On the sidelines of the 64th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) that is due in Kampala from between September 22 and 29, Commonwealth women parliamentarians will discuss issues affecting them and other women.
Under their umbrella body Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP), the group will thereafter come up with resolutions that will be made part of, and adopted along with those of the mainstream Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference.
Founded in 1989, the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, provides opportunities for women legislators to discuss ways on how to increase women representation in parliament and work towards mainstreaming of the gender considerations in all Commonwealth Parliamentary Association activities and programmes.
The CWP was formally recognised in the CPA Constitution in 2004 and its elected chairperson added to the CPA Executive Committee.
A 10-member Steering Committee plans activities of the Commonwealth women’s group.
The CWP network provides a means of building capacity of women elected to parliament to be more effective in their roles; improving the awareness and ability of all parliamentarians, male and female, and encouraging them to include a gender perspective in all aspects of their role – legislation, oversight and representation and helping parliaments to become gender-sensitive institutions.
For instance, during the last CPC conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, CWP made various recommendations that were adopted as part of the main conference.
The recommendations included: parliaments and governments working with media agencies to counter the use of language that trivialises violence against women in parliament; promoting institutional reforms and political cultures that guarantee safe working environment for all, including internal policies against sexist language, attitudes and sexual harassment.
In addition, the CWP endorsed coming up with a code of conduct for parliamentarians and parliamentary staff on sexual harassment, with training to promote understanding and enforcement with strong consequences for violation.
Other recommendations were: parliaments undertaking gender mainstreaming in their legislative processes and functions, through gender-based analysis built into standing orders and other rules of Parliament, coming up with measures that protect women from political violence as well as promoting good practice in legislation across the Commonwealth to raise awareness of women issues.
Malaysian politician Dr Dato Noraini Ahmad, MP (2016-2019), who is also the CWP Chairperson, is quoted in the 2019 CWP newsletter saying the group plays a crucial role in supporting women parliamentarians to raise issues on gender equality.
She says CWP provides a platform for capacity building to women parliamentarians in upholding gender equality and women’s rights in their role to legislate, maintain oversight and represent their constituents.
“The work of CWP continues to focus on the reduction of the gender gap and to promote gender equality in all its aspects in the Commonwealth,” she says, adding that the group continues to deliver on its three year strategic plan 2017-2019.
Dr Ahmad cites the many events held last year including participation of the CWP in the Commonwealth Women’s Forum ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) to debate a wide range of issues and reflecting on some of the global challenges still faced by women and the focus on Sustainable Development Goals.
Women Members of parliament making a mark in governance despite small numbers
Women Members of Parliament in the Commonwealth are making a mark in politics and governance, pushing various legislative bodies to effectively represent citizens and respond to their needs amidst their being limited in number in their various parliaments.
From Africa to Asia, Australia to British Islands and Mediterranean, Canada, Caribbean, Americas and the Atlantic, India, Pacific, and to the South-East Asia, Commonwealth countries have seen a surge in women contesting for and winning parliamentary seats.
Subsequently, women have risen in national governance institutions, occupying some of the highest national positions as Speakers of Parliament and cabinet ministers.
The latest data from the UN Women on women in politics shows that Uganda had 160 women members of Parliament out of the elected 459 MPs as at January 2019.
But other East African Commonwealth member states had fewer: Tanzania had 145 women law makers out of the 393 elected MPs, while Kenya had 76 women MPs out of the 349 legislators.
However, gender equality reformist Rwanda scores the highest as more than two-thirds of its legislators are women, numbering 49 out of 80 MPs in the Lower House.
In the wider Commonwealth, United Kingdom had 208 women MPs out of the 650 elected legislators while India and Bangladesh had 66 and 72 women MPs out of the 524 and 350 elected MPs respectively.
On the side of the scorecard, Fiji and Malta had 10 and 6 women MPs out of the 51 and 67 elected law makers respectively.
In terms of ministerial positions, Rwanda tops the charts again, with the most women ministers at 51 per cent in the Commonwealth member states, while South Africa, Austria and Uganda had 48.6 per cent, 38.5 per cent and 36.7 per cent, respectively, during the period under review.
Studies indicate that women participation in politics promotes gender equality by challenging the existing social and political structures that perpetuate a culture of women’s subordination in both the private and public sphere.
“Women participation in politics promotes issues of women, curbs corruption, improves policy outcomes, and promotes the inclusiveness of minority groups in public spheres,” said the 2017 United Nations Development Programme report Gender equality and women’s empowerment in public administration.
The report whose study was conducted in Uganda considers women as actors of development, encourages their integration in the labor market and promotes economic and development growth.
The report, however, states that whereas Uganda has a good percentage of women parliamentarians, there exists numerous challenges.
For instance, the report notes that despite the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act (2010), gender-based violence perpetuated against women and girls is still rife, estimated at over 60 per cent by various studies.
“Such violence appears to be socially accepted and accompanied by a culture of impunity,” the study notes.
“Maternal mortality is still amongst the highest in the region and the division of labour in the household still burdens women rather than men. This also applies to women employed in the Public Service, who have to combine public and private roles,” it adds.
This, however, seems to be the trend in other Commonwealth countries. At the household level, the report says progress in the transformation of unequal gender roles has been relatively slow, due to persistent patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted negative attitudes regarding the roles, responsibilities and identities of men and women in all spheres of life.
In addition, older women with disability suffer greater discrimination, poverty, stigma and isolation, gender-based violence and face obstacles in accessing justice.
In terms of jobs, the report notes that that in Uganda’s Public Service, men constitute 67 per cent and women only 33 per cent.
This level of opportunities, however, does not match the representation of women in Uganda, where females are more than half of the country’s population.
On this basis, Commonwealth women parliamentarians will once again bring issues affecting women in their societies to the fore for more discussion during the 64th CPC conference.
The issues include among others: promoting equal representation of women and men in decision making processes at the national, regional and international levels, strengthening the advocacy skills of women leaders, employment, maternal and reproductive health and generally their wellness in society.
This story is sponsored by the Parliament of Uganda.