Women In Parliament: Beyond Numbers (A Revised Edition)

alt Julie Ballington And Azza Karam
Foreword by: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Publisher International Institute For Democracy And Electoral Assistance (International Idea), 2005
ISBN: 10: 9189098196 13: 978-9189098190

Reviewed By: Natalia Zakharova and Nathalie Lasslop
In Conflict Trends Issue 1 of 2007

The extent of the two editors’ working experience around policy and gender issues is ‘beyond numbers’. Julie Ballington, a specialist on political participation and representation of women, headed the project on Gender and Elections at the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa prior to working for International IDEA and recently joined the Programme for the Promotion of Partnership between Men and Women at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Azza Karam, a specialist on gender and the Arab region, is now a Senior Policy Research Advisor at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and used to work at the World Conference of Religious Peace, and at the University of Belfast, before becoming the architect of IDEA’ s gender and Arab world programmes.

This 2005 revised edition of Women in Parliament, downloadable in several languages, brings together a variety of authors, and draws on the shared experience of women and men working in different areas at the local, regional and global levels. The Handbook provides comparative information and strategies for practitioners working to increase women’s participation in political decision-making. It analyses the barriers that women face in reaching parliaments and presents solutions to overcome them. Designed primarily for practical purposes, the Handbook provides strategies and ideas for a wide range of actors working to promote the participation, representation and leadership of women in the political sphere and to bring about constructive change and influence in politics.

The equal participation of women and men in public life is a cornerstone of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and enforced since 1981. In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action further emphasized that women’s equal participation is not only a demand for justice or democracy but a necessary condition to achieve the goals of equality, development and peace. Growing recognition by the international community of the need for gender equality and the empowerment of women along with sustained women’s activism, mobilization and institutional engineering has resulted in a broader political space for women. As of 31 January 2007, women constitute 16.9 percent in parliaments worldwide and Africa is leading with Rwanda now being closest to reaching equal numbers of men and women (48.8 percent). However, in the words of the Handbook, “it is important to move ‘beyond numbers’ to adopt women’s perspectives, make changes in women’s issues and reform the inherent ‘institutional masculinity’, which characterises most legislatures….It is one thing to put a woman in power. It is quite another to transform the way politicians behave.” Moving beyond numbers highlights the danger of reducing the result of the gender equation to equal participation in parliaments only, instead of projecting it as a means of leading to the mainstreaming of gender issues within parliamentary work.

Women’s increasing impact can be achieved through explicitly advancing an agenda for gender equality and mainstreaming gender perspectives into various policies. By effectively increasing the substantive representation of women and their impact on public life at all levels, the potential for change in social practices, and therefore in outcomes towards empowerment of women can be better realised; thus promoting a more democratic and just society.

Based on the motto “learning the rules, using the rules and changing the rules”, this Handbook, which meticulously analyses the available expertise and data on the subject in different national contexts, should be used as a practical guide, undoubtedly not only by women. This book does not offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but in a culturally sensitive way, it covers a range of alternatives and best practises for parliamentary work.

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