WEDO Primer 50/50 Campaign
March 2001

The First Step: Getting in the Door

On June 8, 2000, WEDO launched a campaign called 50/50 by 2005: Get the Balance Right! that challenges governments to take action to increase women's political participation. A daylong event at the Ford Foundation in New York City brought together more than 200 people to listen to top women leaders from some 20 countries. Comprising politicians and activists who work from the grassroots to national and regional parliaments and at all points in between, the speakers shared their experiences and strategies, their successes and challenges, in the ongoing effort to bring more women decision makers into office. Afterwards, participants gathered in regional caucuses to consider ways of collaborating on national and local advocacy.

WEDO timed the launch to coincide with a Special Session of the UN General Assembly, which was held to review progress made by governments since the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The idea for the 50/50 campaign grew out of the recognition that while 189 governments at Beijing agreed on concrete measures to improve women's political participation, progress has been disappointingly slow. Five years later, women still account for only 12.7 percent of the world's parliamentarians, for example.

The 50/50 campaign, endorsed by more than 170 organizations in 52 countries, has been designed to confront the structural and cultural barriers that impede women's access to decision-making and leadership positions. It sets targets for governments: 30 percent representation of women in cabinet ministries, legislatures and local government by 2003, and equal representation by 2005. WEDO will help support these goals by galvanizing public opinion in support of women's participation and by disseminating strategies for gaining a critical mass of women in decision making.

The following text is a series of edited transcripts from the June 8 launch. In bringing together the voices of the women who presented at the event, it clearly reveals that the groundwork for improving women's participation in political systems is being laid in every region of the world. This is quite a change from the days when only the Nordic countries had explicit policies in place and showed genuine progress.

The text also highlights that the goal of political equality for women—half of all seats at all levels—is the same no matter what country or form of the government. But getting there is a process that will filter through different political systems, cultural norms and varying degrees of commitment on the part of governments and societies. The women who spoke reflected these differences, both in their achievements and in their strategies for change.

Some have opted to work within the political system; others feel most effective on the outside. A fair number of the speakers have played both roles. There are those who have started with development, such as the campaign in Nigeria that is helping tens of thousands of women set up their own businesses so they can devote small sums to assisting women candidates. In Croatia, where women's representation dropped dramatically after the communist era, women went to the streets to convince other women to help rectify the situation vote by vote. Women in Uganda built a constituency of gender-sensitive men.

In a few cases, women have risen high enough in the power structure to start opening space for other women. Members of the European Parliament's Women's Commission drafted a resolution, which was passed recently, that calls upon member states to take a series of new steps toward gender parity in all forms of government. Women leaders in South Africa and India have pushed quotas so successfully that a critical mass of women has flowed into the political system and forever changed notions about women's capacity for leadership. In both countries, as in the Nordic countries where it first began, elected women have now surpassed the quotas because voters have come to understand the positive changes women can make in office.

The women who spoke at the 50/50 launch often differed in where they maintained women must start to push for equal participation. Do we focus on the grassroots or national politics? Do we have to begin by changing the attitudes that prop up the glass ceiling? While answers to these and other questions will depend on circumstances in each country, women from all regions agreed on the need to articulate gender issues, to the extent possible, across party lines. They rejected the notion that women can be effective simply because they take charge of a few ministries, mainly related to social welfare. Kenyan MP Martha Karua went so far as to refuse appointment as Minister of Culture and Social Services because she saw it as a ghetto.

Several speakers emphasized the importance of the Beijing Platform for Action: women in Japan have used it to pass a groundbreaking law on gender equality. Presenters from Uganda, India, Sweden, France, South Africa, Germany, Namibia and Argentina told of the success of quota systems, extolling their use within parties and across legislative branches as the fastest route to radical change.

The ultimate quota, of course, is equal representation, which has just been passed into law in France thanks to dedicated women activists and politicians. The 50/50 campaign underscores, for women and governments everywhere, the importance of not only committing to this goal, but also taking active measures to reach it. The women here do us all a service by sharing some of the methods that will bring us, finally, to get the balance right.

The European Union: Equality on Three Fronts

Maj Britt Theorin is a member of the European Union Parliament and convener of its Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities. Formerly, she served in the Swedish Parliament.

Too often we fail to recognize women as potential leaders because the barriers to women's leadership are deeply rooted in our society, in cultural institutions, and in women themselves. As a child I only had one ambition: to be a captain of a great ship. But my father told me, "You cannot have that dream, only men can do that." To transform perceptions and to help tomorrow's women make their dreams of leadership a reality, we need female role models throughout society. In Europe, the European Union's Committee on Women's Rights and Equal Opportunities is working to create these role models by promoting women's equal representation in political, economic and social institutions.

