Primer 50/50 Campaign
First Step: Getting in the Door
Sweden: Equal Value to the Issues
served in Parliament for 14 years, and is now Sweden's Minister of
Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and Minister for Gender Equality Affairs. She
presides over the Women's Movement for the Social Democratic Party and has a
long history as an activist at the forefront in the fight for women's rights.
The purpose of
50/50 must be to change opinion, to give the same value to women and women's
issues as to men and men's issues. Reaching this goal must start with
political will, because the parties must be willing to change their members
in Parliament and at the regional and local levels. NGOs play an important
role as well. In Sweden, without the women's movement working inside and
outside the political parties, we would never have come close to our high
levels of representation. Today, we are nearing equality for women in
government across local, regional and national levels.
At the beginning of the '90s, there was much debate when the recession in
Sweden hit women hardest. There were cuts in social benefits and in money to
municipalities and the regions. Women were unemployed and had no access to
child-care systems. The reaction to the new policies came mainly from outside
the political parties, among the so-called non-party political women. When
these outside forces "threatened" my party with talks of creating a
women's party, if 50/50 was not achieved, party leaders had to respond. While
there were many male leaders who insisted that women were not competent
enough to hold public positions, the NGOs were still able to push the issue
forward because they knew that the politicians were afraid of the voters,
especially close to an election.
One strategy for achieving 50/50 is to set a timetable and targets. In
Sweden, the aim was 30 percent by 1993, 40 percent by 1994, and 50 percent by
1997. In 1994, my party decided that our list needed to be 50/50 at all
levels. When we won the election that year and came into power, the Prime
Minister chose 50/50 in his cabinet. Currently, the number of women ministers
is greater than the number of men.
We did encounter some problems because we needed so many new women in all
these political bodies. We found women, although the outcome was not quite
expected. First, the women were new, and had high expectations for creating
change, not only locally but also globally. Many ran into conflict with older
male political leaders and faced difficulties balancing their new role as a
community leader with their family responsibilities.
To combat some of these challenges, we introduced a child-care system in
Parliament. In many areas, we are also working on having meetings in the
daytime, not in the evenings so women may participate before picking up the
children at five o'clock. To deal with the newness of women in Parliament, we
started women's groups within the parties. We tried to find common solutions.
We have noticed women working together to prepare before meetings. In
educational workshops, they also learned about issues ranging from female
leadership to writing speeches and articles.
Primer 50/50 Campaign
First Step: Getting in the Door
Philippines: We Must Dare to Move Forward
is the first woman deputy speaker in the Philippines House of
Representatives. When her 10-year legal term limit expires in 2001, she plans
to run for governor in her home province, South Cotabato because women there
haven't cracked the executive branch yet.
the Philippines, has been a democratic state since the late 1930s, but our
struggle for freedom and equality has been as colorful as in any nation with
a history of foreign domination. Books, films, national holidays and
celebrations all note our history. But lost in our history is the struggle of
Filipino women for recognition as equal partners—in the family, in the
community and in nation building.
Filipino women project a façade of liberation in the way we dress, in our
music, in our speech. Our women are everywhere, and whatever the forum, they
are intelligent and eloquent. But deep inside, the Philippines is a nation
split apart, where women are child-bearers and rearers, supportive partners
of their husbands, always second in command, but never commander. At first
glance at the political landscape, we have a president, he is male, and we
have a vice president, she is female. We say well and good. But if we look
more closely, we find only one female cabinet secretary. In the Senate, there
are three women out of 23. In the House of Representatives, 22 out of 218 are
women. [Editor's Note: Since this speech, vice president Gloria
Macapagal-Arroyo became president following a popular insurrection. Cabinet
numbers may have changed due to ensuing resignations and reappointments.]
The executive positions held by women in local politics are just as scarce.
In the Department of National Defense and local government, which include the
armed forces and the Philippine national police, there are no women at all
from secretary to under secretary. In the peace process in the south, women
have limited involvement.
Glass ceilings remain in the Philippines, unyielding despite constitutional
mandates, legislative enactments and pressures from women's advocates. Women
are kept out of the political arena by intangible, subconsciously, or less
than subconsciously, erected walls of gender bias. No legislative initiatives
can pass without compromises diluting their very essence—even on such
critical issues as trafficking in women and sexual harassment. And even
though many executive policies and legislative acts for women are now in
place, they are superficially implemented. The challenge for Filipino women
is to enter the rarified environment of politics or to remain forever on the
sidelines of policy-making and implementation. We face many obstacles, but
four of the more prevalent are stereotyping, the nature of the political
beast, a rigid electoral system and apathy.
The first obstacle is culturally-rooted stereotyping. Women are relegated to
roles as supporting partners in homes, in the community, and in nation
building. Dissuaded from asking why, discouraged from breaking free of the
mold, from childhood we are conditioned to think that there is a limit to
what one can accomplish because of one's gender. I remember my mother saying
that I couldn't become a lawyer because that is a male occupation. And
everybody said I couldn't enter politics because it's a violent world and women
should not be there.
The second obstacle is the nature of our politics. With its patronage money
and violence, it's a natural male dominion. It's an all-male club. There is
no state support for parties, and they believe that if you don't have the
muscles you cannot get in or stay in.
The third obstacle is the rigid electoral system, which does not provide a
level playing field for disadvantaged sectors, especially women. And the
fourth obstacle is the indifference and in some cases abhorrence many women
of influence feel toward parties and politics. There is a sense that politics
is dirty, and we're afraid of being contaminated by it.
What is to be done to get women into politics despite the obstacles? First we
have to liberate the minds of our women from the bondage of gender bias.
Second is the adoption of transparency in politics. Third is electoral
reforms. And fourth is the active involvement of women's organizations in
politics. Otherwise, we'll always be on the margin. It's a long and arduous process,
which is why we've moved the deadline for our 50/50 goal from 2001 to 2005.
