I welcome this e-discussion on parliamentary oversight of gender equality, and thank the iKNOW Politics team for facilitating these contributions.
In 2007, the IPU’s report Tools for parliamentary oversight: A comparative study of 88 national parliaments referred to parliamentary oversight as “the review, monitoring and supervision of government and public agencies, including the implementation of policy and legislation.” While this definition might be considered gender-neutral, there is an important synergy between this, and the definition of gender mainstreaming:
... the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated (United Nations, 1997, Report of the Economic and Social Council).
Gender mainstreaming in parliaments can essentially be seen as an oversight process. Just like oversight, gender mainstreaming is a process of questioning: assumptions, actors, benefits, processes, policies, and outcomes. What assumptions have been made about the beneficiaries of a process or policy? Who does that process or policy seek to target? Will all groups be affected equitably? Will all groups benefit equitably?
Importantly, gender mainstreaming is more than the ‘insertion’ of women in acts/processes of oversight. It is the re-organisation of parliamentary review processes to ensure that no policy, no piece of legislation, no parliamentary motion discriminates against women or men, girls or boys.
To fully implement gender-sensitive parliamentary oversight, four elements are key:
- parliamentary leaders need to accept, and understand the need for, and principles of, gender equality and the means by which to achieve this. There needs to be some buy-in from those in charge;
- there needs to be some kind of institutional mechanism that is ultimately responsible for the gendered oversight – whether it be a women’s caucus, a dedicated gender equality committee, a human rights committee. Alternatively, all committees can be mandated to consider policy and legislation from a gender perspective;
- effective, context-appropriate tools need to be developed for staff and MPs to use, such as checklists of questions to ensure policies and legislation are gender-sensitive;
- gender‐sensitive training should be provided for all Members. Training can be used to highlight the gender dynamics of specific parliamentary oversight practices, such as responding to questions without notice or chairing committees. This could be part of induction programs for new Members and Senators or as part of an ongoing professional development course for all MPs.
The tools of oversight should always be gender sensitive. Using the IPU’s 2007 report, the following table provides examples of how each ‘tool’ can be gender sensitised.
It is equally important that women MPs have the same opportunities to engage in oversight as their male counterparts. There is, unfortunately, very little systematically collected data to investigate this area. More information is needed to ascertain how frequently, and from what positions of leadership (e.g. committee chairs, ministers), women and men MPs engage in oversight activities; the specific challenges faced by women MPs when engaging in oversight activities; and the common issue areas where women feel more comfortable engaging in oversight, compared with men.