Highlights of the North America and European
Congress of Women in Politics

Overview

As far as civil and political rights are concerned, women in the United States and Europe seem more privileged when compared to their sisters in other regions, in that their governments, by and large, recognize and respect these rights.

But as the American and European delegates to the initial congress on women in politics pointed out, a lot more needs to be done to ensure that more women from diverse sectors and backgrounds are able to maximize and enjoy these rights.

Among the suggestions floated during the congress were: the establishment of caring and family-centered mechanisms such as subsidies for women and minority candidates, the setting up child-care facilities, the extension of maternity leave periods and flexible working hours. Such structures, it is believed, can help women cope with the demands of both their work and family.

There is also a need to change the cultural views on politics in the US and Europe. In Spain, it was pointed out that people are generally indifferent to politics, so there is a need to link it with family and community issues. In the United States, the separation of the private sphere, where women are often relegated, form the public sphere should be eliminated. In Sweden, women's independence should be stressed.

The group also cited several lessons learned from the experience of Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden where women won the right to vote as early as 1906. In Sweden, it was noted that women used their economic involvement during the war (in industries and factories) as leverage for them to gain power. Women are also more organized and make constant demands for social services. Which, to the women delegates, is another proof that democracy does not automatically mean gender equality; women have to keep pressing government for it.

Where people tend to value individualism in the United States, the values of justice and fairness take precedence in Scandinavian countries. For instance, it is a standing policy in the Social Democratic party of Sweden that every other candidate is a woman. The policy of transparency also requires candidates to report incomes and taxes paid.

These points were brought out and discussed during the North American/European Congress on Women in Politics held on 31August and 1 September 1995. Conveners for the 2-day Congress were Irene Natividad of the United States and Anita Amlen of Sweden.

Remedios Rikken of the Philippines, over-all convener of the regional congresses, shared with the American and European delegates the Asia-Pacific experience which led to the founding of the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics (CAPWIP).

A presentation of the status of women in politics in different European countries and the US, as well as the participants' experiences as women politicians and NGO leaders, came next in the agenda. This as followed by workshop clusters where issues and strategies were suggested in 4 areas: political education, creating a political pipeline, affirmative action and fund raising.

Strategies

A. Political Education

  1. Political education for young girls -

    • An analysis of the age group needs to be done, as well as research on who the target subjects are, and what approaches would be most effective in encouraging them to get politically involved.

    • There is need to influence existing structures in both formal and informal education, and to strengthen confidence-building measures for girls. These include such steps as knowledge building on women's achievements through textbooks and curriculum development, as well as the introduction of role models in the person of elected women officials. The perception that politics is a dirty game must also be discarded.

    • The whole range of educational activities should be looked into, such as continuing education and extra-curricular activities.

    • A corollary agenda is for women to get themselves elected or appointed to the school boards which are themselves also strategic political positions.

  2. Maximize the use of media.

  3. Influence women voters -

    • Convince women that their votes can make a difference, and challenge them to vote for women's issues.

    • Identify practical issues affecting women and connect them to political issues.

    • Encourage women to get involved in political parties, and in the same way, convince party leaders to allow more women in political affairs.

B. Creating a Political Pipeline

  1. Coalition building, i.e., finding common ground for women's development, rather than competing;

  2. Mentoring (not mothering) as a deliberate and structured organizational approach should be developed:

    • Organizational approach should be developed.

    • A whole range of techniques such as leadership workshops or one-on-one discussions should be looked into and applied.

    • Also worth considering is a sustained training of mentors, the building of an "old girls' network" and the development of a curriculum on what constitutes mentoring.

C. Affirmative Action

Affirmative action measures are necessary to advance the cause of women in politics. However, it should be pointed out that what is appropriate for one country may not be so for others.

The following mechanisms can be explored: proportional representation, parity (50/50, as in France), quotas, and reserved seats.

D. Fund Raising/Finance

  1. Constraints to fund-raising for women in politics include the following: Campaign finance laws that do not level the field; sexist biases; the lack of qualification of candidates; building the credibility of a winnable candidate; the general lack of access to wealth among women; media bias; women's attitudes towards politics and fund raising for elections or political work; voters' apathy about equity issues and representation; timing.

  2. Possible sources of funds: women's organizations; power brokers (corporations, big donors, wealthy women), political action committees (PAC's); friends; political parties; other politicians; loans (from banks, family or friends); fund raising activities such as teas and receptions; hiring professional fund-raisers; direct mail; contributions in kind.

  3. Possible action points:

    • Continue information sharing through the Internet.

    • Continue networking for mutual support.

    • Set up national and international fund-raising groups to support women candidates.

    • Continue political action in support of campaigns to finance reforms.

    • Campaign to educate other women on the need to support women candidates financially.

    • Educate women candidates and office holders about the necessity of raising money.

    • Encourage party leadership to take equal financial commitment to women candidates.

    • Acknowledge/thank/appreciate men who appoint women and recommend other capable women to women candidates.

 


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Dated: 26Feb2001