The commitment to promoting gender-balanced decision-making, currently espoused by international institutions and national assemblies around the globe, emerged in the face of the persistent under-representation of women globally (Karam 1998). Since 1788 when women first gained the right to stand for election in the United States of America, women’s right to vote and be elected has slowly been recognized throughout the sovereign states of the world. Only a handful of countries continue to refuse women the right to vote and stand for election. Yet women’s active participation in national parliaments is still notoriously low, rising from 3 per cent in 1945 to only 11.6 per cent in 1995. In July 2006 the world average for the percentage of women in national parliaments was still only 16.6 per cent. Increasingly aware of gender imbalances in political representation, political parties and national legislatures across the region have taken steps over the last twenty years to promote women’s access to political decision-making, encouraged by a raft of declarations and directives from international bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union.
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