WEDO Primer: Women in Government 2
March 2001

Getting the Balance Right: Strategies for Change
Forward: A Global Movement to Change the Face of Leadership

By June Zeitlin

WEDO’s co-founders Bella Abzug and Mim Kelber sought the political empowerment of women around the world. They were outspoken about the need for gender balance at the United Nations, in parliaments, and in all decision-making bodies, and the feminist perspective they advocated was grounded in the diverse experiences of women worldwide. This far-reaching vision of political empowerment, with its potential to transform the way the world’s business is conducted and to impact the everyday lives of women, men and their families, continues to be the cornerstone of WEDO’s mission.

In June of 2000, during the UN five year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, WEDO launched the global campaign 50/50 by 2005: Get the Balance Right. This campaign underscores the need for a critical mass of women in leadership positions at all levels. One or two women in government positions are not enough. We must be present in large numbers wherever decisions are made—whether at the local, national, or international level—to enable women and men to reshape the policy agenda, together.

But the 50/50 campaign is not just about numbers; it is also about women making a difference. At each major UN conference in the last ten years, starting with Rio in 1992, women have successfully established that every issue—social, economic and political— affects women and that all women’s issues involve and reflect the concerns of society as a whole. In other words, when women bring their experiences and feminist perspectives to the table everyone benefits—peace and justice can become a reality in the present rather than in some distant future.

The 50/50 campaign is also about transforming institutions. WEDO does not seek access to power and decision making for women in order to accommodate the male norm. Our goal is not only to transform the policy agenda at all levels of government but to also transform the male- centered structures, practices, and culture of governing institutions. Continuing WEDO’s vision, the 50/50 campaign seeks to dismantle the structural barriers and institutional practices that make it difficult for women to gain access to power and decision making.

It’s been less than a year since WEDO launched the 50/50 campaign to mobilize women from around the world—locally, regionally and globally—to tackle the barriers that prevent us from achieving equality in governance and decision making. In that time we have seen the campaign begin to take on a life of its own. To date, 50/50 national campaigns have been mounted by WEDO partners in 10 countries: Argentina, Bulgaria, India, Kenya, Namibia, Philippines, Senegal, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda. More are planned as women worldwide push forward to the goal of women’s equal share in power and decision making.
June Zeitlin signature
June Zeitlin
Executive Director


Introduction: Women Working With Women, Breaking Down the Barriers

By Socorro Reyes

The good news about women’s political empowerment is that 189 governments have promised women “equal access to” and “full participation in” power structures and decision making. And that isn’t all. They have also proclaimed their intentions to “establish the goal of gender balance,” set “specific targets,” and “implement measures to substantially increase the number of all governmental and public administration positions.” These commitments were made back in 1995 at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.

Now, fast forward five years—has anything actually happened? Not much. According to data collected by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organization of state parliaments, the number of women members of government has risen by less than three percentage points, from 10 to 12.7 percent. So, despite all the promises governments made in Beijing, the number of women in legislative bodies has only increased 0.5 percent annually. At that rate, it will take 75 years before women are assured of equal representation in their national governments.

Among government ministers worldwide, women fare only slightly better at 14 percent, and they are largely concentrated in sectors typically seen as least powerful, such as education, health, and sports. The number of women heading those government sectors with the most clout in the power structure is particularly low, with only 9.4 percent in the legal area and less than five percent in economic, political and executive positions.

Women have better chances of being elected to local governing bodies, and many do start their political careers at the local level before moving on to the national stage. However, very few countries have local legislative bodies in which women make up 30 percent or more—the UN-designated “critical mass” required to maintain the impetus towards 50/50 female/male representation. Among them are India, where a third of the Panchayat (village) seats are reserved for women by law, and Namibia where women hold 42 percent of elective local positions.

Why aren’t women elected in larger numbers? The fact is that women face formidable obstacles to participation in government, many of which stem from deeply rooted patriarchal structures and societal attitudes. Women are still often considered unequal to men—in the workplace, at home, in government—and assigned roles accordingly. This systematic disempowerment has left women with little presence in decision-making bodies and less likelihood of having their interests and concerns on the policy agenda.

The structures of political parties, electoral systems, and legislative assemblies often create systemic barriers to women’s full and equal participation in government. Political parties in many countries act as gatekeepers that decide which candidates are in and which are out.

Similarly, the type of electoral system can advance or limit political opportunities for women. It is widely accepted that the multi-member proportional representation system works best for women—of the 10 countries with the highest percentage of women in parliaments, all have systems that include proportional representation.1 In such systems, voters cast their ballots for a party—and in some cases for an individual as well—and seats are allocated in proportion to the votes each party receives. The result is a shared, multi-party government.

What doesn’t work for women is the winner-take-all, single-member plurality voting system used in about 40 percent of countries. Of the nine countries with no women in their legislatures, seven use the majority system, one has a mixed system and the other appoints members.2 Acknowledging these barriers in Beijing, governments committed to review “the differential impact of electoral systems on the political representation of women,” and to consider reforms.

In Beijing, governments also acknowledged the value of quotas in increasing the number of women in decision making, calling on political parties to “integrate women in elective and non-elective public positions in the same proportion... as men.” Since Beijing, a significant increase in women’s representation has been recorded in countries that have applied quota systems in decision making in national parliaments, governmental bodies, and/or political parties.

Campaign financing laws pose further problems for women. Generally lacking in resources and unable to raise the huge sums required to compete, women will continue to be marginalized unless these laws are changed to curb spending and provide public financing. (The exceptions to this rule are those few women from wealthy political families who run for office as a matter of legacy.)

Finally, for those women who are elected to local or national legislatures, the male-dominated structures and processes can often prove too formal and rigid. To overcome this barrier, elected women often seek assistance from women’s support groups to increase their numbers.

Overcoming the Obstacles
As the reports in this primer demonstrate, women are using various organizational strategies to overcome the barriers to their participation. These strategies include gender-sensitive campaign training for women candidates, demanding party quotas to broaden women’s electoral participation and providing support services to women legislators at the local and national levels.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the campaign training program of the Network of Women’s Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) emphasizes the acquisition and development of political skills as well as gender analysis of budget allocations and local government laws, history and functions.

