Helen Clark: Opening remarks for the launch of "Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guidebook to Promote Women's Political Participation"

Feb 29, 2012

I am delighted to be here tonight, during this 56th Commission on the Status of Women, with our partner the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to launch “Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guidebook to Promote Women's Political Participation.” 

It is a particular pleasure, both personally and professionally, to have the opportunity to say a few words about women’s participation in politics and the critical importance of engaging political parties in lifting that participation. 

As a former Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, first elected to public office in 1981, I know full well the challenges women face when entering what has been a male-dominated occupation in most countries.  Yet it is vital to encourage women to step forward and take their rightful place in decision making.

Research also suggests that female politicians and leaders tend to place greater emphasis on social issues - from tackling poverty to providing basic services, as in education and health, and in critical infrastructure like that for water in developing countries.    

UNDP works with partners, including the National Democratic Institute, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and sister UN agencies, including UN Women, to promote women’s political participation. That work includes:   support for electoral law and processes which are conducive to women’s participation; training for women candidates; and support for elected women to be effective in their roles. 

The number of women Members of Parliaments has been growing slowly but steadily, to almost twenty per cent of the global total, but the number of women heads of government remains very low at only six per cent of the total around the world. Many heads of government have honed their leadership skills in a political party. That is why it is critical for women to be supported by political parties, so that they too have the opportunity to develop the necessary political skills to ascend to the highest levels of political systems.  

In the report being launched at this event, UNDP and NDI highlight the importance of political parties as vehicles for the nurturing and promotion of women’s political participation and leadership.  

It is estimated that forty to fifty per cent of political party members are women, but that women hold only about ten per cent of the leadership positions within parties. Women tend to be highly represented at the grassroots levels of parties, and/or in supporting roles, but underrepresented at the higher levels. 

This practical guidebook highlights good practices drawn from twenty case studies from around the world for promoting women’s participation in political parties. It shows us that there are common challenges facing women in politics, regardless of the region of the world in which their country is located, or the country’s size or development status. The challenges are shared by women across new democracies and established ones, and by women in parties across the political spectrum.   

The guidebook examines ways in which political parties can promote women’s advancement in the political system throughout the electoral cycle: 

  1. Prior to elections, parties can take concrete steps to ensure that women are placed in winnable positions on party lists, or in safe or winnable constituencies. One party in Canada created a recruitment committee to ensure diversity in its candidate selection. A party in Costa Rica alternates men and women candidates on its electoral lists. 

  2. During elections, strategies which can be effective in increasing women’s participation include: 
    •   training and mentoring women candidates; 
    •   ensuring women’s visibility in campaigns; and, 
    •   making sure that electoral monitoring, security provision, and voter information are gender-sensitive.

  3. The guidebook also highlights strategies for supporting successful candidates once they are elected. In El Salvador, the Association of Salvadoran Women Parliamentarians and Ex- Parliamentarians offers training in communication and organizing skills, which helps women become more effective in their political work both inside and outside parliament. In South Africa, women party members pushed for changes to the parliamentary calendar to accommodate the needs of parliamentarians with families. 

The value of this guidebook lies in sharing experiences of what a range of political parties have done and are doing to boost female participation. It looks at what motivated these steps, and describes the political benefits the parties may also gain from taking them. It underscores how gender equality and women’s empowerment are being recognized by political parties as not only the right thing to support, but also as having benefits for the parties too.

This good practices guide is both an important advocacy tool, and a capacity building tool.  UNDP’s hope is that it will stimulate discussion within political parties on how to improve their recruitment, promotion, and support of women’s political participation. 

The guidebook will be promoted widely to global political party associations, individual political parties, and through UNDP programming at the country level.  The objective is to push for new norms in political parties, so that the world can move faster towards true gender equality in politics. 

When women have a significant voice in all governance institutions at all levels, they will be able to participate equally with men in public dialogue, and better influence the decisions which impact on their future and that of their families, communities, and nations.

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