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Open governments: an opportunity for gender equity

Gobiernos abiertos, la oportunidad para la equidad de género

Yamila García|

Gender issues still have a long way ahead in all branches of government. We need to change the social and political agenda that, for centuries, has strengthened the male gender and oppressed the role of women.

How can we achieve open governments that democratize democracy? In order to make progress around one of the main principles of open government – participation – we need to encourage the participation of both women and men in decision making, collaboration and accountability processes. This will not be achieved unless we apply a gender-sensitive approach.

An open government that is not gender-sensitive is not an open government

The fact that women have made some progress in the past decade is setting the bar low in terms of equal rights. Progress and the advancement of democracy have not been redundant. Inequalities between women and men still persist and there are major barriers that pose serious consequences for the well-being of society.

The open government movement has the opportunity to reverse this situation through modernization and innovation in the public administration. It faces the challenge, as well as the opportunity, to address the root causes of an issue that impacts all citizens, not just women. This is a matter of gender interference. Overlooking this issue would mean turning a blind eye, or even contributing to traditional government management that does not keep up on the road to equality.

The transition from the old model of representative democracy to a participatory and open democracy needs a vision that goes beyond the use of technology; it needs to build inclusive policy.

If we do not provide an open government platform that is gender-sensitive, we are only contributing to widening the gap.

We have made progress in terms of agreements, such as the declaration of the Fourth World Conference On Women that the United Nations hosted in Beijing. This declaration (in Spanish) (in English) was adopted by 189 countries and represented a watershed toward gender-sensitive policies.

Domino effect

Studies have shown that women face bigger limitations to use of technology, due to a lack of economic and socio-cultural opportunities, as well as the fact that technologies tend to be designed with a male vision, as senior positions in tech companies, e-government teams and regulatory bodies are often occupied by men. ICT is an important tool to advance modern and innovative governments.

Many governments still have regulations and judicial and cultural instruments that endorse gender inequality.

Gender equality is still facing constraints in many congresses and parliaments. Gender equality bills allow for legislative and political party lists to be comprised of 50% female members and 50% male members. This is key to achieve open parliaments and open and inclusive states.

We can hear people saying: “Positions should be occupied through personal achievements, and not by legal enforcement.” Data shows that, for example in Argentina, 90% of women legislators have college degrees, while only 69% of men do. Although there are fewer women working on these positions, over 50% of bills have been proposed by women in the past few years. Imagine having parliaments where decision-making has a direct effect on the lives of citizens and where gender equity is achieved.

There are many examples of women’s participation in the political arena in the different branches of the government. How can we achieve open governments where high placed positions, such as ministers and secretaries, are occupied by men, affecting representativeness, vision and perspective for decision-making and government administration? The domino effect means that the issue starts from the top where solutions to citizen problems are discussed, already causing inequality and ignoring a range of voices.

Understanding that gender-sensitive public policies are necessary, and contribute to alleviating long-standing social debt and achieve meaningful solutions that only the State can provide, may be irrelevant. Gender-sensitive public policies can further gender equality and the democratization of democracy.

Open Government Partnership can help plan, monitor and implement gender-sensitive commitments in a cross-cutting way. However, out of the thousands of commitments that are established in the National Action Plans, only 25 are related to gender equity or women-centered. A study by Laura Neuman from the Carter Center about the participation of women in National Action Plans showed that less than half of the participants were women, and that in 25% of countries, women represent only 30% of national committees. This reflects the need to include women in order to achieve equal participation and ensure that women are heard. We also need to integrate organizations that work on gender equity to mainstream into the agendas.

Open government is an opportunity for achieving gender-sensitive governments and policies and for integrating and giving visibility to women that work in the development of open States in the three branches of government and for the open government principles. Governments should take on this challenge in order to achieve participatory, collaborative and transparent governments.

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