The reports on Sweden and Africa demonstrate the extent to which party quotas and proportional representation contribute to raising the numbers of women in national parliaments. In the Philippines, women activists are helping women legislators develop the technical skills needed to formulate a realistic and prioritized gender-based legislative agenda. As the reports in this primer show, such alliances enable elected women to navigate the legislative process, participate actively and make meaningful interventions in committee and floor deliberations, while encouraging them to involve their constituents in decision making.

Also included in this primer are useful tools and information from WEDO’s 50/50: Get the Balance Right global campaign. Readers can use the tools to learn more about the issues, sign on to the campaign, network with organizations across all regions and plan local strategy.

1. Sweden (42.7), Denmark (37.4), Finland (36.5), Norway (36.4), Netherlands (36.0), Iceland (34.9), Germany (30.9), New Zealand (30.8), Mozambique (30.0), South Africa (29.8).

2. Djibouti (majority system); Jordan (majority system), Kuwait (mixed system), Micronesia (majority system), Palau (majority system), Tonga (majority system), Tuvalu (majority system), United Arab Emirates (members appointed), Vanuatu (majority system). Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union:

Chapter 1: Trinidad and Tobago: Building Critical Mass at the Local Level

Where are the Women * The Strategy: Training Research, Outreach *
The Results: At Least One Woman Everywhere * The Lessons Learned

By Hazel Brown

In the run-up to local elections in 1999, Trinidad and Tobago’s Network of Women’s NGOs decided it was time to tip the balance in women’s favor. The last local ballot had seen the level of women’s representation decline, and so the Network, a national umbrella organization for women’s groups, set up a novel project called Engendering Local Government. It was designed to enhance the campaign skills of gender-sensitive women candidates and sweep a critical mass into office, where they could make a substantial impact on policy. When the results were tallied, the percentage of women representatives had reached its highest level ever.

From the beginning, the project aimed to cultivate a more equitable sharing of power in Trinidad and Tobago, a parliamentary democracy, and to encourage popular participation in municipal bodies. It also sought to teach the Network member organizations about the challenges of making political systems work for women. The project targeted local government as a particularly strategic point to intervene because it is located squarely between the national government, which controls most state resources, and the daily needs of communities and families.

Where are the Women?
In Trinidad and Tobago—as in many other countries according to current research—political parties consider women's input to local government elections vital for campaigning and voting. However, after elections are over selected candidates are not obliged by the party to include more women in their their administrations.When women are chosen as candidates, they are usually saddled with the riskiest seats, a practice that keeps down the number of those elected. Women candidates have noted a host of other serious obstacles, including conflicts with family commitments, platform abuse by rivals, insufficient financial support, minimal moral support, sexual demands by men and inadequate security measures. Many women have expressed the view that when they consider all the challenges and the sacrifices that standing for election demands, they prefer to support men through campaigning and voting.

Some political leaders admit that women are not yet seen as equal partners in political decision making, regardless of numbers, competence, circumstances or needs. These views have been bolstered by traditional media reporting on women in politics in which they are stereotyped as aggressive, hysterical and/or as pawns of powerful political sponsors. Women’s only advantage has seemed to be a growing sentiment that they are less likely to be corrupt than men, and therefore should be given a chance.

This sentiment, however, has not consistently translated into higher numbers of women elected to office. While female participation in Trinidad and Tobago’s national, dual-branch legislature rose from 13 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 1996, the figure declined in local government from 20 percent to 17 percent over the same period. This trend was unexpected, given women’s extensive involvement in local activities such as school and church organizations, credit and trade unions, and political parties.

Local government elections take place every four years in Trinidad and Tobago, though they do not simultaneously occur on both islands. Candidates seek offices in Trinidad’s 14 Regional Corporations, which oversee community services such as street lighting, garbage collection, markets, burial sites, and insect control, and in Tobago’s House of Assembly, which takes charge of financial management and infrastructure development.

In 1996, voters elected five women to the Tobago House of Assembly. In Trinidad’s Regional Corporations, 19 of 124 elected councilors were women, and seven of 31 appointed aldermen were women. That year, 210 men and 48 women contested, but male candidates enjoyed a 50 percent success rate compared with 37.6 percent for women. There were no women in four councils, and the largest number of women in any one council was four. Among the council-appointed municipal leaders, there were no women mayors, just two deputy mayors and only one council chair.

The Strategy: Training, Research, Outreach
For the 1999 election, Engendering Local Government set out to change these numbers through a three-pronged strategy: training, research and documentation, and outreach to the mass media. The program began in May 1997 with a pilot training workshop for activists and elected women. Participants discussed the current gender imbalances in political structures and examined alternatives to correct them. After the workshop, they began attending the regular meetings of their councils and developing relationships with the councilors.

In a series of 10 subsequent workshops over the following year, the project trained more than 300 women in political skills, with sessions on the laws, history and functions of local government, and on strategies for introducing a gender perspective (for example, through gender analysis of budget allocations). Trainers experienced in both local government and gender analysis used adult education principles of experiential learning, including case studies and popular theatre. They reminded women that many of the abilities they had fine-tuned in running their own households, such as managing tight budgets and negotiating compromises, could be readily translated into the political arena.

The workshops were open to women candidates from all parties, and to those women managing and supporting the campaigns of women in their region. Participants included grassroots activists and professional women, with incumbent women councilors comprising about 50 percent of the group. Many of those who had never run for office, but were already skilled as campaign organizers, said their primary obstacle had been a lack of understanding of how to get into the system and become a candidate.

Later workshops addressed the specific needs of candidates. They included sessions on speech, imaging, protocol and nomination day procedures. On short notice, the non-partisan project established a Women’s Political Campaign Fund with contributions from local and national individuals and organizations, and from overseas. This provided funding to 33 candidates in the two main parties as well as independents. All women candidates were presented with a copy of a women’s political campaign workbook that offered tips on strategies and techniques.

