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Women’s Leadership in Public Administration: The Impact on Sustainable Development and Sustaining Peace

Time and Place

UN Building, New York City

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Event Details

On February 22, 2017 the Women in Public Service Project and UNDP hosted the 61st Session of Commission on the Status of Women side event on “Women’s Leadership in Public Administration: The Impact on Sustainable Development and Sustaining Peace” with Lesley Connolly, policy analyst for the International Peace Institute (IPI), Sherri Goodman, Senior Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Founder of the Military Advisory Board at CNA, and Kweilin Ellingrud, Partner and Co-leader of McKinsey's Lean Management practice. The event focused on the role women leaders play in peace and development.

Patrick Keuleers, Director and Chief of Profession at the Governance and Peacebuilding Bureau for Policy and Programme Support at UNDP New York offered opening remarks. He introduced the event, partnership and case studies of the Gender Equality in Public Administration (GEPA) report. Gwen K. Young, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative and the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center, introduced the panelists.

Connolly kicked off the panel with her remarks on civil war and the role of women in the peace process. With 90% of civil wars occurring in countries already affected by conflict, she emphasized the critical role women play in peace processes and conflict, noting women are impacted by war in different ways than men.

Further, Connolly identified the main barriers to women's involvement in peacemaking: women's issues are usually considered human security, not state security. For example, the Mali peace process in 2015 committed to including women, but mediators could not be convinced of the importance of women. Out of the 100 delegates, only five women were included. Currently, there are seven models of means to involving women. Ending her remarks, she stressed that women's groups have never derailed a peace process and in fact ensured that peace agreements signed lasted longer and provided more durable peace solutions.

Goodman continued the panel discussion, this time focusing on women and the environment. She began by explaining that militaries create waste and are the largest energy user in the United States; thus, a shift in energy use in the military will impact the market. Further, environmental conditions such as drought create political tensions within countries. For example, prolonged drought in Syria exacerbated political tensions, and drought in Russia and wheat producing countries that export to the Middle East were a root cause of the Arab Spring.  

When asked what that means for women in environmental governance and in national security, Goodman responded that when women are new in a field, they advance by being as good as or better than the men, and bring innovative and creative opinions to the bale. As groups are diversified, so are the solutions that are created. Men typically make decisions in a head to head way, where there are winners and losers; but, success will come from lifting all boats, Goodwin explains. Further, women’s leadership is key in issues such as water where women are first in line of ensuring communities have access to water.

Ellingrud highlighted the economic impact of gender parity, noting that the value of women contributing to the economy equally as men globally is an estimated $28 trillion. As GDP per capita increases, countries grow out of 5 "impact zones," which include political representation. Further, Ellingrud explained, more women in political leadership leads to more legal protection for women and ultimately growth in GDP.

One contributor towards women’s leadership in a country is the perceptions and attitudes of people  For example, in countries where men are more likely to say that men are better leaders or have more right to work, there are fewer women leaders and fewer women in the workforce. There are tangible links between attitudes and reality; however, cautioned Ellingrud, it is difficult to identify cause and effect. Political interventions also play a key role in shaping attitudes towards women’s leadership. For instance, in India, set quotas for tribal councils and women leadership allow younger women to see the possibility and inspire and equip themselves for leadership. Further, men and women increased their aspirations for their daughters, and mothers increased their aspirations for themselves. 

Young echoed the statements of the panel by illustrating the 50x50 mission at WPSP. She then asked the panel’s recommendations on how to push progress on these issues. Connolly began by emphasizing how Liberia’s success was rooted in women’s civil society groups pushing for a female leader. Goodman highlighted the need for women taking part in security and decision making. Ellingrud then discussed the obstacles women face in the political sphere which included lack of access due to not being a part of a network. She then ended the discussion by bringing to attention the fact that sponsorship networks for men tend to be broader and more senior, while sponsorship networks for women are more junior and narrower.

The conversation emphasized the importance of visibility and active participation of women leaders across decision-making positions from local councils to the global stage. As the panelists observed, research in the United States shows that men are more likely to be a politician from a young age, while women are more likely to come into it later in life. Additionally, women and men  react differently to the political process. That is, the win and lose rates are the same, however, the likelihood to run again is lower for women. This gap is evident in the judiciary as well: appointed judges are more likely to be women than elected judges. 

In order to close this gap, the stakeholders and policymakers must better understand where the barriers to leadership currently exist. In the spirit of the Commission on the Status of Women, this conversation highlighted the urgent need for deeper analysis into women’s political and policy participation to catalyze global change.

Photo: UN Women (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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