Open letter to world leaders: give women an equal “seat” at the table

It is estimated that it will take 145.5 years to attain parity between men and women in politics. Not only is women’s access to entering politics around the world hindered by structural, socioeconomic, institutional, and cultural barriers, but also those who have managed to break the political glass ceiling can be confronted with yet more barriers once in high office. The #SofaGate incident sadly reminds us that leadership is still considered a men’s game.

Today, despite the many achievements made by women in decision-making positions, a culture of distrust in and lack of respect for their capabilities still persists. Evidence provided by the Reykjavík Index for Leadership indicates that society has not become much more progressive in how it views women’s suitability for leadership roles.  This creates a significant challenge for women leaders around the world. Parity is not just about numbers; it is also about influence. Even after reaching the top, women leaders can still be distanced from the centre of action. What better way to understand this issue than to see the woman President of the European Union Commission side-lined while two male leaders “talked politics and policy”?

It is high time to get rid of harmful stereotypes, change the image of the leadership roles which continues to be centred around men, and ensure mutual respect and equality between men and women in the political and decision-making arenas. We need male leaders working as allies and agents of change to dismantle perceptions of prejudice, and not to perpetuate them.

To women leaders, as stated by Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm already some 50 years ago, the advice still holds:

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

 

Signed by:

Helen Clark – Chair of the WPL Board; Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008); UNDP Administrator (2009-2017); Member of the Council of Women World Leaders. 

Silvana Koch-Mehrin – President & Founder of Women Political Leaders (WPL); Vice-President of the European Parliament (2009-2011); Member of the European Parliament (2004-2014).

Obiageli “Oby” Katryn Ezekwesili – Economic and Public Policy Expert and Senior Economic Adviser to the Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative (AEDPI); World Bank Vice-President, Africa Region (2007-2012); Member of the WPL Board.

Rosalía Arteaga – Executive President of the FIDAL Foundation; President of Ecuador (1997); Member of the WPL Board. 

Jewel Howard-Taylor – Vice President and President of the Senate of Liberia; Chairperson, Senate’s Health and Social Welfare Committee on Gender, Women and Children, Liberia; Member of the WPL Board. 

Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca – President of Malta (2014-2019); President of Eurochild; Member of the Council of Women World Leaders; Member of the WPL Board.

Nurhayati Ali Assegaf – Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic Party (Partai Demokrat) of Indonesia; President of Geneva Council for International Affairs and Development (GCIAD); Member of Parliament, Indonesia (2004-2019);  Member of the WPL Board.

Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir – Chair of the Reykjavík Global Forum Board; Minister of Interior of Iceland (2013-2014); Member of Parliament of Iceland (2013-2016); Mayor of Reykjavík (2008-2010); Member of the WPL Board.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim: President of the Republic of Mauritius (2015-2018).

Angellica Aribam: Founder and CEO, Femme First Foundation.

Anna Kostanyan: Member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

Annita Demetriou: Member of the House of Representatives, WPL Country Ambassador of Cyprus.

Artur Soveral Andrade: Member of the Parliament of Portugal, Member of the subcommittee on equality and non-discrimination

Asa Lindestam: First Deputy Speaker in the Riksdag, Parliament of Sweden, WPL Country Ambassador of Sweden. 

Åslaug Sem-Jacobsen: Member of the Parliament of Norway, WPL Country Ambassador of Norway.

Atifete Jahjaga: President of the Republic of Kosovo (2011-2016).

Barbara Creemers: Member of the House of Representatives of Belgium. 

Carol Bellamy: Former Chair, Board of Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF), Director, the Peace Corps (1993-1995), Executive director, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (1995-2005), Former President and CEO, World Learning. 

Eeva Kalli: Member of the Parliament, Chair of the Network of Finnish Women Members of Parliament (2020-2021)

Eglantina Gjermeni: Member of the Parliament, WPL Country Ambassador of Albania.

Elena Sokova: Executive Director, Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

Éric Forest: Independent Senator, Canada

Eva Biaudet: Member of Parliament of Finland. 