The project also held training sessions for local government representatives and administrators on gender analysis and planning skills. Targeting incumbent councilors and administrative staff was a deliberate move to bring them into the process and to enlist their support in broadening the space for women’s participation. Training sessions were frequently held in council chambers, and councilors were encouraged to take part in the organization of details, including the selection of convenient dates and the planning of meals.

As the project’s training component was taking place, coordinators began collecting data and reaching out to the media to galvanize critical political and public support for the candidates. The project disseminated the findings of both his torical and recent research on the functioning of local government bodies, and the impact these local bodies have had on national development and women’s participation. Data was compiled on women who had contested local elections over the years, who had been successful, and who had run for office more than once. These findings served as the basis for a public awareness campaign. A media consultant designed a communication program that emphasized the non-partisan nature of the exercise, and adopted the theme, “Put a woman to work for you in local government.” An advertising campaign disseminated messages such as, “We need more women in local government, and your vote counts.” One-page flyers, bumper stickers and posters were given to all candidates for their own use and distributed in public markets and shopping malls. Many of the women candidates were interviewed on popular radio and TV shows, and feature articles in the newspapers stirred interest in the elections. A special effort was made to engage journalists in the project; they were invited to all project activities and were regularly updated through press conferences and releases.

The Results: At Least One Woman Everywhere
Originally, Engendering Local Government projected that at least 30 percent of the women participating would pursue a candidacy, and that women’s interest in local government would rise, with an additional 30 percent of the participants volunteering to serve on local advisory councils. It was also hoped that women representatives would strengthen calls for more women in government, and that the deliberations, work programs and expenditures of local government would reflect greater sensitivity to gender concerns.

When Election Day came, 91 women contested 124 seats, and 28 won. This represented a 100 percent increase over the number campaigning in 1996, and a 50 percent increase over the number who won. The percent of women councilors overall rose from 17 percent to 26 percent.

Women from the two main political parties were most successful: 20 out of 44 People’s National Movement (PNM) candidates and eight out of 41 United National Congress (UNC) candidates won. None of the three independent candidates were elected. Although women contested in all 14 regions, women candidates did not obtain seats in four Regional Corporations. Women publicly noted this gap, and it was later addressed with the appointment of women aldermen. All councils now have at least one woman representative.

Extensive media coverage encouraged several political leaders to acknowledge publicly the importance of women’s participation. The project’s collection and documentation of information on women and local government, which was critical in this effort, will also serve as an important resource for future actions.

Lessons Learned
Many of the women who participated in Engendering Local Government have expressed their willingness to continue to work with the Trinidad and Tobago Network of NGOs.

Following the elections, the project hosted a gathering to share and assess experiences, and to examine possibilities for additional collaboration. Participants called for the creation of a local government women’s forum in each region comprised of elected councilors, aldermen, candidates, previous councilors and alderman, and activists who attended the workshops. Once established, these forums will work closely with the Network of NGOs to create critical links between local and national issues.

In the future, the Network plans to continue its advocacy for increased political participation by routinely requesting women representatives to support women candidates in their party. The Network will also lobby for greater numbers of women to contest elections, train women in elections skills, encourage local government representatives to participate in training sessions, and advocate for policies informed by a gender perspective. These activities will ensure that important lessons learned during Engendering Local Government will be carried forward, including the following:

Chapter 2: Sweden and South Africa: A Better Chance to Win

        The Benefits of History * Quotas: Numbers Don’t Lie *
Electoral Systems: It’s the Kind of Vote That Counts * Progressive Party Politics a Plus for Women * Government: A Gender-Sensitive System

By Ranveig Jacobsson (Sweden) and Mihloti Mathye (South Africa)

Sweden is justifiably lauded for its progressive approach to women’s political participation. It was among the first countries in Europe to give women the vote and to adopt quotas. Today Sweden continues to lead the world in the percentage of women in its Parliament and in its Cabinet. South Africa has a different history, one where the black majority—women and men—were disenfranchised under the apartheid system. Women, in particular, have made significant gains since the first free elections were held in 1994. Today, South Africa ranks 10th in the world in the number of women in its Parliament, up from 141st in 1994.

In both countries, progressive political parties and proportional representation have bolstered women’s political participation. Strong women’s movements have consistently capitalized on these openings to push participation forward. The results have been dramatic, and not just in terms of the numbers: female parliamentarians have altered the political process, changed the face of government and put their stamp on a wide range of new policies.

The Benefits of History
Women’s political participation in South Africa has its roots in the long, fierce struggle against racial oppression and disenfranchisement. As early as 1913, women worked side by side with men in resistance campaigns and fought for legislative and institutional changes that would remove racial and gender discrimination.

By the 1980s, amid the welter of new ideas generated by the United Nations Decade of Women, which culminated in the 1985 Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya, the focus of women’s activism grew to include a demand for equal representation in decision-making structures. In 1992, a year after the apartheid regime was replaced by the African National Congress (ANC), the South Africa Women’s National Coalition, which brought together representatives of all political affiliations, issued the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality. It called for equality in many areas, including political structures, and was instrumental in putting women’s concerns on the agenda during the subsequent negotiations for a democratic South Africa. Both the Women’s League of the ANC and the coalition lobbied parties to include women in their delegations to the talks.

During this period, the ANC set a precedent by agreeing to reserve 30 percent of its parliamentary seats for women. The new South African Constitution went on to declare that all are equal before the law, and that no person or the government may unfairly discriminate in a direct or indirect way against any person on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, age, culture, marital status, religion, color, or social origin. Under the Constitution, every citizen has the right to free and fair elections, the right to vote in an election, the right to stand for public office, and the right to hold office if elected.

With this strong legal statement, the ANC quota, and persistent lobbying by activists, women went on to capture over a quarter of the seats of all parties in the 1994 elections. This figure rose to its current high of 30 percent in the 1999 vote. Working together for only six years, women parliamentarians have already successfully advocated for the ratification of The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and established structures to promote and protect gender equality, including the Commission on Gender Equality and the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus. Their lobbying also ensured passage of three key laws: the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act, the Maintenance Act and the Domestic Violence Act.

