United Nations Economic and Social Council

Commission on the Status of Women, 61st session, 14-17 March 2017

(H.E. Mr. Antonio de Aguiar Patriota (Brazil), Chair of the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women)

New York, Thursday 16 March 2017

Speech of Ms Gudrun MOSLER-TÖRNSTRÖM, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

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Mr Chairman, Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for giving me the floor. I represent the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. We are a European assembly of 638 elected local and regional representatives coming from the 47 member States of the Council of Europe.

I was elected in October last year as the first woman President of this assembly and I am here to share our experience in increasing the presence of women in decision-making bodies and establishing institutional mechanisms to do so, which is one aspect of the subject of this general discussion.

Achieving equal representation between women and men in the political sphere is proving to be a persistent challenge, in spite of all the committed work done for decades, even centuries. This is fact. To understand this reality, one avenue for analysis is looking at what is happening in local politics.

As President of a Congress of local and regional elected representatives, I am in a position to say that women are still largely underrepresented in local and regional councils, and this is a key point we want to draw attention to: Most of the time, people enter into politics at the local level and move up. It is on the ground, as mayors and councillors that they develop their political profiles.

If we do not make it possible for women to be present in big numbers at the local level, we will not achieve parity in parliaments and governments.

To achieve progress, to break the glass ceiling, solutions for enhancing women’s participation in political life exist. But they are not straightforward; they involve a variety of parameters.

One of them is the implementation of quotas, which is an efficient way to achieve this goal, especially with financial penalties in case of non-compliance. It is a solution which does not make everyone happy and some countries have opted for other solution.

For example, Sweden achieved a balanced representation in the political parties and in elected councils because most parties themselves have produced “zipper” lists and created the conditions to facilitate political work including salaries and childcare and parental leave measures. But this is not achievable everywhere.

I would like to give our own Congress as a positive quota example. Within the space of less than a decade, with measures firmly applied, we substantially increased the number of women in our national delegations and in high political posts. Due to a 30 per cent quota requirement, from 2011 to 2016, we managed to increase the percentage of women from 31% to 42%. As to high political posts, today, women constitute 65% of the executive of the Congress.

For the future, we realize that to be able to take action, we must have data on women’s presence at all levels of government. This requires access to data and statistical information because “If we cannot measure it, we cannot improve it!”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Change is slow and progress is not guaranteed but one thing is clear: engaging with women at the local level is the surest way to secure the participation of women at all levels of government. We need proactive local and central governments and determined political parties to work for ensuring women’s presence at local and regional government levels.

Thank you for your attention.