When women participate...democracy is more complete, Kamala Harris, United States Vice-President during GEF2021
Globally, women’s representation in national parliaments grew from 12% in 1995 to 25% in 2020 (average). At this rate, gender parity in national legislative bodies globally cannot be achieved before 2063. While we are this far from realising a gender-equitable world, UN Women along with national governments of France and Mexico convened Generation Equality Forum in Paris and virtually from 30 June – 2nd July 2021.
Image Source: Global Citizen
This event assumes significance, particularly for two reasons. First, 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the visionary agenda, Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which aimed to remove the systemic barriers that restricted women’s equal participation in all areas of public and private life. However, even after 25 years since the bold commitments, not a single country could claim to have achieved gender equality. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has created barriers in the progress of these goals serving as an inspiration for innovation, solidarity and inclusion.
The Generation Equality Forum announced the Global Acceleration Plan (GAP) calling upon many stakeholders including governments, youth, nonprofits and activists to contribute towards the five-year roadmap that can deliver concrete progress on gender equality across generations to come for all girls and women in all their diversity.
Gender equality in political participation and representation lead to equitable policies and society at large. And it is nearly impossible to envisage a world of equality where women are not involved in the policymaking that impacts their lives. GAP points to the acceleration of increase in the proportion of women in national and local governments. Moving beyond the Beijing Conference, discussions and debates, global leaders - politicians, nonprofits and corporates have committed funds to the tune of $40 billion towards advancing this action plan by 2026.
While we hope that a significant chunk of this amount will be dedicated to under-resourced regions such as South Asia, there are many challenges other than funding that needs to be solved to achieve the political empowerment of women in the region.
Also, it is important to note that no South Asian nation except Bangladesh has actively and proactively engaged with the forum and made commitments. South Asia today has 17.5% women and zero non-binary persons in parliaments. The region has 10.97% women and zero non-binary persons in ministerial positions.
To improve this, civil society needs to nudge governments, parliaments and constitutional bodies such as election commissions to enable mechanisms at their respective levels to make laws and set processes.
As of today, only 4 (Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan) out of 8 South Asian countries have constitutional quotas for women in their national parliaments. The quota bill is long pending in the Indian parliament and Sri Lankan Women’s Parliamentary Caucus is advocating for adopting quotas at the national level. Parliaments must legislate temporary special measures such as quotas for women must be enabled in the remaining countries as well.
South Asia has multi-party political systems as compared to most of the Western world. However, the number of women-led political parties is very low. Keeping in mind the targets set by the forum for 2026, Election Commissions across South Asian countries form guidelines to encourage and incentivise women-led political parties and those who adopt quotas in party structures and elections.
Women do not always feel safe when entering the political arena. In South Asia, deep-rooted social norms tend to confine women to the private sphere and discourage them from navigating in a men-dominated political arena. In a study conducted in India, Nepal and Pakistan by UN Women, 60% of respondents say women do not participate in politics because they are afraid of consequent violence. The violent nature of politics in South Asia stops women’s participation in politics at large. Governments and Election Commissions must make political parties accountable for gender-based violence during campaigns and party functions.
Women over the years have been able to relieve themselves of this gender isolation up to an extent by organising collectively and discussing and taking action against their plight. The emergence of women caucuses in some countries became an opportunity to gain social support within a space dominated by men. While as representatives, it presented as an opportunity to strengthen an overlooked constituency. The Pakistani Women's Parliamentary Caucus was one of the most influential groups which not acted as a support group for women in politics helping them break structural obstacles, but it worked with both women and men politicians to bring about new rules and laws on women sensitive issues such as honour-killings and domestic violence. Sri Lanka’s Women’s Parliamentarians Caucus has been meeting frequently to raise and address pertinent issues relating to gender in the country. This essentially means that more women caucuses across South Asia should be encouraged and funded so that women are able to feel safe, heard and find their niche in politics.
To accelerate and not wait until 2063 to achieve gender equality in South Asian politics, all stakeholders must collectivise their efforts and prioritise feminist political leadership at all levels. The forum envisions that by 2026 feminist leaders, movements and organizations represented by people from all walks of life will have all the resources required to sustain and carry out their work advancing gender equality. To this effect, the South Asian region needs more attention now more than ever to not only safeguard women’s political gains in Afghanistan but to sustain and accelerate achievements made by countries like Bangladesh.
Rishika Todi, Advocate, Women for Politics
Rishika is a senior at the College of Wooster studying Global and International Studies with a focus in Economics. She aims to work in international policy-making focussed on humanitarian rights, economic development for marginalised groups and refugees while being an advocate for gender equality.
She can be reached on LinkedIn here
Vasundhra Singh Panwar, Advocate, Women for Politics
Vasundhra is a final year student of International Relations at Amity University with a focus on South Asia.
She can reached on LinkedIn here
This article gives the views of the authors, and not necessarily represent the position of Women for Politics.
Also Read this article titled 'Towards Gender Equality in South Asian Democracies' here
Check our our latest Worth Asking Interview Series where we bring conversations with women in politics about politics as a career choice and with men politicians about their role as allies.