Organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union
New Delhi (India), 14-18 February 1997

Concluding statement by the President
on the outcome of the Conference

1. Is partnership possible between men and women in politics ? Is it a source of more full-fledged and representative democracy ? How can it be achieved ? What benefit can society as a whole derive from this new way of imagining and conducting the political administration of countries ?

2. These are the questions which the Inter-Parliamentary Union asked us to debate and for which the Parliament of India, which is in the process of reflecting on this subject, invited you here to New Delhi.

3. All our work was naturally inspired by the results of the Fourth World Conference on Women which took place in Beijing in September 1995; our meeting was designed to maintain the momentum and ensure the implementation of the commitments made by Governments on that occasion. During our debates, we have extended and amplified the content of the Beijing Parliamentary Declaration and the IPU Plan of Action to correct present imbalance in the participation of men and women in political life.

4. During four days of intense debate, we pooled the diversity of our experiences, our reflections, our doubts and our suggestions. To nourish our discussions, the Inter-Parliamentary Union had provided a world comparative study and a poster entitled " Men and Women in Politics: Democracy Still in the Making ", which constitute an irreplaceable tool for reflection.

5. The Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Indian Parliament encouraged the formation of parity delegations. I am particularly proud to note that the 78 national delegations which participated in the Conference were composed of 121 men and 119 women. Never before to my knowledge has an international meeting achieved such a degree of parity, never before has a conference on a topic concerning women allowed such a dialogue between equals, not only in rights but also in numbers. As Speaker of a Parliament, I can only hope that all our Parliaments and our international meetings will, like this one, increasingly come to resemble our societies and take on a parity nature.

6. I also wish to point out that we had the chance to engage in a dialogue on this important question with men and women from the broadest spectrum of political and cultural backgrounds. 133 political parties were in fact represented at the Conference together with nine independents.

7. The presence and active participation of men and women representing several non-governmental organisations greatly enriched the debates of the Conference. The capital role which they play in the field to promote the establishment of parity democracy was highlighted on several occasions; they should therefore be encouraged and supported in the action they carry out in very diverse areas. In particular, we felt that it was essential for them to continue and strengthen their scrutiny of the political process.

8. As politics is deeply rooted in society and reflects dominant values, our discussions highlighted clearly that developing a partnership in politics necessarily depends on the degree of partnership as a social mode in general. This is undoubtedly why the Inter-Parliamentary Union asserts that what has to be developed, in modern democratic societies, is nothing less than a new social contract in which men and women work in equality and complementarity, enriching each other mutually from their differences.

9. To address this deficit, a major shift in the mind-set of both men and women is needed. This would generate a positive change of attitudes towards women and lead to a new balance in society at large and in politics in particular.

10. It goes without saying that women's political rights must be considered in the overall context of human rights and cannot be dissociated therefrom. Men and women politicians, governments and parliaments must pursue their efforts towards the recognition of these rights and the implementation of the international instruments which relate to them.

11. What is basically at stake is democracy itself.

12. It would appear that we are still far from a world in which the governing bodies of our political parties, which play a decisive role in political life, as well as our governments and our Parliaments are precise mirrors of our societies as regards the proportion of men and women. Nearly all delegates stated that the Constitutions of their countries provided for equality between men and women in all spheres of life. However, all those who spoke affirmed that, in politics, there was a huge gap between law and practice with regard to the principle of equality.

13. In different ways, many of us have however asserted that the integration of women in political life at all levels favours the democratisation of politics and that women, in turn, find that democracy offers them opportunities to become better integrated in the political process.

14. It was stressed that, as already stated in a United Nations study, the situation would improve appreciably if the number of women in Parliament reached a certain threshold figure. This " critical mass " was evaluated at 30 per cent which has also been borne out by the experience in the Nordic countries. It seemed that this " critical mass " and, even more, parity could not be achieved in Parliaments as long as political parties fail to put forward a sufficient number of women candidates with real chances of being elected.

15. Parties were asked to become more open to women and more receptive to their demands. Indeed, women find it very difficult to obtain a seat on party structures which have evolved and operate according to basically masculine criteria.

16. Many participants favoured the introduction of quota systems to promote women's access to the governing bodies of parties where, on average, they account for scarcely 10 per cent.

17. The views on quotas were divergent. Those who favoured them stressed the need for quotas at all levels where decisions are actually taken, from parties to the national Parliament, Government and administration. It is clear to us all that quotas are only a necessary evil which should be applied on a temporary basis in order to redress the current dramatic imbalance between men and women and that they should be abolished once the desired effect has been achieved.