And we're afraid that we'll have to move that time frame again. But 50/50 can
Unless we institutionalize reform, be it social, economic, and, most
especially, political, we will always be celebrating individual victories and
showcasing role models even while losing these role models to the system. We
will never take these experiences in stride as proper and right. I always say
to myself and to my political and party colleagues: We must dare where no one
Japan: We Must Dare to Move Forward
serves in the Japanese House of Councilors, the upper house of Parliament. A
former journalist, she is an Independent who was first elected to parliament
11 years ago. Ms. Domoto is also a WEDO board member.
considered as an advanced industrialized country, but on women's issues, we
lag far behind other nations. It is still very difficult for Japanese women
to get into the decision-making process. In the lower house of Parliament,
women make up only five percent, or 25 out of 500 members. The situation is
slightly better in the upper house, which has about 40 women or 17.1 percent,
due to a proportional representation system. But in the central administration,
only two out of 128 bureau chiefs are women, and in local government, only
about 6 percent of officials are women. Nearly half of all local assemblies
have no women at all.
In 1996, just after Beijing, we found some new opportunities when 40 years of
the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) rule ended. A three-party coalition
formed a new government. It included my party, Sakigake, which I was leading
at the time; the Social Democrats, led by Ms. Takako Doi; and the Liberal
democratic Party headed by Mr. Dutelo Hashimoto.
For the first time in Japanese history, it was two women and one man,
exceptional given the tiny percentage of women parliamentarians.
We had the key, and it worked. I made sure that when we organized the
coalition, we also agreed among the three parties that the Beijing Platform
for Action would become part of Japanese legislation. leading Parliament to
pass a basic law for gender equality in 1999.
I think we will begin to see change. It is going to be hard to break the
Asian tradition that men always take the initiative, but this is the start,
and I'm glad I was there to help make this decision. Even though the
coalition is now formed differently, it was essential that we had two women
leaders in the beginning.
South Africa: Start With the Party
is the deputy speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa. She served
previously as part of the African National Congress negotiating team for a
democratic South Africa.
humbled when we hear talk about the successes we have made in South Africa,
simply because our own experience is of real struggle. We don't feel that
we've been successful, just that we have experienced what we have
experienced. The best we can do is to keep sharing what lessons we have learned,
and also continue to learn ourselves.
What we have done came not just from our own wisdom in South Africa; we also
learned from the rest of the world. When we were writing our Constitution, we
studied different models. We considered a variety of experiences, in
particular those of women, and we adopted little bits from each one to make
our own model. We share this not because we think it's the answer for
everybody, but because it demonstrates how we designed our own solution.
In South Africa, political parties play a central role in the political
system. The present ruling party's history, culture, and policies have
exposed the women within the party to difficulties, including our experiences
when we were in exile. Without that period of struggle, I don't think we
would have achieved as much or created our Constitution.
Women have also struggled within the ANC itself. For instance, at the first
ANC conference after 1991, there was a robust debate. The whole issue of
quotas for leadership immobilized the conference for five hours, because we
were electing party leaders. The Women's League and its secretary general
demanded that women make up 30 percent of these leaders. We did not win our
position at that time, but having that public debate, which was reported
nationally, helped to put the issue forward.
By the time we had the first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC had
adopted a policy of keeping a minimum of 30 percent of women on its own list,
in its own leadership, on its delegations, in everything that it does. At our
last conference, in 1997, this policy was incorporated in the ANC
Constitution. Of course, in implementation, the issue of merits, of whether
people have the kind of experience that would enable them to take up
leadership roles and tasks, must be considered.
Let me confess that when we were planning elections in 1994, even though I
had been involved in the constitutional talks, I never thought of myself as a
potential member of parliament. I remember one man, who is now a senior civil
servant, telling me I should stand in the list. I said he must have been
joking. I was thinking, if I'm going to be in Parliament, what about my
children? They had grown up on their own because of how busy I had been,
working in the ANC structure. He countered that if I, who championed women's
rights, did not go to Parliament and seize the first opportunity for South
African women to play a crucial role in the politics of our country, whom did
I expect to go? So I had to think about that. Because of that prodding I
decided to make myself available as a candidate.
As the new government was being formed, women in the ANC spearheaded the
formation of a coalition of women from all political backgrounds. Though we
came from different parties that were perhaps fighting at the negotiations,
we were able, as women, to come together and discuss issues and share
perspectives, which helped us promote women's concerns in the constitutional
talks. There are many things that women agree on, even as members of different
political parties. All women want peace, for example, because we bring life
into this world. And of course, in those days, violence and peace making were
priority issues. Even though we wouldn't speak against our party positions,
we would at least not criticize one another's positions when they were in the
interest of women.
In the 1994 elections, the ANC's 30 percent quota for women helped ensure
that the other parties, including the previous ruling party, considered very
carefully the issue of bringing in more women. The result was that in the
first democratically-elected Parliament, 27 percent of the MPs were women.
Since 1994, the speaker of the National Assembly (upper house) has always
been a woman, and I have been deputy speaker since 1996. In the National
Council of Provinces, the lower house, the chairperson is also a woman. Of
four presiding officers, three are women. These are the people who steer the
business of Parliament, making it possible to look at things from a gender
perspective, especially because the presiding officer of the upper house and
I, as the speaker, come from the women's movement.
We cannot change everything overnight, but we have been able to do some
things. In the employment of staff within Parliament, we insist on affirmative
action for women so men don't fill all the positions. We also insist that
when delegations go abroad, women must be included. And when a party does not
propose a woman for a delegation, we tell them, sorry, we're moving on to the
next party unless you nominate a woman. It is not only the majority party
that always provides the women. Quotas are for everyone in Parliament.
Despite the challenges, we have made strides at the national level. In the
second Cabinet of our government, we have even more women than under Nelson
Mandela. In the new Cabinet, we have eight women ministers among 25
ministries and eight deputy women ministers. Looking at the portfolios, you
can see that we're doing away with the traditional notion that women are
concerned only with welfare-related areas. Women fill the positions of
minister and deputy minister of minerals and energy,deputy minister of
defense, and foreign minister. We still have a lot more to do at other levels
of government, however—both provincially and locally. We're quite intent on
getting more women coming in at that level because it's crucial for
implementation of national policy.
