By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra, Technical Assistant, Population Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University (SNDTWU), Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.
- Views expressed below are of the contributor AND NOT of the PERC, SNDTWU where he is currently employed.
- Major portion of the contribution presented below have been drawn from secondary data sources (which have been quoted in the Reference Section at the end of the text).
1. How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations?
Women continue to be under-represented in the political and economic decision-making process. Balanced participation of men and women in decision-making is a precondition for the improved functioning of democracy. There is need for positive measures to strengthen institutional mechanisms – such as framework laws, governmental programmes, national action plans and the setting up of gender equality committees in elected assemblies – in order to make up for lost time in this field. It stresses that political parties have a responsibility to promote women’s access to decision-making positions. The media also has a role to play in forming public opinion about the place of women in society .
2. How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies? How can men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons, and other family members, support women’s role in political life? Share concrete examples.
Girls and women have a right to engage in civil society, vote in elections, be elected to government office, serve on boards, and make their voices heard in any process that will ultimately affect them, their families, and their communities. By investing in their right to political participation, the international community not only moves closer to achieving gender equality, but also to fulfilling several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets that depend upon it. While achieving gender equality and empowering girls and women is the goal of sustainable development goal (SDG) 5, the benefits from the inclusion of girls and women are cross-cutting, paving the way to more inclusive and egalitarian democracies, balanced economic growth, and enhanced peace-building capacities . In addition to measures by national governments and other stakeholders at the macro level, male population can contribute lot at the micro level for furthering women’s participation in decision-making matters. They, in their individual capacities, can encourage women and girls to take vital decisions in household activities. This can be good beginning which, at a later stage, can become mass social movement with intervention of interested individuals or organizations.
3. What strategies and approaches have been successful in engaging male champions in shifting the gender disparity of women in decision-making bodies?
The causes of women’s continued lag behind men in leadership and participation in decision-making are well known, some of them being (a) persistent highly patriarchal political systems, (b) inadequate training of aspiring women leaders, (c) poverty, and (d) illiteracy. In order to promote women’s leadership and participation in decision-making in pursuit of Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Section 12 of the Commonwealth Charter, it is imperative that ongoing successful strategies are continued, and more innovative approaches introduced to accelerate the advances made so far. These measures may include supporting special leadership training programmes to develop the leadership capacities of women and enhance their effective participation in decision-making. Promoting women’s economic empowerment as a prerequisite to advancing women’s participation must also be top priorities of governments and civil society .
4. What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women in politics (or in women’s empowerment and gender equality)?
Men are likely to face challenges in efforts to increase women’s participation in decision-making. Difficulties may begin at home where other male population may discourage others from taking required steps. This is because of deep-rooted cultures which do not, in many cases, promote women’s development. This is a big challenge and there is need to research into how to overcome this barrier.
5. What can be done to catalyze and encourage more male champions of women's political participation? Please share any initiatives or good practices that you are aware of.
The role of women in decision-making is central to the advancement of women around the world and to the progress of humankind as a whole. It is, therefore, right and, indeed, necessary that women should be engaged in decision-making in every area, with equal strength and in equal numbers . Under international standards, both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of political processes. In practice, however, it is often more challenging for women to access and exercise these rights. The extent of women’s participation in politics and women’s access to decision-making can be seen as the key indicators of gender equality in a society. Gender equality in decision-making is to be viewed in the context of whether women are in the position to make or influence public decisions on the same footing as men .
There are several ongoing initiatives and good practices aimed at enhancing women's participation in decision-making. One such initiative is the Poor Rural Communities Development Project (PRCDP). The PRCDP is a rural development intervention covering some of the poorest communities in Guangxi, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China. The project has a strong outreach to ethnic minority areas and aims to improve livelihoods security and achieve sustained participation of rural people in project design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. It does this by heavily involving farmers in decisions on the kinds of rural infrastructure and livelihood activities that will be implemented in their communities. A facilitated process brings households together to discuss the key challenges faced by their communities and to identify solutions that can be carried out with strong participation from the farmers’ themselves .
Ensuring that local investments are responsive to women and men’s priorities is a key feature of the PRCDP. As beneficiaries play a substantial role in project implementation, gender analysis carried out by the team focused on how women and men access basic services and on what their respective roles in decision-making at the community and household level were. The analysis was undertaken using qualitative research methodologies such as participant observation, key informant interviews and focus group discussions. These were either separate discussions held with women or consultations with groups with a balanced men/women composition. The aim of the analysis was to identify entry points for women’s participation in the community-based activities promoted by the project. Gender analysis also focused on how the implementation arrangements proposed by communities would impact men and women differently. The key concern in this case was to ensure that implementation arrangements did not place an undue burden on women who already have a particularly heavy workload of agricultural activities and domestic work. The preparatory analysis carried out by the project focused on how women’s economic situation and development priorities are often wrongly assumed to be the same as those of other poor groups. It sought to understand how: (i) local customs, beliefs and attitudes limit women’s participation, (ii) women’s economic and domestic workloads pose important time constraints to their participation in community activities, and (iii) customs, policies and laws limit women’s access to resources .
In addition, the PRDCP gives women a seat at the table when it comes to decision-making at village level. The project uses a 30% target for women’s participation in the village groups created to implement sub-projects. This is intended to make sure that beyond the planning stage women are able to benefit from the additional capacity building activities implemented by the project and are able to participate actively in village organizing, in monitoring construction work and in mobilizing the community for the operation and maintenance of the sub-project investments. In order to support local facilitators in this, a project specific gender-check list was put in place as a step-by-step guide for gender-sensitive community planning .
 Parliamentary Assembly (2005). “Mechanisms to ensure women's participation in decision-making, Report: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men” (Accessed on September 07 from: https://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewHTML.asp?FileID=11068&lang=en).
 “Strengthen Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making Power”. (Accessed on September 07 from: http://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Good_Campaign_Brief_8_092016.pdf).
 The Commonwealth (2017). “Women's leadership and participation in decision-making in the Commonwealth”. Geneva, Switzerland: The Commonwealth (Accessed on September 07 from: http://thecommonwealth.org/media/news/women-leadership-and-participation-decision-making-commonwealth).
 “Women's Role in Decision-Making Central to Progress of Humankind”. (Accessed on September 07 from: http://www.loyno.edu/twomey/womens-role-decision-making-central-progress-humankind).
 Ukrainian Women’s Fund (2011). “Women’s Participation in Politics and Decision-Making in Ukraine: Strategy Paper”. Kiev, Ukraine: Ukrainian Women’s Fund (Accessed on September 07 from: http://www.osce.org/odihr/85974?download=true).
 “Poor Rural Communities Development Project Gender Mainstreaming in China”. (Accessed on September 07 from: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEAPREGTOPSOCDEV/Resources/12649GNChina.pdf).