Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), Akbar Khan, discussed CPA’s achievements and goals on gender equality and women’s empowerment and political participation in an interview with the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKNOWpolitics).
Published on November 8, 2017 the interview includes figures produced by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which shows that the global average of women parliamentarians in lower or single houses is 23.1%, whilst Commonwealth nations have a 22.2% average.
The Secretary-General said he was disappointed in the figures, which showed only 18% of all Commonwealth Parliamentarians are women.
They also showed that 10 parliaments had over 40% female representation, 22 had between 20% and 30% female representation, and 17 were found to have no female members.
As a result, a target of 30% female representation in Commonwealth legislatures has been implemented by Commonwealth Heads of Government.
Khan acknowledged that this under-representation undermined the legitimacy of the Commonwealth’s democratic institutions.
He said that an increase of women legislators could be achieved by prioritising gender equality in education, tackling barriers preventing women from entering public office, making parliaments more gender sensitive, encouraging political parties to source more female candidates, calling out the media for attacking women’s looks rather than their policies, and looking at the introduction of quotas to augment the number of women MPs.
He also explained the work of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) in improving female parliamentary representation and mainstreaming gender considerations across the CPA.
CWP encourages women to stand for election, helping to remove participation barriers and facilitating professional contribution from all members.
Examples of the CWP’s achievements were given, including a partnership with the Canadian Girl Guides to develop a `Girls in Government’ badge, which raises awareness of the importance of female representation in public office.
A mentoring scheme between New Zealand MPs and Pacific Island MPs has been established to support women entering office for the first time, and the CWP also conducts school visits across the Commonwealth to promote values such as democracy, development and diversity, and the importance of gender equality in public and political life.
Political violence against women was identified by the CWP as a key priority for its work, with events held in 2016 to raise the issue’s profile and make recommendations towards its eradication, which include introducing stand-alone legislation addressing political violence and undertaking audits of discriminatory legislation that perpetuates it.
Female legislators have also attended the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting, which sets the Commonwealth’s gender agenda, and the Commonwealth Women Leaders Summits in July, 2016, where members of executive boards, parliaments, civil society and business prioritised areas for improving the lives of women throughout the Commonwealth.
Furthermore, the CWP has supported the establishment and work of over 80 gender caucuses worldwide, such as those launched by the Mauritius National Assembly in March, 2017, assemblies which promote gender equality as a vital ingredient in democratic operations.
Evidence from this strategy suggests that the inclusion of men helps to avoid the marginalisation of such caucuses, so the CWP seeks to engage male champions to support the gender parity mission.
A working group conducted by the CWP in February, 2017 convened to find and develop a mutual understanding of the often unique challenges faced by different regions of the Commonwealth, and how barriers could be broken to achieve a pathway to good practice for all.
The group agreed on six priorities for the CWP, including raising the CWP’s profile and communications, gathering and disseminating research across the network, promoting international partnerships with organisations, maintaining an alumni platform to support new female MPs, increasing capacity and financial support in each CWP region, and continuing to mainstream gender in the CPA’s parliamentary strengthening programmes.
Khan stated that such commitments to gender equality can affect change across the development spectrum, including health, education, labour markets and other areas, leading to decreased poverty and increased prosperity.
As part of the new development agenda, signified by Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality, there has been a renewed focus on bridging the gender parity gap in social, economic and political terms, he said.
Although progress has occurred, the CPA maintains that gender inequalities strongly remain in some societies and improvements in female parliamentary representation is in itself not enough to sufficiently advance women’s sexual, economic and social rights.
Referring to a programme the CWP and CPA hope to introduce for male parliamentarians to advocate the importance of gender representation and gender sensitive policy development, he called on all men, who make up the majority in most Commonwealth parliaments and legislatures, to use their positions of influence to make a stand and champion change.
The Secretary-General said: “Democracy is about the daily life of a nation and Parliaments sit at the centre of society, representing a web of accountability reaching into the executive and the other branches of government, to the public and political parties.
“They are central to leading change by mirroring gender equality and inclusion of all sections of our societies in their composition.
“This not only ensures participatory decision making but engenders legitimacy and public confidence in our democratic institutions.”
Read More: Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, stresses that keeping women’s equality and empowerment at the centre of development efforts will give the world its best chance to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
Read More: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, explores the recent shifts in the international peace and security landscape from a gender perspective, and makes recommendations for Commonwealth nations working to implement the women, peace and security agenda