We have learned the need for constant vigilance. We provided for women's
national machinery in the Constitution, including structures within
Parliament that would assist us in an ongoing examination of women's
interests and rights, such as the Parliamentary Committee on the Promotion of
the Status and Quality of Life of Women, which looks at implementation of
CEDAW and of the Beijing Platform of Action. It has also played a crucial
role in the Women's Budget Initiative. In 1999, the Minister of Finance was
able to state clearly under each portfolio what resources have been allocated
to women and how they would be used. In 2000, however, the budget did not
present this information, despite our assumption that it would. Now we must
ensure that next year it once again details what is being envisaged. It
taught us an important lesson: You must never take things for granted.
Primer 50/50 Campaign
First Step: Getting in the Door
South Africa: Strength in Numbers
with the women's movement for nearly 20 years, Mihloti Matye
heads the Commission on Gender Equality.
years, NGOs in South Africa fought oppression and helped people. Now
they're redefining their own government. While the roles that women's NGOs
have played in terms of quotas and lobbying have been varied, we realized
the need to form alliances, and not just among NGOs, but also between NGOs
Together, we have tried a number of strategies, such as requesting
political parties to tell us what they intend to do about quotas, because
only the ruling African National Congress has adopted a reservation system.
We knew that even though none of the 12 other parties has a stated quota
policy, if we asked about it they would feel pressured to do something for
the next round of elections. Some parties now have more than 30 percent
representation, even without quotas.
Other institutions have supported the alliances made by women, such as the
independent Electoral Commission, which is a constitutional body, and the
Commission on Gender Equality. The media has also been important, using the
information that we supply to let people know what is going on and making
We've also held conferences where we engage members of Parliament, and we
have written letters to political parties as we form alliances from
conferences and other forums. We have also tried to identify people who are
doing similar work so we can share what we're doing at any one time.
There have been some missed opportunities. One has been lobbying for a
legislative quota. Quotas are only the policy of the ruling party, and not in
the Constitution as in other countries. We haven't yet succeeded in
pressuring other political parties to adopt this system. When we began
questioning their lack of quotas, we were able to engage their interest,
but we didn't demand the change. Now we plan to lobby the parties for a
quota of sorts.
We will also advocate for higher quotas, and are discussing the Zebra
System, alternating men and women in Party Lists, and the option of tying
state funding for political parties to women's participation. For us, 50/50
is our next challenge.
Democracy Starts at the Grassroots, and Trickles Up
is a member of India's Congress Party and heads the Parliamentary Committee
on the Empowerment of Women. A veteran politician, she has been a primary
supporter of establishing quotas for women on the local, state and national
In 1975, I was
on a panel at the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City. Bella
Abzug, WEDO's co-founder, chaired the panel, and we were supposed to talk
about our leadership roles in our governments. At the time, I had only been
in Parliament for one year, and was rather nervous. I said simply that it is
difficult in a country where women are very sparsely represented to be able
to change much. Although a woman, Indira Gandhi, headed our government, I
didn't see many possibilities for women in politics. At the end, Bella, in
her typical direct way said, "You have no business being in
Parliament." That shook me, and I realized I needed to change my entire
approach. This was the beginning of my shaking up Parliament!
I have never looked back since then. I come from a country with 500 million
women, and mobilizing them for political participation is not easy. And yet,
we now have five political parties headed by women. Three of them lead their
parties in Parliament. The leader of the opposition in the lower house is
Sonia Gandhi, the president of my party.
But despite these signs of progress, despite constitutional guarantees,
despite laws being amended and changed, despite the National Commission for
Women and the special parliamentary committee on the empowerment of women,
there's still a big gap between what we think we are doing and what is
actually happening at the national level. In the lower house, women hold only
38 out of 542 seats. In the upper house we are 15 out of 283. And while we
had a woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, for 16 years, and although we've
spent 40 years trying the trickle-down effect, it doesn't really trickle
down—people at the top stay at the top.
It was during Rajiv Gandhi's government in the '80s, when I was Minister for
Women and Child Development, that we decided it was better to work on
progress from the ground up. We sought constitutional reform through a bill
reserving 33 percent of the seats for women in local government. Our proposal
was approved in the lower house of Parliament, but all the opposition parties
united and the bill was defeated in the upper house. We then went to the
polls, and Gandhi's party, the Congress Party, lost. Subsequently, Gandhi was
assassinated. We couldn't bring back the bill until 1992, when the Congress
Party was returned to power. The feeling after the assassination was so great
that nobody dared oppose what Gandhi had wanted. So our bill was passed not
out of love for us, but out of sentiment, and fear that there would be public
reaction to opposing our reform.
In India, we have local government bodies at three levels: the district, the
block and the village. Thirty-three percent of all posts at these levels are
now reserved for women, including both elected seats and such positions as
chairperson, mayor, deputy member and so on. This has brought in one million
women as local decision makers. Of course, there are skeptics, and there are
reports that only daughters, daughters-in-law, mothers and sisters have come
in and made the men vacate their seats. They don't talk about the sons and
grandsons who come into government. We are often told, "Oh, they're
uneducated." As Minister for Women when the amendment was approved,
critics said I was being stupid, was being influenced by Western feminism.
But today, the changes brought by this grassroots political movement are
something you have to see to believe. In my constituency, though we have the
33 percent reservation, women have won 45 percent of the seats in the most
recent election, the second after the constitutional amendment. Women are
coming to be accepted. And why? Because over the five years since women have
come into government, development priorities have changed. The human side of
development is emphasized more strongly. Women are asking for drinking water,
health centers and primary schools. They're not asking for municipality
buildings or big roads. They want change, because they know what it is to be
denied so many things all these years.
