Promoting the political empowerment of women is crucial in order to realize CAPWIP's vision of Transformative Politics. Women's political empowerment require two major actions: a) getting women into elective and appointive positions in government and b) developing an effective and responsible women electorate.
This plan of action which was formulated by and for Asia-Pacific women in the world of male-dominated politics provides a framework for the countries of the Asia-Pacific region to promote the political advancement of women.
How do we achieve CAPWIP's vision of Transformative Politics? Let us look first at where the women are in the field of politics.
The Situation of Asia Pacific Women in the Field of Politics
Inequitable Power Structures: The Over-Arching Problem
Very few women in the Asia-Pacific region are able to participate in making and implementing decisions, which affect them and their societies. For example, in the Philippines, only 4 out of 24 senators are women; in Bangladesh, although the head of state is a woman, her government's policies have done little to alleviate the lives of ordinary women; and in Singapore, men govern while women provide support. Public policies are formulated and executed largely by men. Consequently, women's issues are hardly articulated, much less addressed.
Women's lack of participation in decision-making extends beyond the public to the private sphere. Asia-Pacific women have been socialized in ways that promote the stereotype of women as followers and supporters, not leaders or equal partners, in their homes and outside them. They were brought up to believe that they have no control and power over their lives, their bodies and their environment.
Such continuing bias against women, embedded in societal structures, causes poverty and powerlessness of women in the Asia-Pacific region.
Existing Male-Dominated PoliticsIn many countries of the Asia-Pacific, one cannot enter politics without "guns, goons and gold." Perpetuated mostly by men who believe that wielding power means rising above the rest through any and all means, this kind of "traditional politics" results in policies that foster inequities and conflicts: improper allocation of resources, debt repayments that are unjustifiable, militarism and war.
In such a situation, entry into politics becomes difficult for women. One cannot gain votes without having to contend with personality-oriented and "dirty" election campaigns. And, once in office, women find themselves sorely lacking in resources and support needed to advance their concerns - particularly women's interests - which are not accorded importance by their male colleagues in government.
Other Hindrances to Women's Participation
Traditional and cultural impediments work against women's equal access to power. Social institutions such as the family, schools, churches, governments, and media, promote stereotyping of the roles of men and women in society. Such impositions leave women thinking and believing that their role is to play second fiddle to men. Low in self-knowledge and self-esteem, these women fail to gain control and power over their lives, and to participate meaningfully in their societies.
Women from the Asia-Pacific region also suffer from multiple burdens which bar them from political involvement. Work for the family, ranging from household chores to income-generating activities; deprive them of the time to reflect and study, essential to development and sustaining careers in politics. Very few are even aware of their rights as women and as citizens.
Possibilities for Greater Participation
With women's issues now gaining more public attention in the international community, various opportunities have opened up for women in the Asia-Pacific region. There is an irreversible trend towards increased women's participation in politics, catalyzed by efforts of women's movements and development-oriented/ gender-responsive non-governmental organizations. There may be no women's vote just yet, but the women's constituency is clearly growing. Success stories of women gaining headway in the arena of politics have served as inspiration for other women to run for public office and/or support women candidates.
More and more development-oriented groups have also geared their efforts towards organizing, educating and mobilizing women. These endeavors have helped arouse the interest of women to pursue political involvement. Women are now entering male dominated political parties. Efforts at advocating policies concerning women have also been initiated.
These efforts, though still tentative, are affirmative actions, which signal the advancement of Asia-Pacific women in politics.
The Vision of Transformative Politics
Women participants of past CAPWIP congresses have consistently affirmed their vision of a transformative politics:
- It uses power to nurture people and to build communities;
- It is non-hierarchical and is participatory in its structures and processes;
- It is transparent and accountable in its decision-making processes;
- It accords priority to the disadvantaged sectors such as rural, grassroots and indigenous women;
- It seeks economic, social and political equity between genders and among sectors; and
- It promotes a way of life that is sustainable;
Strategies to Achieve Women's Political Empowerment
Develop and advocate a women's agenda
Review existing concepts and frameworks for power and politics from a gender-conscious perspective, and arrange for presentation of viable alternatives by women in politics.