18. A clear consensus emerged in favour of quotas targeting candidatures rather than seats in Parliament, and in favour of them being established by parties rather than by Parliament, although the law had the advantage of making them binding on all parties. It was felt that, in order to reduce the discriminatory nature of quotas which makes them so disturbing for many of us, they should be gender neutral.

19. Several delegates further stressed the need for other mechanisms such as, wherever appropriate, the reservation of a certain percentage of seats in local and national representative institutions to compensate for women's poor chances of being elected.

20. With regard to parliamentary elections, many delegates stated that the proportional representation system or a mixed electoral system give women much greater chances of being elected than the first-past-the-post system. Political parties were, however, asked to ensure that women are well placed on electoral lists - particularly on closed lists - and that they stand in constituencies where they have a reasonable chance of being elected.

21. Parties were further asked to take measures to facilitate the equal participation of men and women in their activities, taking account of the family responsibilities of both sexes. On this subject, many speakers pointed out the importance of day-care centers and kindergartens, as well as other facilities that should be made available, enabling the requirements of both political and family life to be reconciled. The generalisation of paternity leave was also proposed.

22. Another issue which figured prominently in the debate was the fact that men and women share paid and unpaid work very unequally. It still remains true that women carry out the vast majority of the unpaid work, largely housework, whereas men carry out most of the paid work. Moreover, recent surveys indicate that women work longer hours than men. It was strongly suggested that this issue must be addressed if progress is to be achieved in women's representation in political life, which is another time-consuming activity. It was therefore suggested that proposals be placed on each national agenda to achieve a fair sharing between men and women in unpaid work.

23. As in a leitmotiv, women's education was mentioned in all debates and by virtually all speakers of either sex as one of the preconditions for the integration of more women in political life. This education should be provided for men as much as for women in order to break down patriarchal mind-sets and should start at a very early age.

24. In addition, a lengthy debate was devoted more particularly to women's political and electoral training. It goes without saying that such training is equally indispensable for men and for women, but it emerged from the debate that pre-training is required for women. This training should target three aspects.

  • First of all, the exercise of citizenship should begin at school age so that participation in political life is not reduced merely to depositing a vote in a ballot box at more or less regular intervals; on the contrary, it implies a lasting commitment and contribution to the building of a more just society.
  • The ability to stand for election and to conduct an electoral campaign implies gaining the necessary self-confidence, putting together the requisite moral, material and logistical support in the political party and informal support networks and, lastly, winning the voters' trust.
  • Learning the use of parliamentary procedures so as to be able to fulfil electoral commitments.

25. Other important recommendations made during the debate, included:

  • Training should be provided to both women and men and trainers should also be drawn from each sex. Substantial efforts must be made so that the necessary funds are provided for that purpose.
  • The responsibility for training involves several sectors. Political parties should mobilise and appeal to women candidates and should set up training programmes suited to their needs. Universities, NGOs and associations also play a fundamental role, particularly women's associations which rely on men and women who can share the wealth of their experiences. Parliaments are another valuable actor which provide training to newly elected MPs in order to help them prepare for their parliamentary duties.
  • Training should focus on the working of government, the building of democracy and problems tied to social relations between men and women, and pertain to such topics as communications, campaign organisation, work with volunteers, medias and NGOs, and the role of political parties. One particularly important type of training involves learning how to examine the national budget so as to understand its different components and determine the extent to which it takes into account the needs of women.
  • Education programmes should convey the philosophy inherent in human rights, the fight against stereotyped roles, and should be followed by training components comprising elements of legal and political literacy.

26. It was suggested that a directory of institutions world-wide that are able to provide political training for women should be prepared, and it was likewise proposed that training manuals or modules for women politicians should be established. It was also pointed out that the use of local languages for such manuals, as indeed for the relevant national texts (electoral laws etc.), would be tools of great advantage, particularly in large societies which include diverse ethnic or linguistic communities. Several delegates mentioned the great importance of education and training in order to help women overcome the perceived lack of self-confidence which too often makes them reluctant to come forward into the political arena. Moreover, the importance of providing specialised training for political workers was also mentioned.

27. We devoted much attention to the financing of women's electoral campaigns.

28. Many calls were made to reduce the exorbitant costs of campaigns. This would clearly level the playing field for women but would need to be closely monitored to ensure that limits are respected. Reductions could be achieved not only by placing a cap or ceiling on spending but also by shortening the time for campaigning. Some also argued for the introduction of reduced rates for the use of media time in campaigns.

