E-Discussions

Women's Parliamentary Caucuses

5/3/2011
iKNOW Politics

Women’s caucuses have been created with the aim of increasing women’s impact on political decisions. It is generally believed that the building of cross-party caucuses can help provide the peer support necessary to promote a gender equality legislative and policy agenda. 

While the number of parliaments with a women’s caucus is growing fast, there are also researchers and politicians who doubt the effectiveness of women’s caucuses to influence political decision-making.

This Virtual Discussion will focus on the following sets of questions:

Are women caucuses effective? Have they made an impact on decision-making, and are there best practices that can be shared and learned from? If not, what alternatives exist? 

Framing this debate in the wider development context, are there indications that women caucuses have had a tangible impact on national development in their respective countries?  Have women caucuses contributed to development-sensitive legislation, or positively influenced development indicators?  In short, have national development strategies benefited from the presence of these groups?

The full Background Note is attached here for your reference.  

From May 9th through May 20th 2011, iKNOW Politics will co-host a Virtual Discussion on Women's Parliamentary Caucuses with AGORA (www.agora-parl.org). 

Comments

adinda's picture

May 24, 2011 00:12
adinda

In general, the women caucus would be more effective if it has a good
organization, management, objectives, strategy and quality team work. To
be more effective and give impact, they need to have a good internal
communication and also need to work intensively with media, since media
relations is important in their struggle to achieve their vision and
mission. They also need to be able to cope with variety of issues in the
community. There are some stronger members/figures in caucus, but that is
not enough. Ideally, the caucus itself should be strong as a group. Caucus
in general will face many challenges in implementing their mission and
vision.  Especially because women political caucus in which its members
come from different parties, some disagreements may naturally be arisen.

Based on our research last year, a women caucus in one of the cities in
Indonesia had difficulty in maintaining a good relationship with
parliament and local government to work collaboratively on gender issue.
The communication among those groups has to be conducted more intensively,
so that they know each other better. A good political communication
between the policy maker and the related stakeholders will contribute to a
good implementation of  National Development.  A good communication needs
to be built between the women caucuses (in parliament and in civic
society) and government or other stakeholders through public hearing,
radio or TV talkshow, constituents visit or workshop on research/survey
result.  This effort will result in a good connection between policy
discourse and implementation.  National development i s  a huge matter. It
will take more than a caucus to make it successful.

Another important strategy is to be able to map out the stakeholders on
resources and capacity.  After mapping out, they will learn more about
their own strengths and weaknesses, approaches or best practices in
addressing  gender issues.

deveaux's picture

May 23, 2011 00:13
deveaux (not verified)

Having reviewed the previous comments and drawing on my own experiences in a Westminster-style parliament, I want to raise the issue of how to have effective multi-party caucses in a parliamentary system based on strong party discipline.

The challenge is to use the space created by a multi-party caucus to empower women MPs to be strong advocates within their parliamentary groups. One of the previous comments suggetsed a less formal caucus, which may be a good way of creating the space for information sharing and discussions. I think it is also important for a newly-formed caucus to have "quick wins" that show that it has some political capital, as it is important to send a signal to all MPs that the format can work and have an impact.

But in a system with strong party discipline, in the end, the parties in parliament will have adopt any initiatives as their own and work to deliver within the parliament. If this can be done then the work of the multi-party caucus will be a success.

ddahlerup's picture

May 20, 2011 00:15
ddahlerup

No doubt, women’s caucuses can be effective in promoting gender equality in parliament. There are many good examples all over the world of the ability of women’s caucuses to place women’s issues and gender equality on the political agenda and to get new legislation passed.

However, women parliamentarians may also form informal networks with good effect. This may be a good, alternative strategy in parliaments with strong party discipline and/or where a considerable number of the female parliamentarians do not want to engage themselves, at least not openly, in gender issues.

In such an informal network, the participants may agree upon simultaneously bringing a burning issue onto the agenda in their individual party fraction or party group. During the discussions in each party group, may be after several further consultations in the network, consensus might be reached in the end, and the proposal even supported by male colleagues. 
Such cross-party agreements may of course also be reached during committee discussions.

Andi Timo Pangerang's picture

May 20, 2011 00:16

Based on our experiences, a women caucus is effective since the members who come from different  parties or organizations can sit together and be able to have the same vision and mission in gender equality in general or increasing women’s participation and representation in politics in particular. By joining the efforts, the impact or contribution of the caucus is bigger than if we do it individually.

