Why Women? What Politics?
These questions have been asked often enough, but they only evolved from private musings to public advocacy after women earnestly seeking answers asked them in a forum.
The idea was simple enough: convince more women to enter the political field. Then by their sheer number as well as their experiences and concerns, women can transform politics. Such transformed thinking can alter social structures as we know them. From hierarchical, male-dominated and competitive systems, we might start seeing a more consultative, consensus-building and development-oriented kind of politics.
On such a vision did the Center for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics flourish.
The origins of CAPWIP can be traced back to when United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had just completed a research project on Women in Politics that focused on several countries in the Asia and Pacific region. It needed a forum where the findings could be presented. "Why not a forum composed of women politicians and activists from NGOs?" the Asia-Pacific section of United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) suggested.
With more than enough women leaders packed into a single venue, it didn't come as a surprise when the group decided to form a Women in Politics (WIP) network. There was no time however for a formal organizing process to take place then and there. Funding from Netherlands later facilitated a WIP meeting in Manila. During the meeting it was decided that a regional network on WIP be incorporated in the Philippines.
The participants who came to the meeting in their private capacity were:
Khunying Supatra Masdit - Member of Parliament, Thailand
Susan Ryan - Member of Parliament and Minister of Education of Australia
Tamako Nakanishi - Senator, Japan
Mariko Mitsui - Member of the Parliament of the Tokyo Metropolitan Council
Irene Santiago - Asia-Pacific Section Chief of UNIFEM
Irene Natividad - Chairperson of the National Political Caucus of the USA
Nahau Elizabeth Rooney - Member of Parliament and Minister of Education, Papua New Guinea
Bong Souk Sohn Ahn - Founder Director of a women's political institution in Korea
Sylvia Ordonez - Managing Director of the Philippine Technology and Livelihood Resource Center, and
Remedios Rikken - Executive Director of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women
Following the meeting, CAPWIP was formally incorporated in 1992 under Philippine laws, which required that majority of incorporators be Filipinos. This is the reason why the Center mainly had individual incorporators from the Philippines. However, CAPWIP immediately campaigned to attract institutional members to draw in membership from the Asia-Pacific region as voting members and as part of the Board of Trustees.
CAPWIP started with 13 members from Thailand, Pakistan, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Papua New Guinea, Australia, U.S.A., and the Philippines. During their December l996 meeting, they decided to increase the number of board members by adding 2 representatives from each sub-region. The additional board members were to be nominated by CAPWIP's sub-regional focal points.
CAPWIP has affiliate organizations within the region that share in their vision of transforming politics. These are autonomous organizations that are also actively involved in women's political empowerment in their respective countries. There can be more than one affiliate organization in a country. The CAPWIP Board believes that transformative politics can best be done through a movement and therefore, it is important to be inclusive and invite as many members from various sectors as possible.
CAPWIP envisions its role as a regional training center for trainers as well as a think-tank that will support the documentation, analysis and dissemination of the experiences of its national and sub-regional affiliates. By providing teams of technical experts who have the appropriate language skills and institutional experience, CAPWIP also assists its affiliates in developing total strategies to promote WIP. From its inception, the Center focused on the development of networking strategies that would be sustainable in the long run.
One of CAPWIP's first activities was a political leadership training organized in partnership with the Global Summit and held in Bangkok in 1993. Among the participants were delegates from China, Malaysia, the Pacific, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. It was here, after a session on power, that the group prompted by Kanwaljit Soin of Singapore began to ask themselves the question: "What kind of politics should women promote?"
CAPWIP then realized that there was a need to clearly identify the objectives of the WIP movement in relation to the current state of politics. Rosa Linda Miranda, then with UNIFEM, and CAPWIP Board members Sylvia Ordonez and Remmy Rikken brainstormed on the issue and suggested that only women from across sectors can, and should answer the questions, "Why should women be in politics? What kind of politics should women be involved in?" A congress with women from all walks of life discussing these questions was clearly the next step.
The First Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics
The first Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics was set in Manila from 21-23 June 1994 on the extremely courageous premise that even without funding if only 10% of the 2,000 women invited would come at their own expense then there was enough commitment to keep the WIP movement going.