Carry out research studies on women and politics in the Asia-Pacific region, to serve as a basis for the development of a women's agenda.
Mobilize world public opinion to protest against the misuse of religion to suppress the fundamental rights of women in the Asia-Pacific region.
Arrange studies on how the emerging economic world order will affect women, make policy recommendations to governments and help prepare women for the coming changes.
Advocate for electoral reforms
Work for clean politics, characterized by increased transparency and accountability of public officials.
Develop a concept of electoral reform which will ensure the genuine participation of different women sectors, including indigenous women.
Review and seek amendment of existing laws, and formulate new ones, which will positively impact on women and the girl child.
Lobby for legal and institutional changes, including constitutional amendments, to promote women's political participation
Work for quotas in political bodies, both in appointive and elected positions and use political parties as a short-term measure to increase the number of women in such bodies.
Research, documentation and publication
Undertake research on women and politics in the Asia-Pacific region to provide empirical data which will serve as basis for women's effective participation in decision-making at all levels. Include areas such as:
- Data on women in decision-making and on women transformative politicians;
- Documentation of the attitudes of women and men towards politics;
- Documentation of the impact of the electoral system on women in politics; and
- Root causes of conflicts and the potential power of women in peace-building and conflict resolution.
Network and build solidarity
Organize and establish networks with other women, at all levels from the grassroots/local to the national and inter-regional levels. Achieve unity and consensus on common causes, and form pressure groups to influence decision-making processes.
Strengthen international solidarity of women's groups, particularly those with programs for women in politics, to establish mutual support and venues for the exchange of experiences. In particular, strengthen relations among Asia-Pacific women involved in politics by:
- encouraging the establishment of a national "Women in Politics" program in each country;
- strengthening CAPWIP and its sub-regional focal points as the centers for regional/sub-regional activities with the following work programs to be conducted:
- Training and capacity-building of CAPWIP affiliates: trainer's training, agenda-building, identifying pool of resource persons/consultants with the capacity and time to assist affiliates;
- Research and publications: survey of needs of affiliates, regional directory of women elected and/or appointed into office;
- Funds sourcing: identify available sources of funding for activities of affiliates; establish a region-wide fund for women in politics;
- Solidarity and Networking: continuing exchanges of information on programmes and activities of national affiliates and other related groups; and
- Broadening of membership: expansions of in-country and in-region membership;
Promote legal and political literacy
Promote women's legal and political literacy to enable them to influence political, economic and social decisions, processes and systems, and work towards seeking accountability from elected representatives on their commitment to gender concerns.
Design and implement training programs that will cater to the needs of women as they go through the different phases of involvement in politics:
- Phase 1: How to get more women to enter electoral politics
- training in advocacy work
- orientation on "Why Women, What Politics"
- training in gender ideology
- Phase 2: Once convinced and decided on running, train women on "How to win" :
- campaign strategies (time management between involvement and family responsibilities)
- human relations/personal effectiveness (assertiveness, projection and other communication skills)
- negotiation skills with win-win philosophy
- conflict-resolution strategies
- Phase 3: Post elections - what to do if they win and if they lose
- Assist women enhance their skills acquired in Phase 2 that are necessary for them to become effective leaders: maintaining and strengthening constituencies; policy making; parliamentary procedures; basic economics; more leadership skills.
- Assist women in evaluating losses so as to ensure that they do not blame themselves, and to prepare them to run again in the future.
Raise Awareness and Educate for Equality
Seek equal political socialization for both girls and boys from early childhood through formal and informal education, including leadership development.
Provide opportunities, including training, to young people to prepare themselves for their future leadership roles in these regions.
Emphasize gender equality and non-stereotyped gender roles of women and men within the family through innovative media campaigns, school and community education programs.
Improve Access to Information
Provide accurate and timely information to women through:
- informal leaders and key persons in the community,
- information networking,
- use of existing structures or the creation of new ones,
- existing media facilities and educational programs, and
- word of mouth
Collaborate with the Media
- Lobby women and men journalists to support women in decision-making.
- Inform the media about the objectives and outcomes of any political work program and plans.
- Use print and broadcast media to empower grassroots-women.
