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Women Losing Ground in Quest For Political Power

The annual conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union has been told women appear to be losing ground in the quest to achieve gender parity in politics. The number of women delegates has been declining for the past four years.

The statistics are troubling. Of the 110 nations represented at this Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting, 13 delegations are all male. Of the more than 600 delegates, only 127 are women. At least five countries, North Korea, Malta, Qatar, Palau and Saudi Arabia are facing sanctions because they have had no women delegates for three years in a row.

As the conference opened Sunday with a session on gender issues, Namibian lawmaker Nora Schimming-Chase said the number of women delegates has steadily declined since hitting a peak four years ago. "We reached over 30-percent in 2005, but right now we are down to 27.1 percent. It is an issue where we need to take concrete action to ... increase the number of women in politics and especially at decision-making levels in politics," she said.

Schimming-Chase, who serves as chief whip in the Namibian National Assembly, says women are losing ground in politics. She told the gathering it is time to stop all the talk about gender parity, and to take steps to ensure it happens soon. "We find that in some parliaments, after every election the number of women parliamentarians decreases. It is many years since we started with the United Nations decade for solidarity. We have had a churches decade of solidarity with women. We must now start with solidarity for our side, which does not end in workshops and conferences, but ends in action geared specifically to increase the number of women in politics and in our delegations," she said.

Several non IPU member countries have sent observer delegations. The United States is not a parliamentary democracy, but six members of Congress are attending.

Somalia has been without functioning government for 18 years, but is hoping to re-establish rule of law under recently-named President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

Somalia's transitional parliament was doubled in size to 550 members as part of the agreement that brought President Ahmed to power. The legislature also began meeting in the capital, Mogadishu, after years in virtual exile.

Mohamed Hussein Nur, who heads the Somali parliament's secretariat, says lawmakers in the overwhelmingly Muslim country are facing the challenge of developing a civil law consistent with Islamic Sharia law. "The civil law and Sharia law are combining together. All our regulations in Somalia, in the charter, and the coming constitution are all under Sharia law. It depends on Sharia law. Because we are 100-percent Sharia law," she said.

Conference organizers say at least six items have been proposed for emergency debate during the six-day meeting, including three concerning the plight of the people in Gaza. A discussion of the Gaza issue is likely Monday.