6.7 How Many Women are Enough? Issues Around
[T]he Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the principle of the inadmissibility
of discrimination and proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity
and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein,
without distinction of any kind, including distinction based on sex (UN 1979 : preamble).
The UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, reiter-
the human rights of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible
part of universal human rights (UN 1995 : Chap. 1, paragraph 2).
In recognition of the CBD's commitment to the role of women in the conser-
vation of biological diversity, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the
African Union, included in its model law to regulate access to, and benefit sharing
for, non-human genetic resources the aim of achieving women's 'full participation
at all levels of policy-making and implementation in relation to biological diver-
sity, and associated knowledge and technologies' (OAU 2000 ). Unfortunately the
model law did not incorporate any mechanisms to achieve this, and it needs to be
asked - how many women constitute 'full participation'?
Women's specific rights to equal participation and representation are enshrined
in a variety of UN covenants that most governments have ratified. For example,
the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women (CEDAW) sets as one of a state's responsibilities:
to embody the principle of the equality of men and women in their national constitutions
or other appropriate legislation if not yet incorporated therein and to ensure, through law
and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle … (UN 1979 ).
One of the areas of concern identified at the UN Fourth World Conference on
Women in 1995 in Beijing was the under-representation of women in decision-
making processes. Despite increased democratization over the preceding decade, it
was recognized that there had been little progress in improving the participation of
women in decision-making through the attainment of political power or by achiev-
ing the target endorsed by the United Nations Economic and Social Council of
having 30% of decision-making positions in the hands of women by 1995. 16
While it is true that no definite relationship has been established between the extent of
women's participation in political institutions and their contribution to the advancement
of women, a 30% membership in political institutions is considered the critical mass that
enables women to exert meaningful influence on politics (EC 2008 ).
16 ' A critical 30% threshold should be regarded as a minimum share of decision - making posi-
tions held by women at the national level. Few countries have reached or even approached this
target, recommended in 1990 by the UN Commission on the Status of Women ….The Report
recommends that each nation identify a firm timetable for crossing the 30% threshold in some
key areas of decision-making. The 30% threshold should be regarded as a minimum target, not as
the ultimate goal' (UNDP 2005 ).