- Use media to assist in personalizing issues, so these are brought "closer to the heart" of the electorate.
Transform the household and reconcile family and public life
- Promote a redistribution of roles and parenting responsibilities within the family so that women may participate in public spheres and activities.
- Advocate measures that will reconcile family and professional life.
- Promote family counselling centers with non-governmental organization and community involvement, to be operated by trained personnel and to have adequate financial support.
Promote women's human rights and equality before the law
Promote the establishment of non-discriminatory laws in all areas of public and private life to protect women's rights, which are integral to the concept of human rights:
- Use a wide range of means to promote awareness of women's human rights and the importance of their full and equal participation in government, administration, the law, trade unions and employer groups and community groups.
- Seek the elimination of discrimination against women in matters of citizenship and nationality of spouses and children.
- Seek the protection of immigrant women and children from abuse or denial of their human rights by resident spouses. Within the limits of national legislation, consider extending their stay should the family relationship be dissolved.
- Seek the protection of women from violations of their human rights and all forms of structural violence during armed conflict.
- Seek the reformation of family law towards a common civil code upholding the dignity of women as equal partners with men in the family, including removing gender inequities in matters of divorce, custody and property rights. Preferably women from the concerned community will take the initiative.
- Review national laws, including customary laws and legal practices in the areas of amity, civil, penal, labour and commercial law in order to ensure implementation of the principles and procedures of relevant international human rights instruments by means of national legislation. Revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice.
Build the machinery to support women in politics
- Train potential women leaders in the following areas: gender sensitivity and leadership skills, especially in political dynamics.
- Support women who are already in politics.
- Influence non-government organizations to allocate resources for training women in politics.
- Register women and create a political "pipeline" where women can enter the electoral process at the following levels:
- Level 1: Family units involving mothers (i.e. family economic needs, values, tradition and cultural preservations, etc.)
- Level 2: NGOs working with women (i.e. social clubs, religious groups, parents-teachers associations, women's organizations in government and social movements, etc.)
- Level 3: Organized women support groups; encourage review of interested candidates' background and development of training programs for women in politics
- Set up a conduit to get more women interested in running for public office
- Seek out and encourage able and willing women leaders to participate in mainstream political parties.
- Pressure political parties to build strong foundations for women.
- Recognize the value of women political "volunteers" as valuable resources for women in politics and provide adequate training for them.
Raise funds for women candidatesEstablish and sustain a support base through fund-raising activities that are cost-effective, easiest to conduct and effective in building up a voters' base:
- Set up foundations for women in politics at the national level which will undertake training, networking, mobilization of women voters, and monitoring of the performance of elected candidates. These foundations may be utilized to access funds from local and international agencies, even government agencies.
- Set up an investment fund.
- Organize social functions such as tea parties and dinners oriented towards small group interaction which may also be utilized for direct solicitation of funds.
Lobby for the Platform of Action of Asia-Pacific Women
Lobby for the inclusion of this Platform of Action of Asia-Pacific Women in platforms of significant national and international bodies, including the official platform of the Commission on the Status of Women during the Ministerial Conference of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
Advocate for the following critical issues:
Operate at the following levels:
- Affirmative action for gender equality; at least 1/3 representation in appointive, elected and decision-making bodies;
- Increased funding for political education and skills development of women in politics;
- Electoral reforms to fix ceilings on expenditure, eliminate violence, ensure voter registration and fair canvassing of votes; and
- Incorporating gender issues into the mainstream political agenda.
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- NGOs and the Women's Movement through: launching of mass campaigns for awareness on these issues; pressuring groups such as political parties; conducting regional and sub-regional conferences to mobilize opinion and disseminate information; and undertaking direct agitational action to draw attention to issues (e.g. demonstrations, strikes, rallies).
- National Governments through: exerting pressure to enact and enforce relevant legislation, policies and programs; lobbying to endorse/affirm positions, including signed statements; and influencing government to enact laws which will empower women economically, including equal pay for equal work, land reform and property rights for women.
- International bodies such as the United Nations through: influencing the Commission on the Status of Women to regularly monitor the status of identified critical issues such as compliance with Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other instrumentalities related to gender issues; advocate for the setting up of Gender Rights Watch.