Women also hold an impressive number of ministerial posts, including traditionally male ones, such as foreign affairs, minerals and energy. Considering the significant increase in the number of female politicians, some observers predict equal female/male representation in the next election.

Sweden is already close to equal representation, due in part to its long tradition of forward-looking social policies, which back to the end of World War II when the country’s welfare system was developed. The first woman MP was elected in 1921,1 although it was not until 1947 that a woman became a member of the Swedish government.2 (In a parliamentary system like Sweden’s, the government refers to the executive branch, which is composed of the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers. The latter may be drawn from members of parliament. It was not until 1947 that a woman MP was appointed to the cabinet.)

Wider recognition of women’s rights as a political concept and gender equality as a national goal developed during the 1960s, and labor, education, social and family policies became the instruments for advancing women’s status. Before that, women’s issues were considered a matter for women only, a notion reflected in the tradition of women’s organizations within political parties. By the 1970s, with the percentage of women in Parliament, county councils and municipalities topping 30 percent, politically organized women and NGOs started to systematically press their claims for equal opportunities.

The single most important political move was a 1971 law on individual taxation for married couples, which resulted from intense advocacy by women politicians. The law established the right of women to be treated as individuals and eliminated the higher co-taxation rate for married couples that had created a barrier to women’s employment.3 It also became the starting point for promoting women’s economic independence, thus generating other changes such as the expansion of childcare and parental insurance.

Over the next decade, the government and Parliament established formal structures to promote and protect women’s equality—in 1972, an organization to make regular progress reports to Parliament; in 1976, a ministerial portfolio for gender equality; and, in 1980, legislation banning discrimination.

These efforts, over time, have had a clear impact on women’s participation across all spheres of life, including the political arena. Today, half of all ministers are women, as is the Speaker of Parliament. Women make up 43 percent of Parliament, 48 percent of regional assemblies and 41 percent of local assemblies.

A recent movement lobbying for women’s representation on public boards and committees has spawned a requirement that the name of a woman and a man be put forward for each appointed seat. The government is aiming for equal participation on these bodies by the year 2001.

Despite this progress, Swedish women point out that political and public bodies considered important and influential are still dominated by men. A prevailing “vertical division of labor” means that women and men have different tasks and positions, with women more likely to be equally represented in the social and cultural institutions that have less power than those specializing in economic matters such as taxation and industrialization.

But some studies indicate that so-called “soft” areas such as childcare, schools, recreational programs and cultural affairs are gaining in importance as the number of women in local political bodies increases. The Swedish experience confirms that if women make up a large percentage of the members of a political body, the chances increase that they will pursue issues based on women’s experiences and interests.

Quotas: Numbers Don’t Lie
Women in both South Africa and Sweden have successfully employed a mechanism that is still controversial in some countries: quotas, otherwise known as positive or affirmative action programs. Supporters for such policies point to the role models offered by successful women, the prospect of social and economic justice, a level playing field, and support for issues that would otherwise be ignored.# Opponents argue that quota candidates lack experience, and that elections should be based on merit rather than favoritism.

However, international agreements such as the Beijing Platform for Action have noted that a critical mass of 30 percent is required in order for women to participate effectively in any decision-making structure. Quotas have been used around the world to reach this target, bringing substantial numbers of previously under-represented segments of society into party lists, government bodies and parliaments.

Individual parties in Sweden and South Africa have taken the initiative to adopt quotas; there is no requirement that all parties agree to this measure. The Social Democratic Party of Sweden, which has led the government since 1994, decided to apply the principle of “every other seat a woman’s seat” on its electoral lists at its 1993 Congress. While the Green Party and the Left Party have embraced 50 percent quotas since 1983 and 1990, respectively, the Liberal, Center and Conservative parties have not yet moved in this direction.

South Africa’s ANC has followed a 30 percent quota since 1994, which has led to high levels of women both in the party itself (39%) and among the party’s National Assembly seats (36.1%). This precedent, combined with vigorous lobbying by women’s groups and the Commission on Gender Equality, has encouraged other parties to promote women’s representation, even without their own quotas. For instance, before the 1999 elections, the Commission made a widely publicized call on each party to present its plans to increase women’s participation. Women in four out of 13 parties won more than 30 percent of the seats. The ANC has also consciously placed women prominently on party lists. Former President Nelson Mandela introduced the policy of offering ANC vacancies in the National Assembly to women first. For example, when Bhadra Ranchod resigned from the National Party and his position as deputy speaker, he was replaced by Baleka Mbete-Kgositsile, a woman who had chaired the ANC parliamentary caucus. Currently, both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are women.

The effectiveness of quotas can be increased by a wide range of factors, including lobbying by the women’s movement, electoral systems, the policies of individual parties, and supporting gender-sensitive policies. However, it is true that no country has attained the critical 30 percent mark without a quota system of some sort.

Electoral Systems: It’s the Kind of Vote That Counts
Both South Africa and Sweden illustrate the benefits of using quotas to build on a system of proportional representation, where voters choose parties that distribute their percentage of seats among their members. The advantages of a proportional representation system are well documented. They include the ability of progressive party leadership to override traditional sentiments against women running for office.

A comparative study of 13 parliamentary democracies between the 1960s and the 1980s concluded that there is no trade-off between democratic quality and effectiveness in proportional systems. The caliber of women ministers and parliamentarians in Sweden and South Africa, and the contributions they have made, testify to this.

Ensuring that proportional representation actually benefits women, however, also requires attention to their placement on party lists. Parties who are not seriously committed to gender equality will commonly relegate women to the bottom of their list, where they are less likely to reach an elected seat.

In Sweden, examination of party lists has long shown that women and men receive equal attention in the lower portion of the list, but the top-ranking, more electable spots are still generally reserved for men. All the political parties have discussed the possibility of granting every second name on each list to a woman; most of them, more or less, implement this policy today. The Social Democratic Party has fully embraced this principle, and now fields equal representation in Parliament. In reaching its 30 percent quota, the ANC has implemented the requirement that every third candidate on the regional and national lists be a woman.

