The world could be a very different place if more women were in charge.
You just need to look at International Day of the Girl last year to see what that could look like. By persuading leading public figures, including the President of Nepal and the President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, to stand aside for the day, over 300 girls and young women in more than 50 countries were able step into their shoes and call on governments around the world to tear down the barriers that deny millions their rights.
I took part myself as a 17-year-old girl from Zambia took my place for the day. It was a humbling experience and I learned so much from Loveness about her life, ambitions and potential. Across the world, the ‘takeovers’ were a brief but powerful glimpse of the world we want to see. Our aim was to change perceptions about what is possible for young women and girls, and to inspire millions of them to demand their voices be heard. Our challenge now is to make a future in which every girl has the chance to take up positions of political leadership – for more than just one day.
Progress too slow
Things are improving, though progress is slow. The proportion of women in parliaments globally has more than doubled since 1995, but still stood at only 23% in 2016. While only Haiti, Micronesia, Qatar and Vanuatu have yet to elect any female legislators, just 3 countries have achieved gender parity in their parliaments.
In March 2015, only 14 governments worldwide were headed by women
Last year saw examples of women entering high office – while Hillary Clinton narrowly missed out, Theresa May became the United Kingdom‘s second female prime minister, and Estonia, Taiwan and the Marshall Islands all elected their first female presidents. The cities of Tokyo, Rome and Bucharest also elected their first female mayors.
These advances are against a low base. In March 2015, only 14 governments worldwide were headed by women, while fewer than 5% of the world’s mayors are women.
Parity is only one indicator of progress, however. Unfortunately we know that female leaders are often treated more harshly in the media based on their looks and taken less seriously by their peers. Additionally, women in politics and business must still navigate systems that were designed and maintained by men for centuries. Is it any wonder so few young women and girls consider putting themselves forward for leadership positions or elected office?
Girls’ participation crucial for change
If we are serious about achieving the development goals we’ve set ourselves, we need to be serious about empowering women and girls to learn, lead, decide and thrive. Developing the leadership capacity of girls not only helps them secure better livelihoods and better health today, but can also create a generation capable of delivering future change. Women’s political participation is a crucial accelerator of progress.
Join the global movement for girls' rights Democracy that excludes half the population from leadership positions will ultimately fail. Reducing the gap is an essential part of creating the responsive and responsible leadership we need in a changing world.
A case can also be made that it is smart to invest in encouraging female leadership. When women have an equal footing in making choices, things change faster. For example, research on panchayats (local councils) in India found that the number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62% higher than in those with male-led councils. Moreover, greater female participation not only increased the provision of public goods but also reduced levels of corruption.
Faster change needed
Plan International has a long track record of promoting the empowerment of girls and young women. Our Because I am a Girl movement is committed to working with and for girls, supporting them to speak up for themselves in every setting.
Investing in the leadership skills of girls is vitally important, but must sit alongside investment in economic, social and environmental improvement. It should not be seen as secondary. It is an essential part of the package. Closing the gender gap in political leadership will accelerate progress on narrowing the social and economic gap too.
Closing the gender gap in political leadership will accelerate progress
We should not lose sight of the fact that girls have equal rights as boys to lead. We will continue to support them to speak up for themselves, to make decisions about their own lives and take the positions of power to which they are entitled. And we will continue to encourage men – fathers as much as male authority figures and leaders– to make space into which the world’s daughters can grow.
Through our successful girls’ takeover on last year’s International Day of the Girl, we showed what the leadership of girls and young women looks like. In 2017 we aim to mobilise even more young women and girls, ensuring their voices are heard like never before. In doing so we hope to inspire more support and investment in their right to lead and create a better world for all.