As member of Women Parliamentary Caucus of Indonesia, we are even be able to incorporate more intensively women’s issues and interests in the process of legislative development. Through the caucus, we can develop a recommendation or policy paper for certain issues which may or may not be an interest of our party group in parliament. In general , by joining women’s caucus, the members could implement their functions better in the legislation, budgeting and oversight tasks.  By having been assigned in defferent commission or to work on different issues, members of the caucus can work together with other important public officials such as ministeries.  

CedricJurgensen's picture

May 17, 2011 00:17
CedricJurgensen (not verified)

I agree with Drude on the idea that women causus do not need to be formal institutions in order to be effective, and informal networks have the advantage to avoid party discipline or theoritical statements. But as many other francophone persons I am not completely confortable with the notion of caucus itself, even if it is broadly used in many countries where dedicated structures have been created (the word has no clear translation in French, which makes it hard to find equivalent concepts : it is less than a committee and probably more than a working group). Anyway I think the main point it to create a specific venue or group where challenges that women are facing in politics and strategies for gender equality can be discussed. 
When a formal entity is created within a Parliament, such as the Delegation au droit des femmes within the French national assembly, it is very important that men can also participate, because the goal is to overcome sexist approaches, reach equality and garantee the same rights and opportunities for all parliamentarians, whatever their gender is. In the case of the French national assembly, the head of the Delegation is a women and it gathers 36 parliamentarians, including 8 men (some of them drafting reports and supporting bills to improve women's situation). This specific structure plays a strategic role in the follow-up of gender-sensitive issues, in the lawmaking and oversight activities of Parliament. But a large part of the work needs also to be done outside the parliament, within the political parties, to ensure women can also access responsabilities and run for constituencies with reasonnable chances to win. 
Fighting all kind of gender-based discrimination or gender-based violence is not only an issue for women, but for all the citizens - as it is for other discriminations, based on race or religion for instance. Unfortunately, the number of men actively participating to these fights remains often limited, because of old habits or cultural prejudices : change in mentalities if probably the key issue, and a lot of work should focus on education (even for adults in this case !). 
This is also a reason why I find very positive the fact that, as mentioned by Juliana, male parliamentarians have requested the authorization to participate to the women causus in Rwanda : my opinion is that next step, after the access to a status of associate members to the causus, would be to provide them a full member one, because I guess women members can be confident their contribution will also be interesting and useful to get broader exchanges and support.

JenniferSmith's picture

May 17, 2011 00:18
JenniferSmith

We have not had Women's Caucuses in Bermuda. We have had caucuses for Black Parliamentarians, which were effective at the time. However, women have always been the backbone of political parties in Bermuda. They have achieved high office - 3 women Premiers, 2 women Attorneys General, 1 woman Minister of Finance, many other women Ministers and a woman Deputy Speaker. Obviously, high position does not necessarily correspond to equality of opportunity or renumeration. What we have learned is that the best way to get government buy in is to point out that so-called women's issues are actually family issues. Man is born of woman - therefore they are concerned about their mothers, their wives, their daughters, their sisters; when we put issues of direct impact to women in this context - the men become involved.

susanamarkham's picture

May 17, 2011 00:19
susanamarkham

Women’s collective efforts in the legislature are crucial not only because of their impact on public policies that effectively respond to citizens’ demands and interests, but also because of their effect on the consolidation and progress of women’s leadership. Nonetheless, cross-party work within the legislative branch faces many challenges: building consensus while maintaining equilibrium between commitment to gender issues and party visions; keeping gender issues on the public agenda; and creating a sustainable critical mass of women legislators committed to advancing a gender equality agenda.

While models must be tailored to the national context, the following general considerations should be kept in mind:

Reaching agreement on a minimum set of basic points included in international conventions can be a useful starting point.

When placing issues on the agenda, it is crucial to have hard data, so the proposals are not seen simply as the opinions of a group of women who see themselves as “victims”, but as the views of political stakeholders who bring issues of interest to citizens – in this case, women’s issues, which must no longer be marginalized – to the public agenda.

It is much more effective to build alliances and have support from male politicians or men from other fields.

In a winning formula, the women’s caucus is not simply a forum for coordination and alliances within the legislature, but develops relationships with other women in public office as well as territorial and sub-regional organizations to channel their demands and proposals.

Legislators’ day-to-day work tends to be exhausting and takes up all of their time and that of their teams. It is therefore helpful to find a person or team that can work permanently on caucus affairs, preparing technical input, so that legislators can debate them and place them on the political agenda.

Women in legislatures worldwide have used diverse practices to make progress on priority issues and decrease the gender gaps in their countries. This should serve as an incentive to increase the number of women in parliaments and support their efforts so they can propose actions that ensure the continuation of the achievements of their predecessors.