Progressive Party Politics a Plus for Women
The ANC has clearly taken the initiative in bringing women into South Africa’s political system, working closely with progressive activists and drawing from its history of policies supporting women’s participation. In 1990, three women sat on the ANC’s 30-member National Executive Council, and a fifth of representatives to its first consultative conference were female. While the party was still banned under the apartheid regime, it organized a Women’s Section to address women’s concerns and lobby for a non-sexist culture within the organization.

Since 1994, Presidents Mandela and Thabo Mbeki have demonstrated their commitment to women’s participation and leadership. In his address to South Africa’s first democratic Parliament, President Mandela confirmed that the objectives of the Reconstruction and Development Programme could not be realized without radically changing women’s condition for the better, and empowering them in all aspects of life as equals with any other member of society.

President Mbeki, referring to the advances made by Parliament and the National Executive, has called on other centers of authority and power to adopt a similar approach. Mbeki has continued Mandela’s commitment by increasing the number of women ministers and deputy ministers in his government. In 1994, four out of 25 cabinet members (16%) were women, and seven out of 15 deputy ministers (46.6%) were women. In 1999, these figures rose to 27.58 percent for cabinet ministers and 61.53 percent for deputies.

Government: A Gender-Sensitive System
While several of Sweden’s parties have become role models by ensuring women’s equal participation in their own ranks, the Swedish government as a whole has begun to assess its policies through the lens of gender equality. In 1972, the government set up its first advisory body on equal opportunities to develop a suitable policy for the public services.

Today all draft proposals for government decisions are scrutinized from this angle. Since 1992, official statistics have been separated for women and men unless strong reasons are presented to the contrary. In 1994, the government began offering basic education on gender to cabinet ministers, under-secretaries of state, political advisors, press secretaries, public servants in ministries and other parts of the public service, as well as chairs and secretaries on commissions and committees. A special commission for developing gender perspectives in government policies was created in 1997. The under-secretary of state for equal opportunities between women and men chairs the group, which consists of representatives from both the public and private sector.

Until the mid-1980s much of the government’s emphasis was on building and consolidating women’s positions in directly elected political bodies. Less attention was paid to indirectly elected bodies—the boards of directors, commissions of inquiry and committees that help shape policies by drafting position papers and drawing up strategies.

In 1986, a government commission set up to gather data on these bodies. It published a report called Varannan damernas (Every Other One for the Ladies), which alludes to the custom at many Swedish dance halls of allowing women to choose their partner every second dance. The highly publicized report revealed what many had long suspected—women still accounted for only 16 percent of the members of government boards, committees and other public positions.

“When political parties show themselves to the voters, women are relatively numerous,” the Commission commented. One reason, the Commission said, was that the work of the boards and committees, as well as their recruitment methods, were relatively invisible to the public. Unlike political parties, these bodies do not necessarily risk losing mandates or members if they do not pursue equality issues, or if their boards are male dominated, the Commission Report said.

In 1988, the government adopted a program to increase female representation in all indirectly-elected bodies. Its strategy included making the shortage of women visible through annual statistics, and mapping out targets for women’s participation—30 percent by 1992, and 40 percent by 1995, with equality as the final goal.

In a move to coordinate gender equality in filling government-appointed positions, the progressives urged organizations that were offered a seat on a state board or committee to submit two nominations for each position—one woman and one man—so that the government could choose between candidates and thereby create a better balance of male and female representation. Supporting activities included projects for encouraging women’s networks, and mentor and training programs.

By 1992, women’s representation on central government boards rose to 36 percent, and by 1998 to 44 percent, with women chairing 35 percent of the boards. Regional increases have been slightly slower, with women accounting for 27 percent of appointments in 1992 and 40 percent in 1998.

Both Sweden and South Africa show that proportional representation, when combined with quotas that reserve a fair share of seats for women, can be an effective channel for increasing the numbers of women in government. But the experiences of these two countries also show the critical need for parties and governments to support these strategies for progressive change if equal representation is ever to be achieved.

1. Kerstin Hesselgren was elected to the Upper House of the Swedish parliament in 1921. In 1922, four others, Bertha Wellin, Agda Oestlund, Nelly Thuering, and Elisabeth Tamm, were elected to the Lower House.

2. Karin Kock-Lindberg.

Chapter 3: The Philippines: Making the Legislative System Work for Women

The Case for Support Services * Training: Building Skills, Broadening Perspectives * Research and Analysis: Getting the Facts Straight * Lessons Learned

By Sheila Villaluz

In the Philippines, the number of women in local legislatures and the national Congress is steadily inching upward.1 Locally, women secured 16 percent of all seats in the 1998 elections, up from just over 10 percent in 1987.2 The percentage of women in the national Senate and House of Representatives hovered between 10 and 25 percent. Despite a growing recognition among advocates that women should be elected so they can push for gender-sensitive laws, little attention was being given to developing the skills they needed to do their work effectively. Women legislators were left to face steep barriers to their equal and informed participation with few opportunities to cultivate their capabilities as women’s rights advocates.

One strategic response to this issue is to offer legislative support services that combine technical training with research and analysis. The Center for Legislative Development (CLD),3 which has worked both locally and nationally, has found that equipping women legislators with the necessary skills, information and understanding of gender perspectives transforms lawmaking from something impersonal and alienating into an important strategy for women’s empowerment.

This is a new way of looking at the potential of women legislators, but it is rapidly catching on. Since the 1986 “people power” protests that brought down President Ferdinand Marcos, most NGOs, including women’s groups, have continued to push their agenda through the “parliament of the streets.” But in 1990, two years after the democratically-elected Congress was first convened, activists began to consider the potential benefits of working through legislation. Since many did not know where to start, the CLD organized seminars on how the legislature works, as well as on techniques for advocacy.

In 1988, the CLD began providing congressional legislators and staff, both women and men, with seminars on research, technical writing, bill drafting, and parliamentary rules of procedure. As more NGOs began exploring the possibilities of engaging the legislature, the CLD turned its attention to helping women’s groups and politicians use the legislative process to address gender concerns.