Fatiha Serour: Justice Impact Lab Co-founder, International consultant/adviser, Africa Group for Justice and Accountability, Former Deputy Special Representative and Assistant Secretary General in Somalia, United Nations, Member of GWL Voices.

Fernanda Elena San Martin Carrasco: Member of the Chamber of Deputies of Bolivia. 

Flavia Pansieri: Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations (2013-2015), Member of GWL Voices. 

Frances Fitzgerald: Member of the European Parliament, WPL Ambassador

Frances Lankin: Member of the Senate, Canada.

Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka: Deputy Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland, WPL Country Ambassador of Poland. 

Habiba Osman: Executive Secretary, Malawi Human Rights Commission. 

Hajah Zuraida Binti Kamaruddin: Minister of Housing and Local Government, WPL Country Ambassador for Malaysia.

Ingjerd Schou, Member of Parliament, Norway, Vice-President of the Storting, Head of the Norwegian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)

Ingrid Leary: Member of the House of Representatives of New Zealand; Co-Chairperson for the 53rd Parliament for Women on the National Party; WPL Country Ambassador of New Zealand. 

Iveta Radicova: Dean of Faculty, Media Paneuropean University Bratislava;  Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (2005-2006); Deputy of Slovak National Parliament (2006-2009); Candidate for President (2009); Prime Minister of Slovak Republic (2010-2012).

Jamila Madeira: Member of the Parliament of Portugal; Deputy Minister of Health (2019-2020); Member of the European Parliament (2004-2009).

Jennifer Allen Simons: C.M., Ph.D., LL.D, Founder and President, The Simons Foundation Canada

Julie Miville-Dechêne: Independant Canadian Senator

Kathy Calvin: President and Chief Executive Officer, United Nations Foundation (2013-2019), Member of GWL.

Lesia Vasylenko: Member of the Verkhovna Rada, Parliament of Ukraine.

Lina Lopes: Member of the Parliament, Chairwoman of the subcommittee on equality and non-discrimination, WPL Country Ambassador, Portugal

Loren Legarda: Deputy Speaker & Member of the House of Representatives, WPL Country Ambassador of Philippines.

Lucero Saldaña: Member of the Chamber of Deputies of Mexico.

Lucie Moncion: Member of the Senate, Ontario, Canada

Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila: Foreign Minister of El Salvador (1999-2004), Member of GWL Voices.

María Fernanda Espinosa: President of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Minister of National Defense of Ecuador (2012-2014), Member of GWL Voices.

Marilou McPhedran: Member of the Senate, WPL Country Ambassador for Canada, Co-Founder of The Canadian Association of Feminist Parliamentarians.

Marty Deacon: Member of the Senate, Ontario, Canada

Mary Coyle: Independent Senator, Canada

Masai France: Member of the Senate of Belgium.

Olga Kefalogianni: Member of the Parliament, WPL Country Ambassador of Greece

Pat Mitchel: Founder of Connected Women Leaders.

Purnima Mane: President, Pathfinder International, (2012- 2016), Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary-General, UNFPA (2007-2011), Member of GWL Voices.

Roberta Pinotti: Member of the Senate, Minister of Defence (2014-2016 and 2016-2018), WPL Country Ambassador of Italy.

Rosemary Moodie: Member of the Senate, Canada. 

Sabine De Bethune: Member of the Senate, Belgium, WPL Country Ambassador.

Sharan Burrow: General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation. 

Susana Amador: Member of the Parliament of Portugal, Member of the subcommittee on equality and non-discrimination

Susana Malcorra: Dean of IE School of Global & Public Affairs at IE University, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Worship (2015-2017), Argentina.

Teresa Rose Sebastian: Climate Justice Activist, Re Earth Initiative.

Verónica Delgadillo García: Member of the Senate of Mexico, WPL Country Ambassador of Mexico.

Viviane Teitelbaum: Member of the Parliament for the Brussels Region, Vice-President of the Francophone Parliament of Brussels; President, Feminist Observatory of Violence against Women.


Networks and Organisations

African Women CEOs Network 

100 Women@Davos