Politically, it is impossible to promote democracy while ignoring that in many countries few women stand as candidates for parliament. While women make up 44 percent of the Swedish Parliament, the proportion in other EU member states is less encouraging: 11 percent in Italy and seven percent in Greece, for example. Remedying this situation has become a key priority for the European Union. Since 1995, the Committee on Women's Rights and Equality has undertaken awareness-raising campaigns, conferences and research. We have founded projects to increase women's participation in local, national and intergovernmental decision making.

In a recent resolution submitted by the Committee, the Parliament called on EU member states, the European Commission, and the European Council to take concrete steps to achieve parity. We also requested that member states provide training for executives and leaders, men as well as women, to promote non-discriminatory working relationships. Since 30 to 50 percent of European women experience sexual harassment at work, the need for this training is glaring.

The Committee has also focused on an area often overlooked in the discussion about women's political participation: making and keeping peace. We have called for a participation rate that is at least 40 percent. In the few cases where women have been actively involved in formal negotiations—such as South Africa, Guatemala, Cambodia and Georgia—their contributions proved important to the success of the peace process.

A key part of our strategy has been advocating measures to remove the glass ceiling within European institutions. Although some women have made inroads in previously male-dominated EU positions, we still make up only a third of the European Union Parliament. Only 6.5 percent of the European Council is female, and only 22 of the 222 members of the recently formed Committee of Regents are women. It was considered a great victory when the European Commissioner for Internal Reform recently agreed that at least 20 percent of new managers recruited to the EU institutions in 2000 must be women. He also promised to double the number of high-level women officials within the next five years.

The second arena of the Committee's work is economic decision making, where the gap is greatest between de jure and de facto gender balance. Equality for women under the law is not reflected in financial and corporate bodies, which are governed by male norms. Women lead only two out of 15 central banks, for example. The board of directors of the European Investment Bank, the main bank of the European Union, includes only one woman among its 42 male members. In addition, European women are paid, on average, 76 percent of the hourly wage men receive, and their employment rate is about 20 percent lower.

In response to these imbalances, the Committee has not only promoted more and better jobs for women, but is seeking to place women at the head of corporations and financial institutions. We don't want only half of the cake, we want the frosting as well. EU guidelines now state that all employment statistics should be desegregated by gender, and based on the average of the three most successful member states, targets will be set up to improve women's participation.

The third area of concentration for the Committee is social decision making. There are very few data on women's leadership in social and voluntary organizations and charities. But although women predominate in these institutions, we are frequently excluded from higher-level positions. Only 10 percent of university professors in the EU are women, and there are no female general secretaries of large labor unions. Social organizations are among the driving forces for change in society; it is essential that women help set their agendas.

One can ask if it really would make a difference if women were in influential national, regional and international posts. My answer is "no" if we speak of just a few women, but "yes" if we have a fair number of women. It's only when women can take their share of responsibilities in society that we have a chance to create a peaceful society where both women and men are free and equal. To use the words of Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman vice presidential candidate in the United States, "What we need are not just a few women who make history, but many women who make policy."

France: As Many Women As Men

Françoise Gaspard is one of the foremost advocates of the Parité movement in France, which has changed the French Constitution and is resculpting the face of French political institutions.

I was born in 1945, at a time when children were taught that politics was a man's world. It was difficult for a girl to imagine she could one day participate. Between 1944 and 1958, only four of a succession of 26 governments included women. However, in my local government, there was a female power figure—the mayor of a neighboring town was a woman. Every Sunday, my grandfather, who had been a suffragist, would travel there with me and point her out. At that time, less than two percent of all the mayors in France were women. (Women received the right to vote only in 1946.) When I was eight or nine years old, I announced that I would be mayor of my town. Everyone laughed, of course, but this shows the importance of role models. It is no doubt because of the example of this lone woman that I became mayor of Dreux in 1977.

I was the first woman in the Socialist Party to be elected mayor of a town of 30,000 people, and, at the time, I was one of the youngest mayors in France. My election did not, therefore, go unnoticed. François Mitterand, leader of the Socialist Party, immediately appointed me the party executive. He wanted, of course, to appear modern by giving responsibilities to a woman—a young woman at that—during the '70s, when the impact of the women's movement was being felt inside political parties, especially on the Left. However, women accounted for only about 10 percent of Socialist Party members, and calling yourself a feminist in the party was very dangerous if you wanted a political career. A few women in the party executive would timidly protest the absence of elected women, but being Socialists first, the majority thought progress for women was second in importance to the victory of the Left. Within the Left, feminism was still considered a bourgeois ideology.