The Case for Support Services
Women newly-elected to the legislature are soon confronted with the reality that lawmaking requires skills they may not have had the opportunity or the time to develop, such as how to draft a bill, how to negotiate, and how to enlist the support of key players.

Women legislators would often rather be seen as addressing broad constituency needs because this is what voters expect.4 But even where they are sensitive to gender issues, they may also be unaware of which specific legislative measures to introduce, or how to give a gender-focus to those bills that don’t target women in particular. In addition, some may not participate in the deliberations because they have neither the confidence nor the information to craft persuasive arguments.

An additional obstacle is that the majority of women in office are there to continue family political traditions. After the election, these women often rely on the support and advice of “experienced” male family members.5 This limits their understanding of women’s empowerment, and encourages them to advocate solely for measures on economic well-being and welfare services such as health and daycare facilities.6

CLD’s legislative support services tackle these problems by building the knowledge and skills of women legislators and teaching them to become independent advocates for gender. The CLD has found that these services allow women legislators to quickly become active movers and shakers in the political process—introducing powerful new legislation to benefit women, and standing up to male legislators who oppose their proposals. They begin to recognize the value of making their presence felt in the committees where their bills and ordinances are scrutinized, and, perceiving new links between gender and all other issues, they venture into non-traditional committees such as peace and economic affairs.

Through the services provided by CLD, women legislators also gain the courage to bring women NGOs into the legislative equation, demonstrating the extent to which working with groups outside the legislature can make democracy more alive and responsive to people’s needs and demands. In several cases, women legislators and NGOs have collaborated strategically on identifying key legislators to lobby and on providing timely and substantive interventions in committee hearings and in plenary meetings.

Training: Building Skills, Broadening Perspectives
A major part of legislative support services involves training on issues such as legislative agenda setting, preparation of legislative proposals, and advocacy. At the CLD, workshops on legislative agenda setting start by teaching elected women about gender as an organizing principle of society, and how all public policies from social welfare to foreign trade have gender implications. Using popular education techniques, such as theater arts, community singing, role playing and games, the workshops help women identify women’s issues, examine why there is a need to address them, and consider why women legislators must take the initiative and responsibility to put these issues before the public for national debate. Participants develop an agenda that they can later incorporate in legislative proposals.

Training for the preparation of legislative proposals involves teaching skills related to policy analysis, policy research and legislative drafting. In these workshops, women analyze the causes of problems, determine the extent and degree to which differing populations are affected, and choose the best policy alternative to be developed into legislation. At the end, participants realize that devising a legislative proposal is not an easy, mechanical task, but one that requires critical thinking and research-based information.

Advocacy, which entails effective participation in committee and plenary deliberations, requires more than the confidence to voice opinions and the knowledge of legislative structures and processes. Seminars on this subject explore how to present a policy as the most rational alternative. They teach women how to gain support from other legislators, to decide what their minimum and maximum positions are, and to negotiate without compromising basic principles.

An example of progress made through legislative training took place in Bacolod City and the Province of Negroes. Women there have been active in electoral education since the late 1980s. In the beginning, they organized consultations with community women to create a local women’s agenda for presentation to politicians. In 1992, the city council passed a resolution, drafted by a woman legislator, which provided a framework for women’s participation in local development processes.

Little progress was made in getting ordinances on women’s issues enacted, however, until 1994. The CLD and a local NGO, Development Through Active Women Networking Foundation, began offering seminar workshops on advocacy, agenda setting and developing legislative proposals, which were attended by elected women, government planners, and NGOs. The CLD also shared its legislative monitoring reports and research studies.

A core group of women who participated in the workshops soon formed the group Legislative Advocates for Women in Negroes (LAWN). Shortly afterwards LAWN started working with women legislators on researching and drafting ordinances that would benefit women not only in Bacolod but throughout the province. The resulting agenda included initiatives related to crisis centers, day care, health, education, women’s political participation, gender sensitivity training, livelihood projects, access to credit, and banning the mail-order bride business.

In less than a year, the provincial legislature passed an ordinance, proposed by a LAWN legislator, which created a Provincial Council for Women.7 Its mandate is to recommend legislative and administrative measures related to women’s concerns, undertake gender-based research to support legislative action, and assist in the formulation of a strategic provincial development plan for women. There were obstacles to the ordinance’s passage—many municipal mayors, for example, objected to allocating scarce resources for specific women’s concerns. Yet the members of LAWN persisted by lobbying the mayors, holding consultations with other women’s groups, providing testimonies to committees with jurisdiction over the ordinance, and negotiating with male legislators. Today, LAWN continues its advocacy work, and several NGO members who attended CLD/LAWN workshops have since been elected to office.

Research and Analysis: Getting the Facts Straight
Another indispensible form of legislative support consists of providing research on which women legislators and women’s organizations can build action. With this data, women legislators can raise the level of policymaking debates by providing solid gender analysis and gender-sensitive policy alternatives. Some of the CLD’s research studies have focused on the impact of gender on the kind of laws introduced in the legislature, on strategies to increase women’s political participation, and on the concepts and practice of politics and elections. Special issue briefs have treated specific women’s concerns as public problems that require a new law or amendments to existing laws.

Research has played a major role in the success of the national network, Joint Initiatives of Women for Transforming Law and Society (SIBOL). Launched in 1992, through a joint initiative of CLD and the Women’s Legal Bureau,8 SIBOL brings together 13 feminist NGOs to advocate for the passage of congressional bills on women’s issues.9

SIBOL has organized issue forums on topics related to pending legislation on rape, quota systems, reproductive health rights, family and marriage, and political participation. These forums briefed women legislators, SIBOL members, other women’s groups and the media about the problems being addressed and their implications for both women and men. Quarterly updates on the status and analysis of proposals before Congress that addressed women’s concerns were also disseminated through SIBOL.

To develop lobbying techniques, SIBOL seminars used the research as the basis for teaching advocacy and negotiation skills and to develop easy access tools for female and male legislators, such as fact sheets and position papers. These tools were used for preparing arguments and testifying in committee hearings, writing sponsorship speeches for women legislators, mobilizing women during plenary deliberations, reaching out to media, and lobbying individual members of Congress.

