Women at the Table

Equal & Inclusive Representation of Women in Decision-Making Systems

Women@theTable’s written submission to CEDAW regarding their :

General Recommendation on

Equal and Inclusive Representation of Women in Decision-Making Systems


Ensuring equal and inclusive representation of women in decision-making systems,  dismantling barriers that continue to exclude women from meaningful political participation, and enabling new norms is  core to the mission of Women@theTable, a global Swiss Civil Society Organization and first organization to focus on systems change by helping women gain influence in sectors that have key structural impact: the economy, democratic governance, sustainability and technology.

We are at a critical turning point. 

The global statistics on women’s representation, participation and influence are bleak. Women must have a seat at the decision making tables where the future and new systems are  invented. 

Who gets to speak for democracy and the planet,

and who gets heard on behalf of a changing world in crisis?

At this critical moment in history, we see stark divisions on who helps make the decisions that will affect generations to come. The 2021 UNFCCC/COP-25 gender report showed 74% of speaking time in plenary was taken by men. The 2022 WHO Executive Board had 91% male Heads of Delegation holding the pen.

Move past counting numbers of women to measuring influence

Organizations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have been tracking gender composition as mandated by governing bodies over the last 5-10 years. They have tried to move past counting the numbers of women to counting the influence of women and youth in the conference chamber.

In fact the rationale from COP 25, “in recognizing that the full, meaningful and equal participation and leadership of women in all aspects of the UNFCCC process is vital for achieving long-term climate goals, requested the secretariat to include additional information in the gender composition report. While the composition of Party delegations is an important indication of gender-based participation in UNFCCC conferences and negotiations, such data only reveal who is in the room. They do not provide a more detailed understanding of active participation.”

Ideation of the Gender Gap Application g-app Measurement Tool

This same thinking is why in 2019, Women@TheTable ideated in a Human Centered Design Workshop with teams from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), UNAIDS, and UN Women to create the g-app – gender gap application  – a subsidized Open-source software – designed to measure, analyze and graphically represent the active participation, representation, and influence of women in and at international events.

What it measures 

Who is at the assembly? Do they have the power to speak? Or do they speak only on certain topics directly related to their demographics

Dedicated to increasing the plurality of voices at international conferences, as one lever to influence more equitable decision-making on the world stage we accomplish this by measuring and communicating the gap between surface level diversity (attendance) and real diversity (share of voice) at events where decisions are made that affect all of humanity. 

How it works

The g-app works by taking speaker demographics and session recordings and analyses who speaks on which topics, with how much time and with how much influence. It uses an explainable AI algorithm to draw out insights on who is speaking on the topics and pulls all the insights together to produce simple, yet powerful visualisations. These visualisations display the event’s diversity, measuring representation (how many attendees, from which regions, gender, age, institution), participation (speaking time in sessions) and influence (which level of authority, for example, using the head of delegation role as a proxy for powerful influence). It also provides crucial data on who gets to speak on which topic, providing data, for instance, on whether women predominantly get to speak on gender-related topics, or also have an equal voice when it comes to climate finance, cyber- or food security. 

Many voices are needed

To have women and youth speak only primarily on ‘gender and youth’ issues is a mere exercise in optics. Diverse voices are needed to speak on diverse issues such as climate, the economy, trade and other critical issues affecting us all. With only one set of voices we will never have the breadth and depth of innovative solutions needed to solve our increasingly pressing and inextricably interconnected problems.

Data matters

Being able to collect and visualise what the data means is more effective than stating, “We need more data…” or “We should do better”. Instead the g-app enables tracking progress of what creates successes, or failures, and ways to improve.

Automating Data Analysis is Key

The persistent lack of progress in and the urgent need for improving the representation, participation and influence of women and youth in all aspects of UN processes is vital for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. This  work foreshadowed COP 26 which “requested the(ir) secretariat to explore ways of automating the analysis of data disaggregated by sex on speaking times at UNFCCC meetings in order to continue to strengthen the annual report on gender composition.”

Premier and Build

g-app software premiered at the Paris Peace Forum 2021. The software architecture and build was accomplished pro bono in 2021 through Thoughtworks, a global software consultancy traded on NASDAQ and their Social Impact India office, with Debevoise & Plimpton’s London and New York offices supplying pro bono legal work on GDPR compliance and Intellectual Property.

Systematization throughout the UN System and beyond   

The subsidized open source software could be used throughout the UN System and beyond to document and accomplish the aims of true representation, participation and influence in achieving all the SDGs and the transversal goal of SDG5 – women and girls equality.   With this data we will have ways to measure who gets to speak and who gets heard. Perhaps by having the data as undisputed visual evidence readily available we can create an enabling environment with what creates successes, or failures and ways to improve on our path to respect, protect and fulfil women’s human right to equal and inclusive representation in decision-making systems beginning at the United Nations, in parliaments, in boardrooms and community groups.

This submission was published on the OHCHR website for the half-day of general discussion.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),  the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women called for input into a future General Recommendation to complement + update a General Recommendation (from 1997). Their aim is to address structural obstacles that impede and to aim at new forms of representation for women. Most notably to move away from mere participation and towards equal and inclusive representation. In CEDAW’s words, “Only such change of representation can create the shift towards effective implementation of women’s rights.” We couldn’t agree more!  

Last modified: August 24, 2023