More information on the topic is attached below and available here

http://www.ndi.org/files/One_Size_Does_Not_Fit_All_eng_0.pdf

Nansata Yakubu's picture

May 12, 2011 00:21
Nansata Yakubu (not verified)

[Moderator's Note: this comment is cross-posted from AGORA, the Portal for Parliamentary Development.  To read more please click here.]

Women's Caucuses are a positive force for advancing progress in the gender dialogue, and thereby enhancing the passage of gender sensitive laws in Parliaments. They act effectively also as a bridge for articulating issues raised by women and men differently on new development trends and how they impact both sexes differently. 

For instance debates on climate change and the environment, oil exploration and domestic violence. In Ghana, the Parliament has only 18 women out of a total number of 230 members but that has not been a disservice as women MPs have successfully led the campaign on the Domestic Violence until it was passed. As well, a Ministry for Women and Children's Affairs established from year 2000 has also served a viable platform for collaboration. 
In this first instance, I have also put out some statistics gleaned from the IPU site on women speakers of Parliament, so as to preempt the issue of women in leadership positions of parliament..... 
History of Women Speakers of Parliaments 
BEFORE 1945 

Austria was the only State to have elected a woman to the presidency of one of the Parliament's Chambers (the Bundesrat) before the Second World War

FROM 1945 TO 1997

 Only 42 of the 186 States with a legislative institution have, at one time or another in recent history, selected a woman to preside over Parliament or a House of Parliament: this has occurred 78 times in all. 
 Those concerned are 18 European countries, 19 countries of the Americas, 3 African countries, 1 Asian country and 1 country in the Pacific. 
 24 of the States concerned had a bicameral Parliament, and the presidency was entrusted to a woman a little more often in the Senate than in the lower House.

AT PRESENT: SITUATION AS OF 31 DECEMBER 2010

 Only 38 women preside over one of the Houses of the 188 existing Parliaments, 77 of which are bicameral. 
The countries concerned are: Albania (Poeople's Assembly); Antigua and Barbuda (House of Representatives and Senate); Austria (Nationalrat); Bahamas (Senate); Belize (Senate); Bosnia and Herzegovina (House of Peoples); Botswana (National Assembly); Bulgaria (Naradno Schranie); Chile (Cámara de Disputados); Czech Republic (Poslanecka Snemovna); Dominica (House of Assembly); Estonia (Riigikogu); Gabon (Senate); Germany (Bundesrat); Ghana (Parliament); Grenada (Senate); Iceland (Althingi); India (Lok Sabha); Latvia (Saeima); Lesotho (National Assembly); Lithuania (Seimas); Mozambique (Assembleia da Republica); Netherlands (Twede Kamer der Staten Generaal); Pakistan (National Assembly); Romania (Chamber of Deputies); Rwanda (Chamber of Deputies); Saint Lucia (House of Assembly and Senate); Serbia (Narodna Skupstina); Suriname (Nationale Assemblee); Swaziland (Senate); Turkmenistan (Mejlis); United Kingdom (House of Lords); United Republic of Tanzania (Bunge); Uruguay (Cámara de Representantes); Uzbekistan (Legislative chamber); Zimbabwe (Senate). 
 Women therefore occupy only 14.1% of the total number of 270 posts of Presiding Officers of Parliament or of one of its Houses.

Date at which, for the first time in the country's parliamentary history, a woman became Presiding Officer of Parliament or of one of its Houses: 
COUNTRY YEAR COUNTRY YEAR 
Austria 1927 Suriname 1997 
Denmark 1950 Netherlands 1998 
Hungary 1963 Czech Republic 1998 
Uruguay 1963 Venezuela 1998 

Germany 1972 Spain 1999 
Canada 1972 Dominican Republic 1999 
Argentina 1973 Lesotho 2000 
Iceland 1974 Republic of Moldova 2001 
Switzerland 1977 Georgia 2001 
Bolivia 1979 Chile 2002 
Italy 1979 Liberia 2003 
Dominica 1980 Estonia 2003 
Sao Tome and Principe 1980 Greece 2004 
San Marino 1981 Belgium 2004 
Ireland 1982 Saint Kitts and Nevis 2004 
Belize 1984 New Zealand 2005 
Jamaica 1984 Burundi 2005 
Costa Rica 1986 Albania 2005 
Australia 1987 Zimbabwe 2005 
Luxembourg 1989 Gambia 2006 
Grenada 1990 Israel 2006 
Nicaragua 1990 Swaziland 2006 
Finland 1991 Turkmenistan 2006 
Guatemala 1991 Saint Lucia 2007 
COUNTRY YEAR COUNTRY YEAR 