Social changes at the grassroots are much more meaningful than having a few
"important" women sitting at the top. The real meaning of democracy
is when grassroots women are participating. Of course, the challenge is there
to train them to become more effective in dealing with hostile, male-oriented
administrations, getting funding and understanding how budgets work, and
networking with NGOs and women's groups. They need a sense of self-esteem,
the feeling that "you can do it."
Change is happening. Mothers-in-law today compete to get their
daughters-in-law into the local council, because it has become prestigious.
"Well, if her daughter-in-law can be there, why can't mine?" And
these are women who five or 10 years ago wouldn't let the younger women go
anywhere except to bring water from the village.
Today in Parliament a bill is pending that the women's movement, women MPs,
all of us, have been pushing for: It would reserve 33 percent of seats in
Parliament and state assemblies for women. The networking among the men
against this proposal is unbelievable. The day it was introduced, they pulled
out the bill and tore it up. Since then, our male opponents have worked
across party lines to make sure that 50 percent of the members are never
present when the bill comes up, so it can't be voted on. All we want is to
bring the bill to the floor—let us discuss it, let us vote, and let the
electorate know who has voted for and against. That's what they don't want,
because they know that once they've exposed their vote on the electronic
machine, they will have problems when they return to their constituencies.
We are fighting hard. I have never before seen the type of unity that exists
between the women's movement, MPs and activists on this issue. Our opponents
have now set up women to present alternate bills, to divide and confuse
public opinion. Other countries have successfully pushed through this kind of
legislation, but we have a long battle ahead of us. [Editor's note: The bill
reserving a third of parliamentary and state assembly seats was defeated for
a second time in December 2000.]
First Rewrite the Political Agenda
is the Director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi.
women into politics is not the only goal; we also need different politics for
peace, for social change, for social justice, for equality. The women's
movement and women's politics has to start writing the agenda, changing the
political discourse, the political institutions, and the political behavior
of the people. In India, we have started on this process.
There are several essential strategies for women leaders who aspire to be
politicians. First, they must build their constituencies by mobilizing women,
men, the poor and the disempowered. A constituency doesn't come only from
training: It arises from continuously working with people and trying to deal
with their problems. Other important strategies include forging alliances
among civil society organizations and mobilizing public opinion.
In India, we have traveled thousands of miles across the country to speak to
people, from Delhi to Mari. Other marches have taken place at the district,
state and national levels. The media has written regularly about our work,
and we have continuously fed them information on events and issues.
We must also work to get into the parties and change the discourse at the top
levels. Currently in India, a bill to reserve a third of state and national
seats for women is before Parliament. [Editor's note: The bill was defeated
in December 2000.] We know that only 38 people are opposing the bill out of
542 people in Parliament. But there is still a stumbling block—the political
parties, which are made up of men. They only want to be there, they don't
want to change and they don't want to bring women into power. This is where
negotiating starts—talking, getting their manifestos altered and their
This process may seem difficult or impossible. But, the way we are moving in
India and the way we are building this international campaign and alliance,
we will soon be able to say that in the end it is inevitable.
Strength, If Not Numbers
is a member of the Egyptian Parliament and chair of its Human Development
We have good
news from Egypt, where a presidential decree has just established the
National Council for Women. This act upgrades our former national committee
to a higher political level. Chaired by the First Lady, it can now play a central
and powerful role through several committees, one of which focuses on women's
political empowerment. This political machinery will really change women's
status within a few years. Despite low percentages of women's representation,
women have made a difference in Egypt's Parliament. In the People's Assembly,
which is the first house, women make up only two percent of representatives,
but the upper house is a little better at 7.5 percent. But despite being few
in number, women representatives are very strong.
Egyptian women, for example, have put the environmental issues on our
nation's political agenda. Twenty years ago, when I was new in Parliament and
spoke about the environment—as a professor of geology—I was told,
"You're good, but you're still in your scientific ivory tower. You come
down to earth." They spoke as if the environment doesn't really relate
to people. But I didn't give up. As my first act in the People's Assembly, I
requested that the prime minister tell us about what was being done to
protect the River Nile from pollution. At that time, the pollution was just
starting, and we had some scientific research, but it was never taken into
consideration. By bringing up the issue, the government had to adopt the 1981
River Nile Protection Law.
We also suggested setting up an environmental protection agency, similar to
the one in the United States. It took three years of fighting, but it was
approved. Women again were the driving force, with very few men involved.
Much of our support came from farmers and workers, who have a quota in our
Parliament and who understood issue because they have suffered directly from
environmental problems. We now have the Egyptian Environmental Affairs
Authority, a major undertaking that led two years ago to the creation of the
Ministry of Environment.
Women in Parliament have also supported technologies that are labor intensive
in discussions on development, technology, and industrialization. We care
about the workers, and are concerned about foreign investment pouring into
the country and kicking workers out of jobs. We have stood up as advocates
for small enterprises, and for universal participation in economic growth,
both men and women. Another initiative has called for insurance for all
people, particularly poor women, non-working women, housewives, and
Instinctively, women representatives are fighting for what is good for the
people, for men and women alike, but women in particular so that they will
not be lost from sight. When the time came to nominate the chair of the Human
Development Commission in Parliament, they couldn't help but nominate a
woman, who turned out to be me. I feel proud to be the only woman chair of a
Parliamentary commission—this was not recognition for me as an individual,
but it came about because a woman was the right choice.
Right now, the Human Development Commission is coordinating a discussion on
the ethics of technology transfer, particularly information technology,
because we are concerned about the negative impact on our society—having just
one sector of the society information rich, while the majority remain
information poor. And, with the gender information gap, women are greatly
The bureaus of other parliamentary commissions have entered the discussion,
realizing how important it is to be aware of technology's ethical aspects. We
don't want our society to be split; it's dangerous. Women parliamentarians
again have been among the first to address the issue, as well as the need to
work for the stability of our society and the welfare of all.
