked 39th of all the countries studied, but on the list based on the index of gender empowerment, which includes an assessment of women's participation in politics, the country fell to 49th.

On Nov. 5, for the first time in Chilean history, women became part of the Supreme Court of Justice. After remaining an all-male enclave throughout its 171 years of existence, the maximum tribunal swore in its first female justice and its first female chief prosecutor. The progress made in the Judiciary stands in contrast to the meager space women have gained in the legislative branch. President Ricardo Lagos, meanwhile, named five women to ministerial posts in his administration.

"The parties lack the political will to halt the exclusion of women. The internal disputes about naming women candidates are enormous," said Ferrada, head of the MEMCH citizenship training programme.

Ximena Zavala, director of the non-governmental Women's Institute, pointed out that in this regard there are no major differences between the governing centre-left 'Concertaci n por la Democracia' coalition and the opposition Alliance for Chile, a right-leaning coalition.

The tiny Humanist Party, which holds no parliamentary seats, has the largest portion of women candidates with 21.4 percent. The governing and opposition coalitions and the Communist Party, which does not have parliamentary representation, all have smaller percentages of female candidates for the lower house. Ferrada and Zavala say this is a clear indication that women are under-represented in the political sphere, though they make up 52 percent of the electorate.

The Women's Institute launched a campaign based on the slogan "Think women, vote women", urging the electorate to back the few female candidates in the running, or the male candidates who have worked to end gender inequalities. The women activists said that one of the factors behind the exclusion of women from politics is the electoral system itself, which was enacted in the later years of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990). Each one of the 60 districts represented by the deputies and the 19 senatorial districts elect two people parliament, regardless of the number of inhabitants in each jurisdiction.

This system favors the majority and the "big minorities" that are united in coalitions or electoral pacts, and excludes small parties, like the Humanists or Communists, which, realistically, could only win seats in parliament in an electoral system based on proportional representation.

"The battles within the parties for the nominations are intense, and the ones who tend to win are those considered a better bet, which are generally men. The two-seat per district system prevents the parties from being even minimally bold in searching for new leadership and, as a result, they discriminate against young people and women," said Zavala.

Ferrada commented that in Socialist Party, part of the governing coalition, there was "a huge internal fight" in nominating Mireya Garc a as a candidate for a deputy seat. There was intense debate about the possibility, despite her much- respected history as head of the Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared and defender of human rights.

The exclusion of women is a problem that crosses the entire political-ideological spectrum, and women lawmakers must focus more of their efforts on problems affecting Chile's female population, said Zavala. Though the director of the Women's Institute applauded the joint actions by the current female representatives of both the political right and left to establish laws on family violence and campaign spending limits. According to a report from the non-governmental Centre for Women's Studies (CEM), it is much more difficult for women than it is for men to participate in politics due to the still-dominant cultural norms which imply that "a woman's place is in the home."

Furthermore, when women enter the political sphere the public tends to view them with a more critical eye than it does men. Female politicians generally lack allies within the party leadership, which tend to be all male, and they are marginalized from the "informal structures of power", says the report. "A woman has to be twice as competent if she hopes to be accepted (in politics), but if she is too competent, she is seen as a threat," says CEM.

Zavala said she favors criteria of equal opportunity for boosting women's participation in politics, and not a quota law, like those in force in Argentina and Bolivia, which ensure either a minimum percentage of female candidates or of female parliamentarians.

Ferrada, however, believes a quota law might be the right path for Chile to follow. "If there are no quotas, there is no access as long as the parties continue to ignore the abilities of the women in their ranks," she said.

The two Chilean women's movement activists agree that the key to ending discrimination against women in parliament lies in the political will of the parties and government leaders, who must change the two-seat electoral system and other exclusionary factors. "Until there is parity in women's participation in politics, the cycle of democratization in this country will not be complete," said Ferrada. (Inter Press Service, November 21, 2001)

MEXICO -- Mexico's former ruling party, out of power for the first time in its 70-year history, closed its four-day national assembly on Tuesday, promising 80 percent of party jobs would be reserved for women and those under 30. It was the 18th National Assembly of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has been campaigning for a comeback since losing the presidency last year for the first time in its history.

"We are here to tell the men and women of Mexico that the PRI has learned its lesson," said party president Dulce Maria Sauri. At the end of the gathering in this industrial city 35 miles west of Mexico City, the party reached out to women and the young, promising them 50 percent and 30 percent of party positions respectively.

During the assembly, party heavyweight Roberto Madrazo successfully backed a moved to open elections for the top party post, a radical departure for the PRI, which for 71 years appointed leaders hand-picked by the Mexican president and a small group of party delegates.

The presidential loss in July 2000 to President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party was an unprecedented event that suddenly thrust the party's leader into a position of real power. (November 20, 2001, BC cycle)