Sweden 1991 United States of America 2007 
Trinidad and Tobago 1991 Nigeria 2007 
United Kingdom 1992 Uzbekistan 2008 
Croatia 1993 Pakistan 2008 
Japan 1993 Serbia 2008 
Norway 1993 Rwanda 2008 
South Africa 1994 Romania 2008 
Antigua and Barbuda 1994 Gabon 2009 
El Salvador 1994 Bosnia and Herzegovina 2009 
Mexico 1994 Ghana 2009 
Panama 1994 India 2009 
Ethiopia 1995 Bulgaria 2009 
Latvia 1995 Lithuania 2009 
Peru 1995 Botswana 2009 
Malta 1996 Mozambique 2010 
Poland 1997 United Rep. of Tanzania 2010 
Bahamas 1997

* The 270 presiding officer posts are comprised as follows: 
1. 258 parliamentary chambers with one presiding officer each; 
2. Three chambers with two presiding officers each (San Marino's single chamber, the US Senate and the Liberian Senate) 
3. Two chambers with three presiding officers each (Bosnia-Herzegovina's lower and upper chambers)

Ratu Dian's picture

May 11, 2011 00:22
Ratu Dian

Women's caucus is very effective in conveying our message and advocating
our cause to the party's elites. Doing this through the organization such
as women's caucus is more effective than doing it invidually. With women's
caucus, everything we do will be more powerful or have more impact. The
women's caucus will be even better if it has a good and clear vision
mission that we can translate into good program activities and implement
them with full of commitment from its members. With regard to legislation,
based on our experience, the impact of women's caucus is not as high as we
expected. This is because women representation in each level of decision
making positions, particularly in parliament are not that high.

SoulefGuessoum's picture

May 9, 2011 00:23
SoulefGuessoum (not verified)

[Moderators Note: This comment is cross posted with AGORA, to read further please click here]

Caucuses are crucial in bringing women MPs together despite their political tendencies and differences. The caucuses are privileged spaces for women legislators to advocate together for women’s issues, minorities issues... 

Women who are serving their first mandate might find the caucus more useful for supporting them to be in contact with other MPs. The caucus is also privileged space for networking with other entities, parliaments and international organizations.. 

Are women caucuses effectives? Yes they are. In Rwanda le Forum des Femmes Rwandaises Parlementaires created in 1996 has advanced women legislators. Women at the parliament of Rwanda represent today more than 50% and they were able to pass several laws in favor of equality and developing the legal framework related to gender based violence.

iKNOW Politics's picture

May 9, 2011 00:24
iKNOW Politics

Comment from Nomenita Chetia, Pakistan in the 2008-2010 Women's Caucuses Discussion Circle

"Women leaders in the region are not ordinary leaders: “each of them has a grand legacy behind them and a mass following, believing their ideologies and promises. Millions of ordinary women follow these leaders and hope that they will be able to address and understand their problems, which man leaders could not.  But the biggest irony is that, they were not able to address those issues and seen to fall back into those bandwagon of being deaf and mute leaders whose only issue is to control their vote banks. They are observed to go to the extent of propagating and patronizing those extremist viewpoints so that they do not hurt the sentiments of so called  - propagators of extremist views to be sure of being re-elected. Ultimately we see that those women leaders – who were supposed to be the harbinger of change and hope for millions of ordinary women… as just another ordinary political leader with false promises.”

iKNOW Politics's picture

May 9, 2011 00:25
iKNOW Politics

Women politicians often face criticisms for being 'disguised men' who fail to add a gender dimension to their work.  Many women parliamentarians are indeed weary of pushing for gender-sensitive legislation because they worry it will alienate voters, because their interests extend beyond gender-related concerns, or simply because they are daunted by having to take on such a large and complex agenda by themselves.  

 

Having a women's caucus in place allows women parliamentarians to efficiently channel their commitment to these issues, with the support of their female colleagues behind them and without gender becoming an exclusive and too time-consuming part of their political agenda.  Women's caucuses make that women parliamentarians can deal with issues beyond gender, while still rallying for gender-sensitive legislation and providing solid checks and balances throughout the law-making process.

Finally, in more traditional and conservative societies, women's caucuses can play a large role in helping women parliamentarians break barriers to the introduction of gender-sensitive legislation.  Working together on these issues means that individual women parliamentarians are less likely to be singled out by their male colleagues for being subversive; especially in informal settings, this can make a powerful difference to the successful introduction of new, improved legislation.