Taking Our Cause to the Voters
is a member of B.a.B.e. (Be active Be emancipated), a women's human rights
advocacy group. She is currently preparing her MA at the University of
Communist period in Croatia, the Parliament had a Socialist ideology of
gender. Quotas were introduced and women held 24 percent of the seats. After
the fall of Communism in 1990, we held the first democratic and multi-party
elections, and the percentage of women in Parliament decreased to four
Other events that followed the elections were not encouraging for women: the
breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the growth of ethnic hatred, and the
re-emergence of a traditional patriarchal culture. While many women were
engaged in civil initiatives, from working directly with women to leading the
peace movement, there was still much work to be done.
After a period of stabilization, the first advocacy groups for improving
women's positions in decision-making bodies started to organize. The Women's
Ad Hoc Coalition for Monitoring and Influencing Elections was created to
assist women politicians and to promote action on issues such as reproductive
rights, violence against women, and education in gender tolerance. The Ad Hoc
Coalition also focused on educating both men and women to vote for women.
Little could be done during the first campaign in 1995, and the percentage of
women in Parliament increased by only one percent. The Ad Hoc Coalition began
educating politicians, recognizing that it was parties that didn't like women
to advance to positions of power.
We also went to the streets to hand out leaflets and educational materials to
women, hoping to persuade them to vote for women.
Our efforts paid off in the 2000 general elections, when the number of women
elected to Parliament rose to 21 percent. The campaign was successful because
of its high level of cooperation — cooperation between women from civil
initiatives, between women from civil initiatives and women politicians, and
among women politicians within Parliament. The experience taught us that we
need to ask for maximum results until we reach our goal: 50/50.
What Women Do Well
is a member of the Constituent Assembly in Uganda. She participated in the
writing of Uganda's 1994 Constitution, and has worked on the development of a
number of innovative strategies, from reaching out to gender-sensitive males
to publishing an annual publication assessing women's rise to power.
I come from a
country that is poor and war torn. Women have emerged as important
stakeholders in the peace-building process of the last 14 years, as well as
in the development process. In Uganda, it is accepted that women must be
included in decision making in all arenas.
I've been elected twice to the Constituent Assembly, the first time in 1994.
At that time, we were writing a new Constitution, and it quickly became clear
that much needed to be done if we were going to make it gender-sensitive. We
built a caucus for women that also included the disadvantaged groups within
the Assembly, such as people with disabilities, youth, and workers. We also
added a category we called gender-sensitive men, or GSMs. Being invited to
become part of the caucus as a GSM became something to be proud of. The title
did not go to just any man; we only gave it to those men who had a consistent
record of defending women's issues. This broad caucus eventually helped us
create a gender-sensitive Constitution, which includes a one-third quota for
women in local governments. We are happy and humbled to see the strategy of
caucusing spread to the eastern and southern regions of Uganda.
Five years ago, to maintain the momentum and the work of putting women's
issues on political agendas, we formed a non-governmental organization called
the Forum for Women in Democracy, which designs programs for training women
in local government and in Parliament. Many of the programs have been
successful, but I will first share what has not succeeded.
In one error, we failed to consider what women politicians do best. So many
problems are implicit that we didn't start by studying women's strengths.
Half way down the road, for example, we discovered that the reason women do
not frequently speak in Parliament is not because they lack confidence, as we
had assumed. We did a survey and found that women lawmakers believed,
"If it's been said already, why should I say it again?" But when we
asked men why they repeat what has already been said, their response was,
"I've got to be on the record; I want to be in the paper."
We also found that women work well with their constituencies, which was
something we had not considered. They respond to their people and influence
their local governments, which is where services are delivered. They are also
skilled at doing footwork in Parliament, convincing colleagues to support
their positions. Because we had not seen these strengths, we had not
considered building them into real power. In our upcoming programs, that's
what we'll do.
In another mistake, we didn't look at the environment in which women work. We
have a local government training package that was designed to make women
effective in their local councils by teaching them how to work in the
council, how to speak, how to move a motion, etc. Two years after this
program started, we realized we had a problem. When women would get up and
speak and move motions with such efficiency, there was a strong reaction from
the men, who would trivialize and attack what the women were saying.
Intimidated, the women would immediately recoil. But then the men came to our
trainers and asked, "What's this training you've given them? Can you
give it to us too?" These are some of the issues and relationships we are
looking at as we try to improve this program.
We found gender dialogues useful and very successful. In these dialogues, we
would pick an issue that was up for debate in the house. Then, we would bring
together parliamentarians—women and men—the public, and scholars from the
university. We would hold well-researched presentations, with facts and
figures on the issue. Men are vain—if you give them facts and figures on a
piece of paper, they want to be the first to say them in the house. This was
a powerful tool. When the men went back into the house, they were falling
over themselves to show how much they know about our issues.
Ten years after affirmative action first began, we are now trying to assess
where we have made an impact on the political agenda. Budgets are one area
where we have made little difference, so we have started a gender budget
project. We have formed a coalition of women politicians and researchers,
bringing together scholars, media people, and civil society organizations
interested in influencing budgets. At the local level, we have worked in a
50/50 partnership of men and women that includes many of the chairs of local
council committees. When we have reached the point of advocating changes in
budget allocations, it has worked wonderfully. The men who chair the
committees of agriculture, education, health and others have said, "Just
give the findings to us." We had already spent a year working with them
on the budget, and they had become convinced about re-prioritizing it. This
initiative is still new, but we are very hopeful about it.
We've also increased the number of women appointed to government positions by
putting pressure on the appointing authority. When we began, there were nine
women ministers. Now, five years down the road, we have 17, which is about 23
percent. But we're also looking at the portfolios they have been given. We
have a ghetto in my country called the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social
Development. It has few resources, and five powerful women have been dumped
there. So we are saying "no." We want to see women having real
power—over budgets, over bureaucracies.
We've started a yearly publication showing how we are progressing in
positions of power, and how much power those positions hold. We are looking
at the deputy factor: Across the country, every committee has a woman deputy;
every commission has a woman deputy; even the head of state has a woman
deputy. But our research shows that they never have the chance to be active -
information is not shared, and opportunities are not given. This is our next
Change Institutions Too
is on the executive board of Germany's Social Democratic Party, and is a
Member of the European Parliament.