After five years and two Congresses, these efforts resulted in a major victory for women—the passage of a progressive, gender-sensitive Anti-Rape Law in 1997. According to key legislators involved in the deliberations on the bill, SIBOL was “persistent in lobbying,” “really educated the legislators,” and “triggered legislators’ interest in women’s issues.”10

In the lead-up to the vote on the bill, SIBOL provided legislators with research to reinforce their position that a special law on rape was needed, particularly one that redefines rape from a crime against chastity to a crime against a person. SIBOL also constructed arguments for key women legislators to use in convincing other legislators that rape encompasses acts beyond penile penetration, that rape can happen in a marriage, that abuse of authority should be included as grounds for rape, that fear can make a woman incapable of resisting her rapist, and that delays in reporting a rape case should not be used against the victim.

Five months later, on the heels of this success, the CLD and SIBOL helped to push through the Rape Crisis Centers Act, which for the first time mandated the establishment of rape crisis centers. Since then, a broader discussion has begun about subjects no legislator would previously consider touching, including abortion, divorce, and lesbian and gay rights. Most recently, SIBOL has backed the drafting of a domestic violence bill, which is now before the Senate and the House.

Lessons Learned
ased on its collected experience, the CLD is planning additional initiatives such as involving male legislators in its programs, re f i n i n g the gender sensitization of women legislators, and building the capacity of NGOs for strategic advo-cacy. In these future plans and its current activi-ties, the CLD has identified key factors to guide its work:

1. Studies by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and other international organizations show that there is a greater openness in progressive parties toward using quotas or other strategies that enhance women’s chances of getting into office. The research also reveal that proportional representation favors women’s participation, as long as it is combined with quotas that reserve a fair share of seats for women and offer them a portion of winnable positions.

2. In the Senate, women garnered two out of 23 seats in 1987, and three out of 12 seats in 1995. In the House of Representatives for the same years, they won 19 out of 202 seats, and 27 out of 206 seats respectively. National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, “Filipino Women: Facts and Figures.” 1 9 9 8.

3. CLD is a Philippine-based nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that works to achieve a society where responsive and gender-fair legislation is enacted by democratically elected legislatures functioning with genuine people’s participation to promote equality, development and peace for all.

4. Reyes, Socorro, “Strengthening Linkages Between Selected Women’s Groups and Women in Government,” The Center for Legislative Development. 1991.

5. Josefa Francisco, “Women Negotiating Through Local Politics,” Research Report. Quezon City: The Center for Legislative Development. 1999.

6. Maria Ela Atienza, “Gender and Democratization in the Philippines: Current Attempts to Democratize Local Governance,” Journal of Legislative Development, Quezon City: The Center for Legislative Development. 1996-97.

7. Flor, Celia, “Local Legislative Advocacy on Women’s Issues in Bacolod City,” Journal of Legislative Development, The Center for Legislative Development. 1995.

8. WLB is a feminist legal resource NGO servicing women and women NGOs.

9. At present, SIBOL is composed of 11 women NGOs providing research, training and direct services such as counseling for women VAW survivors. SIBOL member organizations have chapters in various provinces in the Philippines.

10. Interviews with Representatives Charito Plaza and Senator Ernesto Herrera in Socorro Reyes, “National Advocacy for the Anti-Rape Law: What Worked?” Unpublished. 1998.

Atienza, Ma. Ela. “Gender and Democratization in the Philippines:Current Attempts to Democratize Local
     Governance.” Journal of Legislative Development. Quezon City: The Center for Legislative
     Development. 1996-97.

Beijing Platform for Action. Fourth World Conference on Women. United Nations. 1995.

Journal of Legislative Development. Quezon City: The Center for Legislative Development, 1995.

The Center for Legislative Development. Citizens’ Advocacy Guide to the 11th Congress. 1999.

The Center for Legislative Development. ”Legislative Advocacy for Women’s Rights in Cotabato,
     Philippines.” Final Project Technical Report to Promoting Women in Development (PROWID). 1998.

Flor, Celia. “Local Legislative Advocacy on Women’s Issues in Bacolod C i t y.” Journal of Legislative
. Quezon City: The Center for Legislative Development. 1995.

Francisco, Josefa. “Women Negotiating Through Local Politics: A Study of Women Candidates in the 1997
     Barangay Elections in Two Metro Manila and Three Cotabato Communities.” Quezon City: The Center
     for Legislative Development. 1999.

Lee, Lynn Frances. “Transformational Politics and Women in the Ninth Congress: A Critical Analysis.”
     Journal of Legislative Development. Quezon City: The Center for Legislative Development. 1995.

National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW). “Filipino Women Facts and Figures.” 1998.

NCRFW. “Women and Public Life.” 1995.

Promoting Women in Development (PROWID). “Legislative Advocacy for Women’s Rights: Training
     Candidates for Local Elections in Cotabato, Philippines, The Center for Legislative Development.”
     Report in Brief. International Center for Research on Women and Center for Development and
     Population Activities. 1999.

Republic Act No. 8353. “The Anti-Rape Law of 1997.” Republic of the Philippines. 1997.

Reyes, Socorro. “Strengthening Linkages Between Selected Women’s Groups and Women in
     Government.” Quezon City: The Center for Legislative Development. 1991.

Reyes, Socorro. “National Legislative Advocacy for the Anti-Rape Law: What Worked?” Unpublished,

Overcoming the Obstacles

As the reports in this primer demonstrate, women are using various organizational strategies to overcome the barriers to their participation. These strategies include gender-sensitive campaign training for women candidates, demanding party quotas to broaden women’s electoral participation and providing support services to women legislators at the local and national levels.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the campaign training program of the Network of Women’s Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) emphasizes the acquisition and development of political skills as well as gender analysis of budget allocations and local government laws, history and functions.

The reports on Sweden and Africa demonstrate the extent to which party quotas and proportional representation contribute to raising the numbers of women in national parliaments. In the Philippines, women activists are helping women legislators develop the technical skills needed to formulate a realistic and prioritized gender-based legislative agenda. As the reports in this primer show, such alliances enable elected women to navigate the legislative process, participate actively and make meaningful interventions in committee and floor deliberations, while encouraging them to involve their constituents in decision making.

