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Asian women making inroads in politics

The Asian countries have seen a significant increase in women's political participation, says a US-based group.

india Updated:

Women are assuming greater political leadership and business ownership in Asia, including India, but remain under-represented in national-level government, says a US group with deep roots in the region.

There have been several notable government or opposition women leaders in Asia.

Among the current lot are Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and India's ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.

The Asian countries have seen a significant increase in women's political participation in provincial government via quota systems or legislation, the Asia Foundation said.

India and Pakistan now have quotas ensuring women more than 30 per cent of seats in local government while Indonesia has enacted laws encouraging a similar percentage of candidates in political party lists, Carol Yost, director of the foundation's women's empowerment programme, told the agency.

In an assessment ahead of International Women's Day tomorrow, the Asia Foundation noted "important progress" in reform of laws and policies concerning women in the region as a result of global pressure as well as actions by Asian women groups themselves.

"The good news is, despite their under representation in national level government, women are nonetheless becoming a significant political force in many countries and are gaining ground -- particularly at the local level," Yost said.

"While there is still a long way to go to achieve parity, the overall trend in women's full and equal participation in political processes and public life is positive," Yost said.

In many countries in the region, voter education programs targeted at women before elections have been "remarkably successful" in increasing the number of women casting votes, said the Asia Foundation, which has carried out development and reform programmes in the region for the last 50 years.

In Afghanistan, where women rights were harshly curtailed under the extremist Taliban group during its five-year rule up to 2001, 50 percent of respondents of a recent poll conducted by the foundation thought that political leadership should be for both men and women.

Afghan women now hold 68 seats in the 249 seat lower house of parliament.

Training programs for women candidates also have increased the number of women standing for and winning elections in Asia, the foundation said, citing Cambodia as an example.

In some Asian countries women are putting pressure on political parties to include more women on party lists, it said.

Women are also demanding that political parties state their platform for addressing women's priority concerns.