The Power of Numbers: Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses
By Erika Veberyte
It is hard getting elected to office. It is even harder if you are a woman. Despite the fact that half of the world’s population is female, the road to gender parity in politics is long. Around the globe, women seeking elected office face daunting challenges. They range from patriarchal biases and cultural stereotypes, to a lack of access to education, campaign funding and skills training. Moreover, the challenges that women face running for office do not disappear when they get elected.
This is where women’s parliamentary caucuses make a difference. All over the world, women’s caucuses are proving to be a strategic mechanism to help women consolidate and strengthen their voice, develop strategic coalitions and build legislative skills. Such caucuses serve as a unique environment within legislatures to encourage multi-partisan debate. Through women’s caucuses, women legislators have demonstrated that it is possible to serve effectively and agree on a common program that spans different political parties. They exert influence over legislative agendas and take into account the wellbeing of all citizens. They are change makers who are essential in advocating for the development of legislation that considers the unique perspective of women and girls.
The International Republican Institute’s Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) provides democratic governance tools to women so they can efficiently perform their duties as elected officials, as well as form and strengthen the effectiveness of a women’s caucus. More importantly, WDN connects caucus members across continents to learn best practices and mentor one another. There is nothing more powerful than hearing from your counterpart who has overcome similar obstacles and can share practical ways to achieve democratic principles.
By empowering women candidates and elected officials, WDN is contributing to the third United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) to Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women. The third MDG is measured in part by the proportion of seats held by women in national parliament. However, to attain this goal, efforts must not only focus on recruiting and training more women to run for office, but also on preparing elected officials to govern effectively. It is by example that women elected officials can continually inspire the next generation of women to serve as responsive, accountable and transparent leaders. Participating in a women’s caucus is a mechanism for elected officials to gain this experience.
WDN has been pivotal in helping women strengthen the caucuses in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mongolia, Peru and Uganda. At its core, this assistance helped amplify the voices of those underrepresented in the very decision-making bodies which design and pass laws that govern their lives.
For example, in 2012, the number of women parliamentarians in Mongolia tripled as a result of the June legislative elections. Before the Mongolian Secretary General of Parliament had even been elected and committee chairs had been determined, the nine newly-elected women organized a multi-partisan women’s caucus. With WDN’s support, the women established an agenda, elected leadership and got to work targeting the most pressing issues of the day. The caucus maintains a powerful voice in the parliament and across the country and stood behind the creation of the National Committee on Gender Equality. Importantly, the Committee has branches in all ministries, provinces and districts and is managed by the Prime Minister’s office to ensure coordination of all efforts. One of the members of the women’s caucus noted, “I think that we underestimated the power of women in parliament…we see now that it is possible to reach success in decision making.”
Almost 10,000 miles away in Peru, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus focuses on the citizens’ priorities by drawing upon the town-hall meetings they held since 2012. By listening to the citizens across the country the congresswomen were able to identify that citizens wanted an increased response to domestic abuse and subsequently elevated this issue to the national level. The Caucus has worked with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to create more women emergency centers, the Ministry of Justice to improve services provided by the country’s public defenders, and with the Ministry of Interior to strengthen the anti-human trafficking measures. As a result of women legislators coming together in a multi-partisan way, these issues have now been brought to the forefront of the parliamentary agenda.
Women’s caucuses around the world are bettering their communities and ultimately improving the democratic governance within their countries. Individual members of these caucuses also serve as role models to other women who aspire to lead through elected office.
On March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day, WDN will celebrate these women and host a delegation of women’s caucus members from around the globe who, through their daily work, are making a difference in their countries. WDN is honored to support them in this mission.
Erika Veberyte is the Director of Women’s Democracy Network.Top