In the spirit of transformative politics, which identifies the politicians and the electorate as crucial actors, women from all sectors were invited: representatives from activist groups, NGOs and women's organizations; university and academic women; women workers and farmers; women active in church and community affairs; girl scouts; women politicians and so on.
To everyone's pleasant surprise, more than 10% of the invitees came from all over the region: 237 women from 23 countries. Most came on their own while the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), UNIFEM and the Asia Foundation helped fund some 30 participants.
The Why Women? What Politics? Congress addressed four issues:
What is politics?
Why should women be involved in politics?
What kind of politics do women want to be involved in?
What do we need to do to achieve this kind of politics and women's participation?
The Congress concluded that WIP should include the participation of a broad cross-section of society particularly women. The electorate and candidates working together should define their political agenda. Thus, the agenda for WIP became one of transformational politics which explicitly rejected many of the assumptions, mechanisms and values of existing political systems in the region.
Subsequent sub-regional congresses were also planned to accommodate the participation of women who could not come to the Manila Congress due to the distance and expenses involved.
1. Pacific Countries. With Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and UNIFEM funding facilitated by Lautifu Taylor of UNIFEM and Susan Ryan of Australia, the Pacific Congress on WIP was held in July 1995. CAPWIP board member Remmy Rikken flew from Manila as a resource person.
At the Congress, the Women in Politics Pacific Center (WIPPaC) was formed and became the CAPWIP focal point for the sub-region. Laufitu Taylor was elected coordinator. WIPPaC held a UNIFEM-funded workshop on WIP in Vanuatu in 1996 and organized the Second Pacific Congress on WIP in November, 1996 which was followed by a three-day training.
2. South Asia. Chandni Joshi, UNIFEM Regional Programme Adviser for South Asia and Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Center for Social Research (CSR) in New Delhi were actively involved in organizing a WIP congress for the sub-region. The congress for South Asia was held in Kathmandu, Nepal during the second half of 1994. CSR was designated as the CAPWIP focal point in the region.
A loosely structured council with Kumari's group as coordinator was formed during the Nepal meeting. That council is now a fully organized network called the South Asian Committee for Political Empowerment of Women (SACPEW) with CSR as secretariat. During SACPEW's meeting in Sri Lanka, the group approved the publication of a newsletter, the expansion of membership to include at least 30 organizations as well as a plan to hold regular national and South Asian conferences and meetings, conduct research and hold leadership training programs.
3. East Asia - The Korean Institute for Women and Politics (KIWP) is the focal point for the sub-region. Dr. Jung-Sook Kim, KIWP Chair is also a CAPWIP Board member. She organized the First East Asia Congress of Women in Politics in Huairou during the 1995 NGO Forum. This Congress produced an East Asian Plan of Action on WIP which was later presented during the Second Asia-Pacific Congress on Women in Politics.
In December 1995, KIWP organized an international seminar in Korea on the "Quality of Life in the Asia-Pacific Region and the Role of Women Political Leaders." Funded by the Korea Foundation, the seminar's organizers invited the whole of CAPWIP board, most of who served as resource speakers.
4. West Asia. Zohra Merabet, then UNIFEM's Regional Programme Adviser for Western Asia, came to Manila with a group of women from their region for a study tour. It was during this visit that they expressed their interest to become involved in WIP and CAPWIP.
5. Central Asia. CAPWIP contacted the Mongolian Women's Federation (MWF) when CAPWIP Board Member Sylvia Ordonez visited Mongolia as a UNIFEM consultant. This led to the formation of an umbrella organization, the Mongolian Women's Coordinating Council whose objective was to promote leadership and WIP at the national level. The group has expressed willingness to host a Central Asian meeting on WIP, and has requested funding assistance from CAPWIP for this activity.
CAPWIP and the Global Network of WIP
From the beginning, CAPWIP has recognized the need for broad international support to effectively promote women's participation in politics. The Center studied previous efforts to create a global network for WIP. They found that some of the factors that hindered the creation of an effective network were that efforts had been confined either to a small group of elite women or research institutes and/or that it had a narrow focus of interest. Realizing that CAPWIP has no real model for a global network, the group decided to work slowly toward their ultimate objective.