In the Social
Democratic Party of Germany, we have a quota system that has been written
into the party's rules since 1988. This obliges us to nominate at least 40
percent of each gender for all mandates and functions, while the remaining 20
percent may be either women or men. Of course, it was not possible to reach 40
percent all at once. But 12 years later, we have nearly reached our goal in
the national Parliament, where women comprise 38 percent of our party's
representatives. Across all the party's functions in Parliament, we have 40
to 50 percent women. These results are particularly strong because women make
up only about 30 percent of the membership.
Our goal is to reach 50/50 because it is very important to have a high
percentage of women in a diversity of government positions. If you have only
a few women, they are forced to concentrate their efforts in a few areas
associated with women, usually education, health and social systems. If you
have a large number of deputies and women in power, it is not possible to
confine them to traditional women's issues. Increasingly, women are concerned
with issues related to economics, the environment, technology and human
However, any strategy for bringing more women into government must be paired
with the creation of institutions that work for women's empowerment and
equality. In the European Union Parliament, the Committee for Women's Rights
and Equality develops strategies for all political issues and promotes the
concept of gender mainstreaming. This means that all ministers and
parliamentary committees must regularly check to ensure gender equality is
being observed. If a measure undermines equality for women we are able to
stop it, a very strong instrument for empowering women politically.
Numbers, Yes, but Activist Support is also Critical
is the deputy leader of the Australian Democrats, which stands for the
environment, accountability and social justice.
distinguishes my party in Australian political history is that we are the
only party to have a female political leader. Since we were created in 1986,
we've had four leaders who are women. We currently have a membership that is
roughly equal in numbers of men and women, and until recently, we've had a
majority of women in our ranks in the Australian Senate. We currently have a
leadership team that is female, with myself as the deputy and a senator from
my state as the head of the party.
I'm also fortunate to represent a state that, in 1894, became one of the
first in the entire world to grant women the right to vote and stand for
Parliament. In 1902, national legislation followed that granted all women
these rights, except aboriginal women in some states. Lately, however, we
seem to have come to a standstill. Women still hold, on average, 25 percent
of federal positions, double the international average, but we only have one
female member of our federal cabinet. And we've had 30 male prime ministers
in a row, the odds of which are roughly one in two billion—politics in
Australia has either been not particularly scientific, or not a great fit for
What strategies do we have to advance the women's agenda? Institutional or
parliamentary processes remain minimal. We have a minister responsible for
assisting the prime minister on the status of women, and she oversees the Office
of the Status of Women. We also have a budget analysis that takes into
account impacts on women, and our unemployment statistics are gender
desegregated. But concerted strategies for change in terms of improving the
representation of women in Parliament must come from our political parties.
In the last 10 years, each of the three major political parties has sought to
improve the number of women in Parliament, with mixed success. The Australian
Life Party, for example, has a quota system; their aim is to place women in
35 percent of the winnable seats by 2002. My party, the Australian Democrats,
has not instituted a quota system, but we hope that we serve as a perpetual
reminder of the importance of women's parliamentary participation.
Critical mass will make a difference—we know now that having more women in
the federal parliamentary arena or in decision-making bodies leads to
policies and legislation that are more likely to reflect the concerns and
interests of women. By the same token, however, we have a record number of
women in the Australian federal Parliament right now, and yet some of the
most conservative and anti-women measures have been voted through, reflecting
the clearly male dominated nature of the our parliamentary institution.
Notably, in the last couple of months, we've seen the introduction of a tax
on tampons for the first time in Australia since 1948, provoking one of the
greatest grassroots campaigns in our history, and teaching me that influence
over political processes is not only going to come by improving the number of
women in Parliament, but also from the NGOs and the community. Women
concerned about the tampon tax have followed the prime minister, throwing
tampons at him. It's a fun campaign. But we can't afford to underestimate the
impact of this simple measure in terms of the next election. In Australia, we
have compulsory voting, so women's votes count. The slogan over the next
couple of months in Australia seems to be: "Only women bleed, but all
women vote." We look forward to an improved outcome in terms of women's
and Tobago: Eight Steps to Equality
coordinates the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of
Women, and serves as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Women's Network.
working on gender equality in decision making while preparing for Beijing in
1995, and we found an interesting strategy being implemented in Suriname:
They formed a women's Parliament, with women elected from the various
constituencies. The women passed motions and bills, and it became a practical
way of illustrating women's views on the issues. Trinidad was interested in
following this model, but we used a senate formulation in order to separate
the project from the political parties. Parties are jails, and pose the
biggest obstacles to women's improvement of women's positions.
After returning from Beijing, we were also armed with a new plan on how to
attain 50/50 by targeting local governments. We decided to work together with
women across the Caribbean, and exchange ideas on increasing women's
participation locally. We developed eight strategies:
First, focus on cross-partisan activities. In the last local government
elections in Trinidad and Tobago, of 100 who ran for office, 48 won. Getting
100 women to run was very difficult, but we wanted women on all the councils.
To increase the number of women running, we played each party against the
others. When one party gave us a list with 31 women, we went to the other
party and said, "Can I have your list please?" That list came up
with 44 women. We went back to the first party and said, "This party has
44—you can't go out there with 31."
Second, women need consistent, supportive networks. For example, women often
say campaigns can't be run without money. So how do we get the money?
Cocktail parties are one way. A cocktail party at the British High Commission
included many men with money. I slid up to one and said, "We are running
this campaign for women candidates, would you be willing to support it?"
And surprisingly, men are willing to support women's campaigns. Some of them
said, "I'm not giving my money to any party candidates," but we
were able to promise to give their money to independent women candidates. We
shared the pool of money raised equally among all the women who participated.
Our third strategy was to produce a manual on how to dress, how to read a
speech, how to handle security, how to make eye contact with an audience,
where to campaign, how to plan ahead, what to do about caring for your
children, what you do about your husband. Everything was written down.
