📌 This text is the result of the transcription of the panelist’s participation in Bússola Tech’s event
Digital inclusion has surfaced as a priority theme in our work, as difficulties with balancing work and private life can make it difficult for women to participate and hold senior positions in different parliamentary spaces.
Promoting gender equality within Parliaments means looking both at increasing women’s participation in these institutions and the ways in which gender equality is being promoted and embedded in their outputs, such as laws.
In terms of representation, our region of the Americas and the Caribbean has the highest average percentage of women in national parliaments in the world at 32.4% (IPU 2021). However, progress is not uniform nor guaranteed, and the ultimate goal is to reach parity. A few legislative chambers have reached 50-50 representation, some have achieved the 30% target laid out in the Beijing Declaration deemed necessary for a “critical mass,” and others are well below this reference point. We also know that there can be backslides after elections, as many countries in the region do not have affirmative action measures that guarantee at least a minimum level of women’s representation.
It is important that we sustain and build on regional progress, and also ensure that we are broadening the diversity of decision-makers – of all genders – through consideration of other characteristics like disability, age, and ethnicity, among many others, so that legislatures truly reflect the populations they represent. This will not only strengthen democracy but the quality of decision-making. There remain a variety of barriers, such as unequal access to resources, harassment and discrimination, and harmful stereotypes about leadership that discourage and limit the participation of women and historically marginalized groups in elected politics.
As noted, it is important to also consider how Parliaments address gender equality issues through their work. Parliaments are responding to issues like gender-based violence, access to social protection services, and economic inequality, helping to address the root causes of inequality and the ways it manifests. Legislative action on these topics is normally driven by public demand and the presence of dedicated individuals or groups of advocates within the Parliament.
The work of Parliaments covers every aspect of the lives of the people who reside in their jurisdictions, and every one of them will experience and be impacted differently by every issue. How legislation is developed, written, and implemented can create, exacerbate, or address inequality. For this reason, it is essential that a gender lens be mainstreamed across all legislative work. This requires, for example, inclusive public engagement, the use of disaggregated data, and strong relationships with diverse women’s and other grassroots organizations to understand the full extent of an issue and identify gender-responsive solutions. Parliaments in our region are beginning to take an institutionalized approach to this in different ways, but it is still an underdeveloped area.
Challenges ahead in ensuring gender equality in Parliaments
Within the legislative agendas of the region, major areas of concern for advancing gender equality include addressing high rates of gender-based violence; strengthening protections for women and marginalized groups in the workplace; and correcting economic inequalities, including the valuing of care work as a paid and unpaid activity and the ways domestic responsibilities are distributed at a household level. Each of these issues is detrimental to individual health and wellbeing, but also to our societies and economies as a whole.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made visible and exacerbated gender inequalities, and it is important that Parliaments contribute to addressing these issues – from the increases in domestic violence and women’s burden of unpaid domestic responsibilities, to greater job loss due to women’s overrepresentation in precarious employment and areas of the economy harmed by the pandemic – and to ensuring that national response and recovery plans prioritize sustainable solutions.
Within Parliaments specifically, research has demonstrated the harm and prevalence of violence against women – both those who are employed as public servants within the legislature and the legislators themselves. Raising awareness on this issue, developing effective protections, and fostering a culture of respect and non-violence are all necessary to continue to enhance the inclusiveness of parliaments as workplaces. This in turn will benefit the public.
Finally, and more generally, it is essential for Parliaments and parliamentarians to help to build understanding on the concepts of gender and gender equality. Internal capacity-building on these topics will support the undertaking of more inclusive legislative work. Having parliamentarians as gender equality champions who engage on this actively and publicly will expand the reach of related information and yield a variety of positive impacts for their constituents.
Inspiring experiences in the American Continent
We have witnessed a number of important actions be taken by Parliaments and individual leaders that will help to promote gender equality within Parliaments and for the public they serve. Transformational actions can and must occur at a variety of levels for sustainable, impactful change in this area given the entrenched nature of inequality and the pervasiveness of the gender norms and stereotypes that perpetuate this.
Individual parliamentarians and other authorities in the legislative sphere who are committed to advancing gender equality can take small but transformative measures that diversify the voices and perspectives heard in decision-making forums of all sizes. They can change how they chair meetings and prioritize diversity in the composition of the meetings they take. For example, the President of Argentina, Mr. Fernández has established a policy with his team that any of his meetings with more than four people must have at least ⅓ representation by women or members of the LGBTQ community (source). Parliamentarians can also build meaningful relationships with women’s rights groups and historically marginalized communities to inform legislative work and priorities.
Parliaments as institutions have been making major strides in the region to ensure that they are more inclusive workplaces, which also strengthens the output of their work. ParlAmericas supports our members legislatures in developing new internal policies to prevent and respond to workplace harassment and extend access to family-friendly services. Whole departments exist with responsibility for ensuring gender equality is a priority in the legislature’s work.
Legislatures are also making the use of inclusive language commonplace, and we have even seen the Chamber of Deputies of Chile, for example, change its name from Cámara de Diputados to Cámara de Diputadas y Diputados, incorporating both the masculine and feminine forms of the Spanish translation of Deputies. These are important ways for legislatures to visibilize and normalize women’s presence and break with traditions and structures that reinforce messages implying that Parliaments are the domain of men.
In the legislative work that Parliaments are advancing, we see laws and reforms being put forward that increase workplace protections for women and historically marginalized groups, extend access to necessary health services, mandate women’s participation in decision-making spaces, and address violence, harassment, and discrimination in all its forms, among many others. Parliamentarians are also establishing and working through multi-partisan spaces like caucuses within their legislatures to further enhance their abilities to achieve impact in the area of gender equality.
It is important to emphasize again that while these examples may focus on women’s rights or representation, the actions benefit all of society. Everyone wins when all individuals have the greater possibility to live a life free of violence, fully contribute to the economy and society in the ways we wish, and benefit from the full scope of our agency.
Digital-ready Parliaments and the gender equality
Digital tools have become essential for the work of Parliaments. During COVID-19, part of ParlAmericas’ efforts have focused specifically on supporting parliaments in transitioning to virtual work, and our resources have encouraged consideration of how to make sure legislative work remains gender-inclusive while in this format.
Digital inclusion has surfaced as a priority theme in our work, as difficulties with balancing work and private life can make it difficult for women to participate and hold senior positions in different parliamentary spaces. Having platforms and tools that allow parliamentarians to actively participate in debates and voting from their homes, registering their positions through video-conferencing and proxy-voting platforms, are important options towards which all Parliaments should strive, especially in pandemic times.
ParlAmericas creates a space for exchange among parliamentarians and parliamentary staff from across the Americas and the Caribbean – and other subject matter experts, including civil society – on innovative practices that can advance gender equality within parliamentary institutions themselves and on the legislative agenda.
ParlAmericas has been advancing discussions on gender inequality in the information and communications technology space. These conversations have focused not only on addressing the evident and concerning online violence that seeks to delegitimize the work and undermine the leadership of women in the public sphere, but also to advance in other critical areas, like promoting the participation of young and girls in STEM fields, raising awareness on the importance of developing inclusive computational algorithms, and combating disinformation related to gender.
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