Time and again, CAPWIP took advantage of opportunities to talk about what it was doing. One such break was the 1994 Taipei Global Summit on Women's Leadership in Politics organized by Irene Natividad. The summit brought together women interested in WIP and key CAPWIP personalities, among them Supartra Masdit, Kanwaljit Soin, Sylvia Ordonez, Irene Santiago, Sochua Leiper, Annette Lu Hsiu Lien, Leticia Ramos Shahani, Kao Tien Shang, Anne Summers, and Solita Monsod. International luminaries included Bella Abzug, Monica Barnes, Joaquima Alemay, Betty Bigombe and Kazimiera Prunskiene. The group agreed to work towards forming a global network and to meet at the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the Beijing World Conference to be held in New York in March 1995.
At the PrepCom, CAPWIP posted its invitation for a "Planning Workshop for the Preparatory Activities in Beijing for the Organization of the Global Network of Women in Politics." Hosted by the African-American Institute, the 17 March workshop was attended by a large group of women which included: Christine Pintat (Inter Parliamentary Union); Anita Amlen (Swedish Federaton of Liberal Women); Jytee Lindgard (National Council of Women in Denmark); Sdalwa Sharawy Gomaa (Social Research Center, Egypt); Malena de Montis (Centro Para La Participation Democratica y El Desarrollo, Nicaragua); Nadia Raveles (Women's Parliament Forum, Surinam); Dr. Pam Rajput (Punjab University); Slote Wananisan (Fiji Mission to the UN); Dr. Ilina Sen; NandiniAsad (Working Women's Forum, India), and Ayesha Khanam (Bangladesh Mahila Parishad). The African-American Institute, which had planned a WIP meting in Botswana, later hosted the Planning Meeting for the Global Network of WIP held in Beijing.
Several steering committees were formed that would produce Regional WIP Platforms for Action for the Beijing Women's Conference. Focal points were established for the different regions: Nadia Raveles for Africa, Jytee Lindagard for Europe-North America, CAPWIP for Asia-Pacific, Salwa Gomaa for West Asia, and Malena de Montis for Latin America-Caribbean.
It was also agreed that a Global Network of Women in Politics (GLOBALNET) would be organized and incorporated in the Philippines, as an interim measure with CAPWIP serving as the temporary secretariat. In 1995, GLOBALNET was formally incorporated with Remmy Rikken as interim president.
The Terms of Reference for the GLOBALNET were:
Establish a global network of WIP
Facilitate information exchange and sharing of experiences on WIP
Facilitate training in advocacy and negotiation skills
Sensitize parliamentarians and legislators
Analyze current political practices, constraints and barriers to WIP
Develop a Global WIP Platform for Action
Identify research needs
Disseminate reports/findings to relevant decision-making bodies and individuals
The following regional congresses of WIP were held in Huairou during the NGO Forum, organized by GLOBALNET and CAPWIP:
First North American and European Congress of Women in Politics
Second Asia-Pacific Congress of Women in Politics
First Latin American-Carribean Congress on Women in Politics
First Western Asia Congress of Women in Politics
First African Regional Congress
The First Global Congress of Women in Politics was held on 6 September 1995 at the close of the series of regional conferences at the Huairou NGO Forum. The participants brought the reports of their respective regional congresses, listened to each other's visions, plans and strategies, and produced a statement that was read during the UN Fourth World Conference on Women's plenary session on Women in Decision Making. The group also resolved that a Second Global Congress of Women in Politics would be organized with CAPWIP again serving as the interim secretariat.
The Second Global Congress of Women in Politics was originally set in February 1998 in New Delhi, India. However, the venue was moved to the Philippines when the Indian government decided to call for elections during the same date. The Congress was held instead on 28-30 August of the same year at Makati, Philippines. Organized by the Global Network of Women in Politics, it was hosted by the Women in Politics Institute, Philippines with CAPWIP as secretariat, UNIFEM as sponsor and the Asian Development Bank as co-sponsor. The election of a new set of officers, identification of WIP issues across regions, and the development of an action plan helped reactivate and firm up the organization. With the new secretariat being based in Africa, there is now greater opportunity for the network to attain sustainability. CAPWIP has indeed done a good job as midwife for the birth of GLOBALNET.