Fourth, we recommend using professional media. All of us who are activists
think that we have brilliant messages that everybody understands. But
everyone doesn't understand. When we used professional media, we found ways
to help ordinary people understand our messages. For example, a media
professional translated our long message on how good it is to have women
candidates into: "If the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,
then it is time for more of those hands to help." Everybody understood
it, and it can run on the radio over and over again.
Fifth, build alliances—with church people, union people, business people—with
anybody who supports your cause.
Sixth, target young voters. We found that it was young people who were
willing to come out and work for our new paradigm. But most women in
political parties don't appear to have a strategy for encouraging either
youth or women voters.
The seventh strategy relates to sustainability after the elections. It is not
enough only to get women elected, because nothing in the system supports
them. After the election, we formed local government women's forums—
combinations of women across each party, including those who won, lost and
worked on the campaigns. They now understand the dynamics of working together
and the forum can be a valuable resource for women inside the political
The eighth strategy is to build links between women activists and
politicians. Too often, politicians from the women's movement forget about us
after they assume power therefore we need to strengthen communications.
The Zebra Shows its Stripes
is the mayor of the town of Marientao, and President of the International
Union of Local Authorities in Namibia. She is the second woman to lead a
national association of local government officers within Africa. Ms. Beukes
also chairs the Task Force on Women in Local Government of the International
Union of Local Authorities (IULA).
I ran for
office because I wanted to play an active part in developing my community and
my country, and because I knew one route to gender equality is providing
young girls with role models. The young girls of Namibia are encouraged to
run for elections and become leaders themselves when Namibian women hold
Combining life as a teacher, mayor and the president of the International
Union of Local Authorities makes for a very busy schedule, especially when
people come to your home with their issues, even late at night. But it is
rewarding. I believe that I am making a difference, because working at the
local level means dealing directly with the daily concerns of people. This is
where the implementation of the Beijing+5 Platform for Action will have the
Any serious campaign to generate gender equality must start with political
will. In 1995, the government of Namibia introduced the National Gender
Policy and the National Plan of Action on Gender, and established the
Ministry of Women to spearhead these initiatives. The National Gender Policy
articulates principles for the coordination and monitoring of gender issues
spanning rural development, education, health, violence, economic
empowerment, the environment and legal affairs. It is designed to enhance the
developmental planning processes across Namibia's different cultural, social
and economic spheres.
The government recognizes that the empowerment of women is the main
prerequisite to achieving sustainable democracy, and we have committed
ourselves to integrating women and a gender perspective in all national,
regional and local government initiatives, and to increasing the
participation of women in decision making in all arenas. The Namibian
Constitution now provides mechanisms for attaining gender balance in
governmental bodies and committees, and as a result, women already make up 42
percent of the representatives in the National Council, the Parliament and
among the local authorities. We aim to reach 50/50 in the near future.
The package of measures behind this achievement includes the enactment of an
affirmative action policy to promote gender balance in decision making, and
high-profile national gender sensitization programs. There has been one
particularly crucial mechanism: the Zebra System. This encourages political
parties to integrate women in elective and non-elective positions, and seek
party lists that are 50 percent female by alternating male and female
Progress for women is particularly important on the local level. Local
government is one of the major employers in any country. Equal representation
puts us in the position to influence the status of women in society and to
push for a higher representation of women in non-elected positions of
leadership, such as chief executive positions in national government
departments and the private sector. Transformation will not happen overnight.
But important progress has already been made, and gender is now being
discussed in many local councils and local government organizations for the
This issue has also been taken up by IULA, which has been working vigorously
to put gender equality onto the list of priorities of local governments
worldwide. IULA has developed an internationally endorsed declaration, which
states that women and men as citizens have equal human rights, duties and
opportunities, as well as the equal right to exercise them. These include the
right to vote, to be eligible for elections and to hold public offices at all
With the support of this declaration, but also with a greater global
awareness of gender equality as a human right, traditional ways of working
and thinking are being challenged. Women are being encouraged to stand up and
demand a place at the decision making table. A network of elected women is
being formed, quotas are being called for and implemented, and gender is
being mainstreamed into policy-making. Both in Namibia and within IULA, we
support the objectives of the 50/50 campaign for 2005. Let us work together,
sharing practical strategies and giving mutual support to make it happen.
Building a Constituency of Women to Vote for Women
is the Founder and National Coordinator of Country Women Association of
Nigeria (COWAN), a rural women's self-help organization of 24,000 working
groups with some 120,000 members.
We went home
from Beijing determined that the time had come for rural and grassroots women
to speak up and to show the way forward. So we formed the 100 Women Working
Group. We went to 75 local government constituencies and asked women leaders
in each of them to help us bring together 100 women.
We asked them if they think more women should be in politics and what
prevents women from getting into office? During this discussion, we realized
that one problem women politicians face is that they have no constituencies,
so we decided to mobilize grassroots women to vote for women politicians.
Each of the 100 returned to her community, and each of them identified one other
woman and asked that woman to identify another, and so on. In this way, we
built a network of 37,000 women for our campaign to elect more women.
Since many of these women are poor, we first helped them mobilize microcredit
to finance their own business. After they started earning enough money to
support themselves and their children, we asked each one to contribute two
dollars to the campaign.
With this money, we created the Women's Political Participation Fund, raising
over one million dollars. We also asked women who wanted to be politicians
themselves to contribute $20, and we got half a million more dollars.
We used the money to establish a program, run by women leaders ,to create
work and resources for poor women within their communities. When the election
came, it wasn't so easy for male politicians from the main parties to buy the
votes of women. We also supported the campaigns of 26 women politicians, and
16 of them were elected.
We concluded that women candidates can win more than 50 percent of the vote
only if they are able to organize a strong constituency of women to help them
raise funds and to vote for them.
After the election, we started the Rural Women's Parliament Voter campaigns,
where we mobilized rural women to demand accountability from politicians and
decision makers: What had they done to advance women's status? What should
they have done? And, what they should do in the future.
