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This Platform for Action is a summary of the ideas and reflections drawn from the First Congress of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics held in Manila, Philippines on June 21-23, 1994. Organized by the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP), in coordination with its Philippine affiliate, PILIPINA, the Congress gathered 237 participants from 23 countries representing 155 organizations from the Asia-Pacific region.
Bound by a common goal to promote women's equal access to power, particularly in public office, Congress delegates leveled-off on:
Their understanding and analysis of the situation of women in the Asia-Pacific region;
Their vision of transformed and transformational politics;
Strategies to achieve such vision; and
A plan to guide their actions.
This document contains the consensus points reached by the delegates.
This Platform for Action serves several purposes:
First and foremost, it is a guide formulated by and for Asia-Pacific women as they enter into and struggle within the world of male-dominated politics.
Secondly, it is part of various efforts to ensure meaningful participation of Asia-Pacific women in various international and national policy-making bodies, including the Ministerial Conference in the Fourth World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing in September 1995.
Most importantly, this Platform for Action is a "declaration of commitment" of women from the Asia-Pacific region to work for politics that recognizes and promotes women's equal access to power, an essential step towards the full emancipation of women, especially those from the poorest sectors of Asia-Pacific societies.
A. Situation of Women in the Asia-Pacific Region
The following are the challenges confronting women in the Asia-Pacific region in their struggle for greater participation in politics:
1. 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.
2. Existing Male-Dominated Politics
In 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.
3. 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 play 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.
4. 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 advance of Asia-Pacific women in politics.
B. The Vision of Transformed and Transformational Politics
Equipped with such understanding of the possibilities and limitations presented by the current situation of women in the Asia-Pacific, delegates to the First Congress of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics offer their vision of a new political paradigm:
Women of the Asia-Pacific region want politics that is both transformed and transformational.
- It uses power to create change, to develop people and to build communities;
- It is non-hierarchical and is participatory in its structures and processes;
- It accords priority to the disadvantaged sectors such as rural, grassroots and indigenous women;
and Transformational because
- It is issue-based, development-oriented and gender responsive;
- It seeks economic, social and political equity between genders and among sectors;
- It builds a society that is just and humane, and a way of life that is sustainable;
Women of the Asia-Pacific region want politics that is holistic, integrated and life enhancing in its perspective.
C. Strategies to Achieve the Vision
The following strategies have been identified by Asia-Pacific women as appropriate and necessary for the achievement for their avowed vision of transformed and transformational politics:
1. Developing and advocating the women's agenda
- Existing concepts and frameworks for power and politics should be carefully reviewed from a gender-conscious perspective, and women in politics should present viable alternatives.
- Researches should be carried out on women and politics in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Women should mobilize world public opinion to protest against the misuse of religion to suppress the fundamental rights of women in the Asia-Pacific region.
2. Building the women's constituency
- Efforts should be made to raise women's political awareness through education and training, publications and the use of all forms of media. This should include voter's education and training for women in politics.
- Women should organize and establish networks among them, achieve unity and consensus on common causes, and exercise influence on decision-making processes as pressure groups.
- Organizing and networking should be done at all levels, from the grassroots/local to the national and inter-regional levels.
- International solidarity of women's groups should be strengthened, particularly those with programs for women in politics, to establish mutual support and venues for the exchange of experiences.
- There should be equal political socialization for both girls and boys from early childhood through formal and informal education, including leadership development.
3. Building the machinery to support women in politics
- Train potential women leaders in the following areas: gender sensitivity and leadership skills, especially in political dynamics.
- Women should 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.
- 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.
4. Advocating electoral reforms
- Women should work for clean politics as characterized by increased transparency and accountability of public officials.
- Develop the concept of electoral reform which will ensure the genuine participation of different women sectors, including indigenous women.
- Lobby for electoral reform. Efforts should be made to bring about legal and institutional changes to promote women's political participation, including constitutional amendments.
- Work for quotas in political bodies - appointive and elected positions, structures of political parties as a short-term measure to increase the number of women in such bodies.
5. Advocating for the following key concerns of Asia-Pacific Women
- Increasing women's representation and participation in politics
- Economic rights of women
- Health and reproductive rights
- Women and the environment
- Women in the indigenous communities
- Human rights
D. Plan of Action
Consistent with the foregoing vision and strategies, the following is a plan of action which can and should be implemented by Asia-Pacific women, in the immediate and medium term:
1. Awareness raising/education and trainingDesign 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
* Phase 2: Once convinced and decided on running, train women on "How to win"
- Training in advocacy work
- Orientation on "Why Women, What Politics"
- Training in gender ideology
* Phase 3: Post elections - what to do if they win and if they lose
- Campaign strategies (time management between involvement and family responsibilities)
- Human relations/personal effectivity (assertiveness, projection and other communication skills)
- Negotiation skills with win-win philosophy
- Conflict-resolution strategies
- 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.
Develop long-term and sustainable strategies to maximize media coverage as a means of raising public awareness for women's issues.
3. Research, Documentation and Publications
Provide empirical data which will serve as basis for women's effective participation in decision-making at all levels of governance.
Research and publications should be done in the following areas:
- Performance of women elected into public office in terms of transformational politics
- Baseline data on how the number of elected women has increased over time
- Cross-cultural comparison of women's attitudes towards politics
- Impact of electoral systems on women in politicsActivities to be carried out include:
- Research workshops to develop analytical framework on transformational politics; and corresponding methodologies; and to identify necessary resources (funds, tasks)
- Building of a resource base on women in politics
- Establishing a research network
4. Creating a political pipeline
Set up a conduit to get more women interested in running for public office.
The following are 4 separate levels on how, what and where to look for the political pipeline or "political pool" of women:
- 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
- Level 4: Women already in politics - ensure continued support
5. Raising 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.The following should be done:
- 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.
6. Lobbying 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.
The following are critical issues to be advocated:
- 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, control violence, ensure voter registration and fair canvassing of votes;
- Incorporating gender issues into the mainstream political agenda.
Strategies to operationalize the foregoing can be done at 3 levels:
- 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.
7. Strengthen networking of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics
Strengthen relations among Asia-Pacific women involved in politics by establishing the Center of Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP) as focal center for regional activities.
Regional activities to be conducted are the following:
- Training and capability building for CAPWIP affiliates: trainers' training, agenda-building, identifying pool of resource persons/consultants with the capability and time to assist affiliates;
- Research and publications: survey of needs of affiliates, regional directory of women elected and 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: newsletter to feature programs and activities of national affiliates and other related groups; and
- Broadening of membership: expansion of in-country and in-region membership.
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