Women in politics – what (more) can we do to #PressForProgress
The International Women’s Day 2018 campaign theme, #PressForProgress, is a strong call to action amid current world developments. It stresses that efforts to achieve greater gender equality and gender inclusivity are made best and more effectively when in tandem with partners, urging us all to form alliances with fellow advocates and friends.
International IDEA is committed to ensuring gender equality in democracy building. By transforming unequal power relations, democracy promotes the equal distribution of power and influence between men and women. It is in that regard that we continue to be in the forefront of supporting the advancement of women in politics.
We are a firm supporter of the realization of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5—achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls—as expressed by our Secretary-General in his video message. Recognising that our voice is more effective in tandem with like-minded organisations, International IDEA partners with other actors in undertaking efforts to ensure gender balance in the conduct of elections, political parties, parliaments, constituent assemblies and politics at large. We are, for example, involved in inter-regional discussions on the conditions to advance gender equality.
By way of analysis, we put a spotlight on the Global State of Gender in our first edition of the Global State of Democracy publication in 2017. Like in the case of democracy, all the world’s regions have seen improvements and progress towards gender equality since 1975, although there are regional disparities. While this trend is an encouraging sign that efforts to address gender equality do translate into impact, obstacles remain that hinder women from participating in representative institutions. Representation of women in parliaments is still low despite the increase to 23 percent in 2017 from 11 percent in 1995.
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, it is worthwhile creating a shortlist of policies and actions that have had a positive impact on women in their countries. While there is no one-size-fits-all policy or action for gender inclusion and context is very important, such a list could serve as a good food for thought
One way of addressing the low representation of women in parliaments is by establishing a gender quota system. International IDEA’s research has shown that an electoral system in which political parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them (the Proportional Representation system) coupled with reserved seats for women via a quota system, leads to more women in parliament. Our publication, Designing for Equality: Best-Fit, Medium-Fit and Non-Favourable Combinations of Electoral Systems and Gender Quotas, and its accompanying online tool, Interactive Overview of Combinations of Electoral Systems and Quota Types, provides an overview of how women’s representation can be increased under different combinations of electoral systems and quotas.
Case studies undertaken on Indonesia, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Tunisia in our publication, Improving Electoral Practices: Case Studies and Practical Approaches, have corroborated this positive result. Gender quotas are however, more effective when they are mandatory. Moreover, quotas are not meant to be permanent but only meant to address the low level of political inclusion of women.
Another form of support to women that is increasingly being adopted by democracies is through public funding. Our research has shown that it is difficult to accurately assess the effectiveness of gender-targeted funding. Although there are very good cases such as that of Albania that have shown how prejudices against women can be overcome through a mix of policies, including public funding. More on this will be covered in our forthcoming Facebook Live Q&A on the topic on 13 March.
Another area that International IDEA believes will break down the barriers to gender equality and empower women politicians is through interparty dialogue. Cooperation across party lines has the strongest potential to put gender-based issues into national political agendas. This has proven to be the case in International IDEA’s work in Bolivia, Nepal and Zambia, where women’s issues were put above political party concerns. In Zambia, a Communiqué on Gender and Democracy was issued by five political parties, expressing their commitment to push for the attainment of 50-50 gender parity. In Bolivia, this resulted in policies that paved the way for gender parity in parliament. In Nepal, it led to the recognition of women as members of the Constituent Assembly and gender-informed policies in the constitution.
Drawing on our experience in Nepal, we are working on promoting the role of the women in Myanmar in constitution building. In particular, we would like to build their capacity to ably sit in the negotiating tables and participate in the discussions to shape a gender sensitive constitution.
In all these policies and actions, it is important to note that awareness is key. We should take the time to know what policies are in place, what gender issues are at stake and who will be making the decisions that will affect us all. While it may seem simple, being aware is oftentimes not so straight forward not just because of the lack of access to information but because we can be conditioned not to see things as they are.
It is in this light that initiatives such as #MeToo and other hashtag protests have the potential to advance women’s interests and are much more than just awareness campaigns. Protests and different forms of citizens movements have the power to reinvigorate democracy, calling our attention. In this case, we have become more conscious of cases of sexual misconduct and harassment of women and in the entertainment industry, it has taken the form of the Time’s Up initiative. For policy impact, however, there is a need to take the movement out of social media and the streets and bring them to the decision-making tables, where the political framework for change can begin.
So what (more) can we do to #PressForProgress?
Be more gender aware. Ask questions. Share information with friends and colleagues. Let them know what is at stake. For it is only with informed decisions that are inclusive, that sustainable gender policies can be put in place.