Also included in this primer are useful tools and information from WEDO’s 50/50: Get the Balance Right global campaign. Readers can use the tools to learn more about the issues, sign on to the campaign, network with organizations across all regions and plan local strategy.

1. Sweden (42.7), Denmark (37.4), Finland (36.5), Norway (36.4), Netherlands (36.0), Iceland (34.9), Germany (30.9), New Zealand (30.8), Mozambique (30.0), South Africa (29.8).

2. Djibouti (majority system); Jordan (majority system), Kuwait (mixed system), Micronesia (majority system), Palau (majority system), Tonga (majority system), Tuvalu (majority system), United Arab Emirates (members appointed), Vanuatu (majority system). Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union:

Resources & Links

Networks and Organizations

ANC Women’s League
Women’s arm of the Africa National Congress works in coalition with women’s organizations on women’s equality in decision making.
ANC Headquarters
51 Plein Street
Johannesburg 2001, South Africa

Center for Legislative Development
Seeks to promote linkages between the legislature and civil society. Targets women through a gender and governance program.
Suite 1703, MPO Bldg.
San Miguel Ave., Ortigas Center
Pasig City 1600, Philippines
Fax: 63-2-687-2082

International Parliamentary Union
This focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue has up-to-date data on women in national parliaments in 176 countries.

Network of NGOs In Trinidad and Tobago
For information and resources on the network’s Engendering Local Government project.
Hazel Brown, Project Coordinator
P.O. Box 410
Port of Spain
Trinidad and Tobago
Fax: 868-686-9655

SIBOL (Joint Initiatives of Women for transforming Law and Society)
Brings together feminist NGOs in the Philippines to advocate for the passage of congressional bills on women’s issues.
SIBOL Secretariat
c/o Women’s Legal Bureau
11 Matimtiman Street
Teachers Village, Diliman
Quezon City, Philippines
Fax: 63-2-921-4387

South Africa Women’s National Coalition
Works with women of all political affiliations and across party lines to develop a platform for women’s political participation.
P.O. Box 63319
Marshalltown, Johannesburg 2107
South Africa

Women’s Candidacy Initiative
Promotes women’s participation in political processes through programs to increase public awareness about the need for equitable attitudes, policies and laws. Created history in Malaysia by running that country’s first female candidate.
Fax: 60-3-837-8380

Information sites

Center for Voting and Democracy

Gender and Governance sites

Center for American Women and Politics
Unifem Engendering Governance and Leadership
League of Women Voters
American Women Presidents
Women's Learning Partnership
Women's Action for New Directions


Redefining Politics: South African Women and Democracy
Experiences and reflections of women in the first democratic parliament of South Africa.
(Johannesburg: Commission on Gender Equality, 1999)

Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers
by Azza Karam
Examines structural and cultural barriers to gender balance in national parliaments and shares strategies to overcome them.
(Sweden: IDEA, 1998). Available at



Transforming Women’s Lives: The Philippine ExperienceCountry Report, June 2000
National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women
1145 J. P. Laurel Street
Manila, Philippines
Fax: 63-2-735-1655

The Philippine NGO Report on Women Five Years After the United Nations Beijing Conference on Women
prepared by the Philippine NGO Beijing Scoreboard
Download at website:

South Africa

Reports published by the Commission on Gender Equality.

Entrenching Democracy and Good Governance Through the Empowerment of Women
Newly-elected women reflect on their experiences and highlight the challenges facing women in the new democracy. November 13-15, 1998.

Women, Politics and the Elections
What political parties in South Africa are/are not doing, or would like to do to support women’s political participation. June 29, 1998.

Review of the 1999 General Elections—A Gender Perspective
Focus on participation, access and visibility and recommendations for promoting gender equality in future elections.

For copies, contact:
10th Floor, Braamfontein Centre
Braamfontein 2017
South Africa
Tel: 1-27-11-403-7182

United Nations

Women’s Political Participation and Good Governance: 21st Century Challenges
(UNDP, 2000)
Management Development and Governance Division(MDGD)
United Nations, Development Programme
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 100017





Margaret ALVA
Head, Committee on the
Empowerment of Women,
Lok Sabha, 12 Safdarjung Lane,
New Delhi 110016, India

Deputy Speaker,
House of Representatives,
The Philippines

Member of Parliament, Uganda

Priscilla BEUKES
President, The Association of Local Authorities in Namibia,
P.O. Box 2721, Windhoek, Namibia

Network of NGOs of Trinidad & Tobago
for The Advancement of Women,
P.O. Box 410, Port of Spain,
Trinidad and Tobago

Member, House of Councillors
New Party Sukigake
422 Sangiin Giin Kaikan,
2-1-1 Nagata-cho,
Chiyoda-KU 100-00, Japan

Françoise GASPARD
Commission of the European Communities,
54, Bd Raspail,
75006 Paris, France

Farkhonda HASSAN
Member of Parliament,
113 Kasr El Eini Street,
Cairo, Egypt

Member, European Parliament, Germany

Martha KARUA
Member of Parliament and Chairperson
of the League of Kenyan Women Voters,
P.O. Box 8332, Mucai Drive,
Nairobi, Kenya

Ranjuna KUMARI
Director, Center for Social Research,
Moti Bagla,
C-4/68 Safdarjung Lane,
New Delhi 110016, India

President, Social and Political Women’s Institute
(Instituto Social y Politico de la Mujer),
Av. Calloa 741, Apto. 1
Buenos Aires 1023, Argentina

Mihloti MATHYE
Head of Research Department Commission
on Gender Equality,
P.O. Box 32175,
Bramfontein, South Africa

Baleka MBETE
Deputy Speaker National Assembly,
South Africa

Country Women Association of Nigeria,
No. 7 Awosika Crescent,
Ijapo Est. Akure,
Ondo State, Nigeria

Member Senate, Australia

European Parliament, Rue Wiertz,
Brussels 1047, Belgium

Margaretha WINBERG
Minister of Gender Equality, Sweden