The candidates are afraid now because the women say, "If you don't do
work, you won't get our vote." So they have to listen.
The Government, the Opposition and the Women
is a member of the Kenyan Parliament. A staunch advocate of creative
caucusing, she once created a stir in her party by publicly refusing a post
she considered a ghetto for women.
there is no political will or support from the government on gender issues.
So in1997, women parliamentarians together with women leaders and NGOs formed
an umbrella body, a Kenyan women's political caucus, to forward the women's agenda.
We had instant success because some minimal constitutional reforms were being
made that year as a prelude to elections, and we managed to have a
constitutional amendment passed that reserved half of the 12 nominated seats
in Parliament for women.
The 1997 elections brought four women into the 220-member Parliament, two
less than had been there before. We secured five nominations, but the Moi
government did not obey the Constitution and allow six. We are now in court
demanding one more nominated member, although it appears that the next
elections will take place before the case is decided. But we are happy to
have nine members; it has made a difference.
Before 1992, when we had our first multi-party elections, we had very few
women members, one or two at a time. Now that we have nine in Parliament, we
have been able to push several issues forward, such as the equality and
affirmative action bills. But the level of awareness of gender issues among
the male members of Parliament and government is very low. We had started by
assuming that everybody was familiar with these issues. But after several
motions failed, we realized from the contributions of our male colleagues how
little they knew. Their position was not, generally, that they didn't believe
in it, but that they didn't understand.
We have targeted groups of male parliamentarians who have similar issues,
such as those concerned with disabilities. We have been able to engage them,
showing that what we are pushing for could also be applied to them. It's not
only about equality between men and women; it's also about equal distribution
of services within the country—an issue close to the heart of the pastoralist
group. This has brought support for the equality bill, because equal
distribution of resources touches everyone. Access to health care and other
services, for example, is not the same in all parts of the country. Linking
equality in services to equality between the genders begins to make sense to
We're becoming effective and the opposition we have met in Parliament is
receding. Now, supporting women's issues is the "in" thing. And we
say that even if you do not understand, but you support us, it still counts.
We are also continuing to engage male politicians in ways that relate the issues
to their fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. "Let us work
together," we say. "If you block me today, you are not blocking me
alone, you're blocking your daughter and my daughter." And it is
beginning to work.
Of course, there have been many obstacles. We have faced gender-based insults
when our motions are presented. The male members used to dismiss us as
divorcees about town. In Kenya, divorce has a double standard. It's okay when
it happens to a man, but it's not okay when it happens to a woman. We were
frustrated with the way we were being treated, and we decided to hit back. In
Parliament I addressed one of the ministers as the Honorable Divorcee. People
realized that in every divorce, there are two divorcees: one male, one
female, making everyone who held that attitude recoil. Now, no one wants to
insult women in Parliament, for fear we will strike back.
Another obstacle we have confronted has been the divide-and-rule tactic
employed by the government when we appear to have strength. There was a
period around 1998 when the saying in Nairobi was that there were three
forces in town: the government, the opposition and the women. We became very
happy about it, but, then, women were pitted against each other and against
the members of the Constitutional Review Commission. We are now moving ahead,
however. We attended the UN's Beijing+5 session as a united delegation of
both the government and NGOs, and went home intending to move further
forward. The battle is not won, but I think we can see light at the end of
And of course, our sisters in Uganda inspire us. Right now we are working on
developing cooperation between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We are able to
tell our minister for regional cooperation that we risk getting embarrassed
when we go for discussions in Arusha, because one of the aims is to harmonize
the laws and practices in the three countries. Whatever little is done, we
say that's very good, you're now showing the way, showing the rest how to
support these issues.
What about the political parties? It's not any different. Both the opposition
and the government will pretend to be sensitive on gender issues, but they
will take actions that show they are not yet there. My party, for instance,
has a policy of affirmative action that reserves one-third of all seats for
women. In our first party elections in 1993, we elected eight women for the
25 member national executive board. But in 1997, when we became the official
opposition party, the sharing of shadow cabinet polls told another story. My
post as the national secretary for legal and constitutional affairs was given
to a male defector to our party, and I was offered the traditional ghetto in
Kenya for women, the Ministry of Culture and Social Services. I decided to
reject the post publicly. It embarrassed my party, but it has taught them
that such moves get attention. The Minister of Culture could be powerful, but
should we encourage stereotypes? There is no one, straight path for how to
fight for empowerment. We all must look at what is happening to our countries
and consider what is appropriate at the time.
Gender Over Ideology
is the president of the Social and Political Women's Institute, a member of
the Latin American and Caribbean Women Political Network, and a former member
of the Constituent Assembly of Buenos Aires.
the first country to pass a law requiring that women make up 30 percent of
political parties' parliamentary representatives in the Representative
Chamber. (The system used in our second house, the Senate, prevents the
application of quotas.) In 1994, quotas were introduced during the election
of the National Constitutional Assembly, and showed clear results. All
references to human rights treaties at the constitutional level now include
the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW). A clause stating that affirmative action is not against the
principle of equality under the law—an objection raised by political parties
and the judicial system when quotas were first proposed—has been added.
But our main achievement was the institution of quotas at the national level.
In Argentina, we started from the top. Now, local and provincial governments
in 21 of our provinces have also passed quota laws. Only three provinces have
failed to institute this system. In Buenos Aires, we passed a new
Constitution for the city in 1996. It includes not only a quota system for
the Representative Chamber, the legislature of the city, but also for the judicial
branch, and for bodies in the executive branch. For example, there must be at
least two or three women on the seven-member Board of Directors of the Bank
of the City of Buenos Aires.
With women in these positions, important changes were made. At the bank, for
example, there are now many new opportunities for women to obtain credit. In
all the provinces, we have passed laws on sexual and reproductive rights, and
violence against women. Women of different parties are working together with
a gender perspective, without considering the ideology of their own parties.