By the late '70s, however, there was an eruption of feminist activity, especially among female Socialists, and the women in the party succeeded in having a convention dedicated to women's rights in 1978. It was a very curious convention, because usually at party meetings, 95 percent of the participants were men. This time, 95 percent of the delegates were women, because men were not interested in attending. I spoke just before the closing of the meeting, prior to the speech of François Mitterand, who arrived only to conclude the convention. I said, "I wonder why I bothered to come here to speak, because in the party, women's words are lost words." The room cheered, but Mitterand was both surprised and furious. He had unknowingly introduced a feminist into the executive of the party.

Some women then asked me if they could use my name to launch a feminist campaign within the party, and I took part in an exciting adventure that lasted two years. One action foreshadowed the Parité movement. In 1979, for the first time, theEuropean Union Parliament was to be elected by direct suffrage. Voters would choose from national tickets. The aim of feminists was to force the Socialist Party to present a ticket made up of as many women as men. There was wide news coverage of the resolution, and it was very popular. But when it was put to the vote at the national level, the party executive defeated it, with 51 percent voting against. This result, however, led to a compromise resolution—the party adopted a quota for women of 30 percent of the electoral list.

It was only in the late '80s that the absence of women in decision-making positions started to provoke surprise in France. The surprise came when we said not that women make up only five percent of Parliament, but that men make up 95 percent—it was a scandal when we went public with this number. A movement in favor of gender parity came into being at that time and gained wide popularity. In June 1999, France updated its Constitution to reach this objective, and last week a law was adopted to uphold it. For the local elections in France next year, all the lists will be composed of as many women as men—one woman, one man, one woman, one man.

Why has Parité, as the movement became known, been such a rapid success? Because it has been supported by women all over France. There was a grassroots movement, where women met with men in politics and asked them, "Are you for parity? Are you for gender balance in politics?" They published a list of men against parity, and women decided, from the Left and the Right, not to vote for them. Within two or three years, opinion polls showed 80 percent in favor of parity. And in three, four, five years, assemblies everywhere in France will have as many women as men.


WEDO Primer 50/50 Campaign
March 2001

The First Step: Getting in the Door
Sweden: Equal Value to the Issues

Margareta Winberg 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.

WEDO Primer 50/50 Campaign
March 2001

The First Step: Getting in the Door
Philippines: We Must Dare to Move Forward

Daisy Avance Fuentes 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.

My country, 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 be achieved.

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 else will.

Japan: We Must Dare to Move Forward

Akiko Domoto 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.

Japan is 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

Baleka Mbete 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.

We're always 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.


WEDO Primer 50/50 Campaign
March 2001

The First Step: Getting in the Door
South Africa: Strength in Numbers

Involved with the women's movement for nearly 20 years, Mihloti Matye heads the Commission on Gender Equality.

For many 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 and MPs.

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 parties accountable.

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.

India: Democracy Starts at the Grassroots, and Trickles Up

Margaret Alva 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 levels.

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.]

India: First Rewrite the Political Agenda

Ranjana Kumari is the Director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi.

Getting more 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 agendas changed.

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.

Egypt: Strength, If Not Numbers

Farkhonda Hassan is a member of the Egyptian Parliament and chair of its Human Development Committee.

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 pre-school children.

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 affected.

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.

Croatia: Taking Our Cause to the Voters

Biljana Bijelic 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 Washington.

During the 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 percent.

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.

Uganda: What Women Do Well

Winnie Bayanima 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 challenge.

Germany: Change Institutions Too

Karin Junker 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 rights.

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.

Australia: Numbers, Yes, but Activist Support is also Critical

Natasha Stott Despoja is the deputy leader of the Australian Democrats, which stands for the environment, accountability and social justice.

What 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 women.

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 representation.

Trinidad and Tobago: Eight Steps to Equality

Hazel Brown 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.

We started 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 system.

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.

Namibia: The Zebra Shows its Stripes

Priscilla Beukes 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 leadership positions.

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 most impact.

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 candidates.

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 first time.

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 levels.

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.

Nigeria: Building a Constituency of Women to Vote for Women

Chief Bisi Ogunleye 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.

Kenya: The Government, the Opposition and the Women

Martha Karua 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.

In Kenya, 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 everyone.

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 the tunnel.

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.

Argentina: Gender Over Ideology

Maria Jose lubertino 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.

Argentina was 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.