Women's Participation in the Constitution-Building process
Many countries have, in recent decades, written or revised their constitutions, such as Afghanistan, Argentina, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Egypt, Iraq, Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, just to name a few.
In the past, the process of creating and revising a constitution was usually closed to the public and solely led by experts. However, public participation in these processes has been growing in recent years and is now increasingly accepted as a basic democratic right, affirmed by the UN Committee on Human Rights through their interpretation of Article 25 of the ICCPR. Mechanisms for participatory constitution building include civic education, public consultations, citizen participation via advocacy by civil society and expert groups, and referendums.
Public participation in democratic constitution-building processes can be considered a continuous dialogue between members of the public, including individual citizens, CSOs, academia, unions, and expert groups, with political parties and the body (such as a Constituent Assembly) mandated to draft and approve the new constitution. All citizens should have the right to participate in the entire process, which has become as equally important as the content of the final document for the legitimacy of a constitution.
A country’s constitution provides the framework for its legal system, which shapes not only the political status of women, but their economic and social status as well. Significant advances in the participation of women in recent constitution-building processes have contributed to increasingly gender sensitive constitutions. It is, therefore, imperative that women be involved and participate throughout the entire process.
Regardless of these advances, some governments still consider that simply stating in a constitution’s preamble that women and men are equal will suffice. However, a closer look at the individual articles of several constitutions reveals that the assertion of equality and non-discrimination is not sufficient to guarantee the equal treatment of women. To this effect, women’s movements, in many countries, have been able to put forward proposals that secured women’s rights and obliged the state to remove obstacles to their effectiveness.
To learn more on different constitutional provisions related to gender in countries around the world, we invite you to explore the UNWOMEN constitutional database, as well as Constitution Net, which is an exclusive online forum for constitution-building practitioners.
In this online discussion, we are looking forward to hearing your ideas and stories of how women have influenced the constitution-building processes and constitution texts.
1) The process:
- Examples of women’s movements being formed prior to the initiation of a constitution-building process in order to formulate proposals along a gender perspective.
- Examples of successful civic education programs targeting women.
- Examples of mechanisms for consultation with CSOs and women’s organizations during the process. Was social media used to involve more women in the process?
- Have women from marginalized groups (on the basis of class, religion, ethnicity or those living in rural areas, for example) been able to participate in the process? How have they made their voices heard?
- How did women in civil society work together with women in political parties or in the constitutional body (such as a Constituent Assembly, Constitutional Assembly, or parliament) to advance their agenda?
- Were women’s groups able to forge alliances with other actors, such as human rights groups, labor unions, and academia to advance a common agenda?
- How were advocacy priorities established? What were the priorities of women engaged in constitution building?
- Examples of representation of women at the negotiation table. By what percentage? How have these women been appointed/elected?
2) The product, i.e. the Constitution:
- Examples of specific constitutional articles that affect the daily lives of women ((Equality between women and men, Citizenship and Nationality, Right to Property/Inheritance, Marriage and Family Life, Labor and Economic life, etc.) Are there examples of articles that have been particularly detrimental to women?
- Examples of how revisions made in a Constitution improved the status of women.
- To what extent have provisions of particular importance to women been implemented by governments? What have been the significant successes and challenges?
- How does the public hold the government accountable for implementing the constitution?
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