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UN Report: Jamaica Slow to Put Women in Positions of Political Power

FILE - Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller delivers her inaugural speech after being sworn in at King's House in Kingston, Jan. 5, 2012.

Jamaican women are largely cut off from positions of political power and need affirmative action as well as commitment from political parties to boost opportunities and train women for leadership, according to a United Nations report.

Despite having had some prominent women leaders such as former Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, the Caribbean island falls short of its own target of having women in 30 percent of decision-making positions, said the report by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP).

Women make up just 20 percent of Jamaica's cabinet ministers, senators and mayors, it said. The 30 percent target was part of a national gender policy set out in 2011.

Education among Jamaican women does not lag that of men, "yet in some areas in Jamaica we are still forced to ask, 'Where are the women?'" said Elsie Laurence Chounoune, UNDP's representative to Jamaica, at an event on Tuesday releasing the report in Kingston.

"One of these areas is political representation," she said. Women in political leadership help advocate for pay equity, just inheritance laws and maternity leave, the report said.

While women often make up the majority of party membership, they perform low-level jobs as field and election workers and campaigners that seldom translate into leadership positions, it said.

Even after being elected to parliament, women struggle to take leadership positions. In the last Jamaican parliament, no committees were headed by women, it said.

Parties trumpet the importance of gender equality but "shirk active commitment," it said.

The report recommended instituting a quota, rather than a target, of 30 percent of women in leadership positions.

It also proposed political parties join in recruiting, training and financing women to run for office. It noted that an electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) had flagged women's underrepresentation as political nominees as problematic in the most recent elections.

The report looked at Jamaica from 2010 to 2013 and did not include the recent elections on February 25, when the number of women in parliament rose to 17 percent from 13 percent.

Jamaica still falls below the global average of 21.8 percent women in parliaments, the report said.

Jamaica's new Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, sworn in last week, appointed four women to his cabinet, the largest number in the nation's history.

"Although we have made great strides, we have further to go in order to achieve true gender equality," said Olivia Grange, the newly appointed Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports.