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Excluding women from politics is a barrier to ending global poverty, says VSO


At current rates of progress it will take 120 years before women make up half of world leaders and more than 50 years before women are equally represented in the world’s parliaments, warns a new report published today by international development charity VSO [1]. Globally, women and girls make up almost two thirds of those living in extreme poverty, yet women have the least say in what is done to tackle it.

Drawing on the experiences of volunteers and women’s rights campaigners from around the world, Women in Power: Beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world calls on the UK government to lead the way in tackling this injustice, both through the UN’s next set of development goals and through the UK’s own efforts to address global poverty.

The report puts a spotlight on gender inequality at all levels of public and political life. It found [2]:

• Just 13 out of 193 heads of government are women
• Just one in five of the world’s parliamentarians is a woman
• Women hold just 17% of ministerial positions around the world
• At a local level, women account for just 20% of elected councillors
• Women hold mayoral positions in just 10 of the world’s 195 capital cities

The report says that women worldwide must be an effective part of decision-making at all levels of public and political life – from village to global level. Not only is this a matter of justice, it is essential to making the best, most informed decisions about how to tackle poverty.

VSO UK Director, Angela Salt, said:

“Every day, VSO’s volunteers are seeing first-hand the barriers women face in political and public life. Women’s voices must be a part of the solution to poverty. It is about making sure women everywhere have an equal say in public decisions affecting them, their family, community and country. With the UN working towards a new global development agenda, it’s time for the UK to demonstrate its commitment to women’s rights across the globe.”

Women experience poverty in different ways to men. For example, they might prioritise installing a well in the village as they are the ones walking for miles each day to collect water. Women may also have a better grasp of the health needs of their community since they often act as unpaid carers for children, the sick and the elderly. Such understandings must be brought to the decision-making table if communities and governments are to make the best, most informed decisions about how to tackle poverty.

VSO volunteers are already working with women throughout the world, in countries such as Tanzania, Nepal and Cameroon to boost women’s participation and influence in public life.

Case studies: (photos and materials available)

• Cameroon is preparing for Parliamentary and Municipal Council elections on 30 September 2013, and the proportion of women candidates is expected to increase significantly. VSO has been working with partners in North West Cameroon engaging and training women to participate in local government elections.
• Tanzania is rewriting its national constitution, giving people across the country the opportunity to have a say in the core governing principles of the nation. VSO has been working with partners to ensure women from all socio-economic backgrounds are informed about their rights and have the chance to be heard by decision-makers at the highest level.
• Nepal is expected to hold its Constituent Assembly Elections in November. Nepali women tend not to participate in decision-making because they assume they will not be listened to. VSO has been working with partners to help women raise their voices through leadership training sessions; this has encouraged them to speak with a collective voice and feel that they have something important to say.

Download a copy of Women in Power: Beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world report:

Editor’s notes

Contact the VSO press office on 020 8780 7640 or email Journalists with urgent out-of-hours queries, call 07500 918 478.

1. Projected figure for world leaders is for heads of government and is calculated by VSO based on Inter-Parliamentary Union figures (exact figure 120.6 years).
Projected figure for parliamentary representation is for parliamentarians in single or lower houses, calculated by VSO based on Inter-Parliamentary Union figures. Exact figure is 51.5 years.
2. All other figures taken from UN Women, Inter-Parliamentary Union, United Cities and Local Government Women.

The report, Women in Power: Beyond access to influence in a post-2015 world, is available at or from the media team prior to publication.

• Angela Salt, VSO UK Director, is available for interviews, briefings and written comment.
• VSO can provide photographs and supporting materials to illustrate its work with women in Cameroon, Tanzania and Nepal.

About VSO
VSO is an international development organisation that brings people together to share skills and knowledge. VSO volunteers work in whichever fields are necessary to tackle poverty – from education and health through to helping people learn the skills to make a living. They invest in local people so that the impact they make endures long after their placement ends. VSO recruits skilled volunteers from countries in the global north and global south, as well as supporting the growth of volunteering within developing countries.


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