Even as the world celebrates the 128th anniversary of women first winning the right to vote, experts and leaders believe that most countries are still not on track to achieve gender equality in politics, and in some places, women still feel vulnerable.
On Sept. 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, New Zealand's Ambassador to Turkey Wendy Hinton said this leap in political empowerment came after one in five women in her country signed a petition demanding their rights.
"But we know that many challenges still face women today, in New Zealand and all over the world," she said in an email interview.
The move by New Zealand was the first step in the granting of suffrage to half of the world's population.
"A world with balanced gender representation is a better, safer, and more prosperous world," said Hinton.
"In a world where many people still assume that people in high-profile roles (even ambassadors) are men, this theme remains vital."
Fadhlina Sidek, a senator in Malaysia, said empowering women leads to "the only place on earth where everybody is equal."
"Voting is a necessary step to make sure that our voices are heard, especially the vulnerable, marginalized, and discriminated communities," said Sidek, who is also a lawyer and a women's and children's rights activist.
She said that it would be wrong to say that women were given the right to vote.
"They won that right. They marched, they starved, they fought, and it took decades before women had the right to vote," she added.
Hinton agreed that all ages and genders have benefited from having women in leadership roles and having both genders represented in parliament, workplaces, universities, boardrooms, and in all decision-making bodies.
"Women's involvement helps to make better laws; more profitable businesses; enduring art, literature, and music; more sustainable peace agreements; and more accurate media coverage, medical advice, and scientific research," she argued.
"It means greater protection for women, children, and families, and is central to the fight against gender-based violence," she added.
WOMEN POLITICIANS STILL UNDER-REPRESENTED
This March, in its latest annual Women in Politics report, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organization of national parliaments, noted that the world "is not yet on track to achieve gender equality in politics by 2030."
However, it added, the number of women inside parliaments is "steadily growing."
"The global average of women in parliamentary positions now sits at 25.5%, reaching over a quarter for the first time in history," IPU Secretary General Martin Chugong said when the report was released.
Hinton said achieving equal representation for women and men can lead to "equality in all other areas of life."
"This is important not just for women but for everyone," she said, adding that New Zealand to date has had three women premiers, including Jacinda Ardern, the current office holder.
"Although they are from different political parties, they acknowledge the pioneering roles they have respectively played in building a more equal society for New Zealanders," said the ambassador.
Chugong, however, lamented that the current pace of women entering parliaments is "painstakingly, or even excruciatingly, slow."
"At the current rate, it will take another 50 years before we can achieve gender parity in parliament. And of course, we all agree that this is not tenable, it's not acceptable," he said.
The small African nation of Rwanda currently leads the way in terms of women's representation in parliament.
ISLAM GAVE THIS RIGHT 1,400 YEARS AGO
Samia Raheel Qazi, a former lawmaker from Pakistan, said Islam gave women such rights 1,400 years ago.
However, challenges remain in a society like Pakistan, where "women are neither supported by family nor society" to take an active part in politics or economic progress.
"My religion gave me this right 1,400 years ago," said Qazi, who represented Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest socio-politico-religious organization, in the country's parliament from 2002 to 2007.
"Being a woman lawmaker, I was never let down inside the parliament or by my party. I was granted more time by the speaker and was never discriminated against for being a woman," she said.
She said her group had brought to parliament a "detailed five-point agenda for a women's rights charter."
In addition to rights, security, and protection for women, it also pressed for education, health, justice, and "those rights granted by Islam which society does not grant her," said Qazi.
"The soul of a democracy is that the views of all are important, be (they from) a male or female," Qazi said, who said her party boasts one of the best internal democratic systems in the world and holds regular elections.
But she said Pakistani women remain "vulnerable" and that this is the "biggest challenge in empowering" them.
TURKISH WOMEN HAVE HAD SUFFRAGE SINCE 1934
In 1934, through a constitutional amendment, Turkish women were among the first in Europe to win the right to vote and run for elected office.
Only seven years after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey on Oct. 23, 1923, Turkish women were granted suffrage in local elections held in 1930.
Since then, women have been active in national politics and founded the National Women's Party of Turkey in 1972 and the Women's Party in 2014.
Recent decades have seen an increase in the number of women elected to parliament.
While in 1935 only 4.5% of lawmakers in Turkey were women, this share increased to nearly one in five in 2019, despite the number of lawmakers rising from 401 to 600.
Today, there are 101 women lawmakers in the Turkish Grand National Assembly or parliament.
WOMEN NEED REPRESENTATION AT EVERY LEVEL
Malaysia's Sidek said the voices of women "still go unheard and their contributions are too often sidelined."
"This is the case where women are given only portfolios relating to women and only allowed to sit on women's committees," she explained.
"It's not only in parliament but at all levels of government, and inter-sectorial ministries need to adopt affirmative measures and policies to ensure women's participation at every level of decision-making," she argued.
Hinton said there is still a need for transformative shifts and new solutions "to remove structural barriers and ensure that no woman and no girl is left behind."
"We need industry leaders, game-changing start-ups, social entrepreneurs, gender equality activists, and women innovators to all examine ways we can remove barriers and accelerate progress for gender equality," said Hinton, urging the encouragement of investments in gender-responsive social systems./aa