Women’s political participation in electoral processes requires targeted support to overcome gender discrimination. Key strategies for enhancing gender balance in electoral processes include: working with political parties to promote gender sensitive policies and practices to foster women’s leadership; targeted outreach and support for women to register to vote and safely access polling stations; guarantee of protection from election related violence and harassment; the use of quotas and temporary special measures to increase women’s representation; effective technical and financial support to women candidates and political leaders; and engagement of male champions for women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Women make up only 23.5% of Members of Parliament according to the latest available data of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. While significant strides in women’s political participation have been made since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, which set Member States’ target of achieving gender balance in political decision-making, women are still underrepresented in political decision-making at all levels and gender balance remains an aspirational goal. Gains in women’s participation have been notable in countries that have taken proactive steps to support women’s political participation, including reforming or amending discriminatory laws, taking concrete action to address violence against women in politics and gender discrimination within parliaments, addressing gender-specific barriers, and supporting women in all forms of decision-making including at local level and in executive government.
Enhancing women’s political participation requires commitment and proactive engagement of political parties to integrate women’s perspectives into party platforms, ensure that women have equal and safe access to voting, and that women candidates and their advancement in party structures are supported. This includes: proactive outreach to and training women candidates, active measures to prevent violence against women in politics, and providing equitable access to campaign funds and fundraising support. To act meaningfully on these areas and others, political parties can develop concrete gender equality strategies, reform policies, codes of conduct and practices, and conduct regular gender audits.
Advocacy and lobbying are effective tools for gender advocates, male champions, civil society, and other stakeholders to hold leaders accountable to their commitments on concrete, measurable actions that guarantee women can fully and equally enjoy their rights. These include the ability to exercise freedom and choices, go to school, live free from violence, earn equal pay for equal work, and meaningfully engage in decision-making and political processes. Advocacy groups can collectively put pressure their leaders for legislative reforms to protect and promote women’s rights and concerns, which may require coalition-building, fundraising, civic education, awareness-raising and consensus-building on key issue platforms. Influencing legislation itself may require lobbying to convince policy makers and legislators to address specific issues relevant to gender equality and women’s empowerment, which may involve introducing or revising legislation and policy.
While there have been important advances in women’s leadership in politics, as of November 1 2017, women make up only 7.2% of Heads of State and 6.2% Heads of Government. Data on women representatives in local government, including as mayors, heads of villages and towns, is not well collected and analyzed. The adoption of an SDG indicator on women’s representation in local government is a great step forward in tracking progress on gender balance, allowing for the systematic collection and analysis of data on women in local government. Women’s access to and continued role in leadership positions is challenged by a range of barriers, including discriminatory laws and practices, as well as social norms that prescribe traditional roles and attitudes towards women’s participation in leadership and decision-making roles. Proactive gender-equality policies within political parties and local government structures, including quotas and special temporary measures, gender-sensitive approaches to electoral processes, support networks, mentoring, training, and engagement of male champions, can all help promote women’s role in political leadership.
While young people play central and catalyzing roles in movements for democracy around the world, they are less engaged than older generations in voting and party activism. As of 2016 people between the ages of 20 and 44 make up 57% of the world’s voting age population but only 26% of the world’s Members of Parliament (MPs). Young people under 30 only represent 1.9% of the world’s MP’s and more than 80% of the world’s upper houses of Parliament have no MPs aged under 30. While male MPs outnumber female MPs in every age category, gender imbalance is less pronounced among younger MPs around the world. This suggests that young men and women may be more likely to make way for new faces and voices to be represented in decision-making (Inter-parliamentary Union Youth Participation in National Parliaments, 2016). Strategies that may promote the engagement of youth in political processes include: youth quotas; legal reforms to align the voting age with the minimum age for elected officials; proportional representation electoral systems; inclusive parliaments and local governance; removal of barriers for youth electoral participation; outreach and recruitment of students by political parties; and targeted outreach to youth political candidates.