How to create an effective women's caucus?

Ask the Experts

How to create an effective women's caucus?

As individuals without the support of a caucus women are often forced to focus on their party agendas rather than lobby for women at large. However, women's caucuses around the world have had a notable impact on empowering women members of parliament to stand up for gender equality. How can we start a caucus?

Answer: 

First of all, have a breakfast meeting. It is better for the eldest woman, or the longest serving woman can invite the other women for the breakfast or tea. Then just chat about anything. Then, choose your leader as unofficially as possible. Do not make a paper protocol or something that will make the relationship stiff. Vote on the woman who entered newly in politics. Old politicians have old disagreements. Fresh new face will help the women. Be very nice to each other. If someone’s arguing over something, just joke and say to each other nice words. Human relationship is very important. Each time, find small reasons to be together for a cup of tea: birthday, passing an important legislation, returning from a trip, returning from recession and breaks etc.

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sonja lokar's picture

Expert: Sonja Lokar I would like to share with you the experiences of three best women caucuses, formed  in the Balkans from 2002 till today. The first case is from Macedonia. Women's Parliamentary Club of the Republic of Macedonia has been   formed in 2003 and it was a great success till the conservative government was formed  in 2006, when its ability to lead well focused  joint actions in favor of women human rights gradually diminished. The second case is from Kosova, were Women's Caucus of the Assembly of Kosovo is very strong and active for more than a decade, and the last one is Women's parliamentarian Network from Serbia, established in February 2013.In all three cases the initiative to form such a caucus has come not from the women in the parliament but from the women NGOs with strong support of international actors with gender equality mandate - such as UNW, UNDP, CoE, OSCE, Stability Pact for SEE,  NDI.... It was of crucial importance that the women parliamentarians were getting strong support from civil society feminist movement  for their work within their political parties much before they were elected as MPs. 
These three caucuses were formed in strong connection with the years long successful advocacy and  lobbying of nation wide cross -cross  women's coalitions  for the enactment of legal electoral quotas.The most difficult thing for the Women MPs is how to maintain their double loyalty - the loyalty to their many times strongly opposing political parties and the loyalty to the women's cause. The number of the issues they can work together is very small (political representation of women, equal pay, violence against women, reproductive health - exemption is abortion issue, reduction of poverty between women)  but can be effective if they solve this main problem.
 When political tensions  are too great to enable normal functioning of the parliament, women's caucus can not function if it was created in more tolerant political atmosphere (the case of Macedonia), but it can serve as an excellent tool to appease tensions, if it is formed in the moment when a new majority takes power, and the caucus did not exist before (the case of Serbia). Nothing can be done if there is not enough  dedication, courage, wisdom and sincere will to change the status of women in the country for the better in  at least one highly positioned woman MP coming from major opposing parliamentary parties. 
To see more, you can look into the web pages and Facebook of these caucuses, for Kosovo, look especially for Teuta Sahatqqija.  This is a presentation about the formation of a women parliamentarians network in Serbia.