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Summit: Breakthrough Barriers

An initiative of Women@theTable & Women in Public Service Project of the Wilson Center

A co-initiative of the Wilson Center's Women in Public Service Project and Women@theTable

March 1, in Geneva, an extraordinary gathering of women leaders from the judiciary, the executive, and the legislative took place.

Facilitated by the three Honorables: Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and legendary human rights defender; former (and first female) President of Malawi Joyce Banda; and former (and first) US Global Ambassador for Women & Girls, Melanne Verveer,

Here are some of the findings from the day:

Welcome and Introductions

Gwen Young, Women in Public Service Project, Wilson Center:

  • Working towards women breaking barriers in the public sphere
  • By 2050, the goal is to have 50% of government positions filled by women
  • Focus on building the network; what do we need to do?
  • Setting up a platform to talk about what we need to achieve and how to do so (institutional reform, gender parity on an international scale)

Caitlin Kraft- Buchman, Women@theTable:

  • Importance of strength and solidarity between women
  • Voices, expertise, diversity and the value in the women here today
  • What can we do to come together to move forward on all levels?

Contexts and Outcomes

Hon. Hina Jilani:

  • Unique opportunity of engaging with the small group of women today allows for a more comfortable and freer flow of conversation
  • Movement to constantly improve and see the points of view of other women regardless of position and the concreteness as to where we are going

Amb. Melanne Vereer:

  • Opt to slow down and take stock
  • How can we use power effectively?
  • Why are women still marginalized despite economic status? How can we make women’s issues involve everyone’s interests?
  • How do we better connect with each other? Solidarity and network are important, how does this transfer to the technology sphere?
  • It is a great opportunity to take concrete, real solutions into action

H.E. Dr. Joyce Banda

  • Forming a critical mass of women leaders; are there other women that are doing the same? How have we faired so far?
  • Empowerment is key; when women gain status, we need to push other women to give the same support to others
  • What else can we do to help one another?
  • How are we keeping younger women inspired?

Laws, Legislation, Implementation: Accelerating Equality

Dr. Jeni Klugman and Manuela Tomei

  • Human rights, gender equality correlated with human development
  • Women undertake three times as much unpaid work, often in stereotyped areas such as domestic work which have much less pay
  • Legal protection and reform; laws are a reflection of society’s expectations
  • Gap in the legal field, not much protection for women, impoverished survivors/ victims of abuse
  • Changing the norms
  • Promoting positive models of thought, breaking stereotypes via having dialogue with others and working with the media
  • Governments must eliminate discriminatory laws and include civil society in more of their processes

Questions to consider:

  • Which strategies work?
  • How can local governments improve?
  • How do we monitor progress and hold accountability?

More Points:

  • The positive effect of media on the public through more nuanced portrayals of women in different roles in society
  • Changing views on women
  • Positive impacts on norms, changed expectations
  • Violence and harassment against women in the workforce, to have more inclusive standards—It is the anti-thesis of decent work and leads to losses in productivity, profitability and encouragement to continue to work
  • Encompasses both physical and verbal attacks in physical workplace, commuting, cyber bullying

Sector Breakout I: Catalyzing Reform, Taking Action


  • Gender and budgeting can work and this combination is capable of implementing gender equality by placing penalties for a lack of gender equality in workplaces
  • People respond more to triggers such as I want to help you grow your economy more than to discussions on women’s issues
  • Debates arise on doing the “smart” versus the “right” thing
  • Paternal leave has a broad benefit to society
  • The true costs of partner violence and domestic violence cost governments billions


  • Judges can strategize as a group
  • Judicial appointments must be based on merit
  • Social consciousness must be considered with the context
  • Good international and regional female judiciary coalitions must be created
  • Political will is necessary for the implementation of laws protecting women and must have effective monitoring systems that come with them
  • There should stop being so many upheavals when there are shifts on who holds leadership positions


  • Political will is key for all sorts of improvement and development and must include that of all top leaders including the president
  • All corners/spheres must work together
  • Gender issues can be silenced if we are not careful

From Local to Global: A Data Snapshot of Women in Power

Kareen Jabre

  • Research on gender-sensitive parliaments
  • As of 2017, there are 54 (19.1%) female parliamentary speakers and an average of 0.6% growth of female parliamentarians
  • Quotas are the main measures used to facilitate women’s access to parliament
  • Electoral systems, political parties, political will and cultural norms all affect the number of women in parliaments
  • Harassment and stereotypes hinder women’s participation
  • Institutions are not neutral but rather they are gender biased
  • It is much harder to improve gender equity in the private sector than the public sector
  • In the Inter-Parliamentarian Union tool kit, it was recorded that 44% of the female parliamentarians have been threatened and 65% have received sexist remarks
  • New priorities include policy making on domestic violence

Ciara Lee

  • Civil service has always been viewed as an acceptable form of employment for women
  • Conflict exacerbates gender inequality
  • Less than 10% of countries have gender parity in decision-making positions
  • Gender equality must be sought after across all levels of public administration
  • Adding women on recruitment increases the hiring of women

Dr. Shaheena Janjuha-Jivraj

  • Local solutions with global impact
  • A research project conducted for the commonwealth interviewed 60 female leaders about their road to their positions of leadership and all the women citied accessible role models and sharing good practice stories as a part of their journey
  • Female political leaders all over the world are ranked by their attractiveness, which must be stopped

Sector Breakout II: Breaking Barriers, Accelerating Progress and Influence


  • Where are women in government?
  • Sexist stereotyping—women put in the perceived soft / maternal areas of government (ministries of health, social development)
  • Visibility versus appearance, soft ministries tend to not have as large budgets as the ministries of finance or foreign affairs


  • Quotas enabled Nordic countries to achieve greater gender equity but now, after the passage of time, their high levels of female political participation and leadership are attributed to cultural progressiveness
  • In some areas, some women are expected to stay in their quota seats
  • The image of politics is that it is dirty and debasing, which decreases its attractiveness to women
  • Politics needs to be elevated in order to increase its attractiveness to women as a career choice
  • Women are expected to be married and to stay with the family
  • Women must band together, there is strength in numbers
  • Political parties need to take quotas seriously; some would just rather pay the fine


  • There is greater need in the transparency of institutions
  • There has to be gender sensitivity in the allocation of resources by the government and investment in the younger social media generation
  • It is easier to educate the younger generation than convert the older one
  • Quotas in the constitution matter, particularly in male dominated countries and quality control follows
  • Exchanging views to have better understanding rather than conversion should be the goal
  • Women should be viewed as mentors for both young men and women
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