29. Many delegates expressed the view that women have everything to gain from a cleaner and more transparent system of financing of both nomination and electoral campaigns and it was proposed that all countries should, if they have not already done so, introduce appropriate legislation to regulate funding from all sources, whether public, business, foundations or private.

30. The general lack or the scarcity of funding for women's campaigns led to various interesting recommendations :

  • Political parties should, as a matter of principle, put forward at least one-third women candidates and allocate to them one-third of their campaign resources.
  • Political parties and international financial institutions such as the World Bank should establish special funds which can be used to offer cash contributions or interest-free loans to women candidates or to reimburse their campaign expenses.
  • The establishment of systems for at least partial public funding of campaigns should be generalised.
  • Wherever public funding of political parties is possible, incentives should be put in place, i.e., the amount of funding or refunding of election campaign expenses should be linked to the percentage of women candidates put forward by each party and/or elected to Parliament.
  • In those countries where funding is provided to parliamentary political groups, an additional premium should be foreseen, linked to the proportion of women MPs.
  • The establishment of foundations for financing women's electoral campaigns should be encouraged and developed.

31. It has been said time and time again that in politics, commitment, active ongoing presence and conviction can make up for insufficient resources, including financial means, and that good media coverage does as much to win an election as large sums of money.

32. Today, the media also play a very important role in politics. No politician, man or woman, can disregard or minimise them. This is why we debated the image of women politicians in the media. As was stated by the Moderator of the lively debate on this topic between media representatives and political figures - Mrs. Dahl, the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament - our discussion was punctuated by the traditional topics of the love-hate relationship between the media and the political class and the mutual lack of understanding as to the priorities and concerns of each side. The dominant feeling was that each side has to go some way to meet the other.

33. Emphasis was placed on the need, in particular, to provide media training for women both so that they can better understand the working and priorities of the media and also so that they can learn how to get their message across. The media in fact tend to focus on people who are identified with a cause without paying attention to their gender. On the other hand, the media were invited to look into the way they portray women in general, as well as women politicians in particular, and to adopt a new outlook. If the media are aware that integrating women in politics reinforces democracy, they should, having a crucial and increasingly important role to play in the democratic process, strive to get this message across in every possible way.

34. Our main conclusion is that it is necessary to bring about a radical change in attitudes so that the image of women politicians which is relayed by the media should not be restricted only to their identity as women but should portray them as real actors in political life.

35. Some concrete suggestions were put forward, and are summed up below:

  • Parliaments and political parties should organise public relations sessions on the image of women politicians in the media.
  • The authorities should reform their communications policy so as to take fuller account of the social imbalances between men and women and give a more accurate image of women politicians.
  • Journalists should, when covering political subjects, take pains not to interview exclusively men politicians.
  • An annual prize should be awarded to press bodies which prove their impartiality in covering women and men politicians.

36. Several delegates referred to the importance of networking among women politicians, both nationally and regionally and to the action that senior women politicians who play a model role can take in order to encourage other women to enter the political arena.

37. It was suggested that this could be facilitated through National Commissions for Women, which should be established wherever such structures are currently lacking. It was felt that considerable force could be generated if women parliamentarians combine their efforts to ensure that policies in all fields take account of the women's perspective. The role of networking in helping to train new women members of Parliaments was also stressed. It was felt that the momentum which had been generated since the Beijing Conference and over the last few days by the Conference here in New Delhi could be further advanced by the holding of regional meetings of MPs to discuss particular aspects of the question.

38. It was recommended that every State should set up a multidisciplinary advisory board having a supervisory function to ensure that the interests and needs of women are taken into account in every field.

39. As regards possible action to be taken by Parliaments, it was suggested that they should create special committees in charge of monitoring national, international and regional provisions regarding the rights of women, or committees on women's affairs. Parliaments should ensure the adoption of legislation regarding the implementation of women's rights. They should also work out, together with their governments, strategies for progress to be made towards the realisation of equal partnership between men and women. Parliamentarians should also support women's NGOs.

40. The success of this Conference has encouraged us to recommend that the Inter-Parliamentary Union should do everything to ensure that broad publicity is given to these findings and their follow-up, and to increase activities to promote women's integration in political life.

41. One aspect of this integration concerns the participation of women in equal numbers with men in the work of all international bodies. With regard more especially to the IPU, Member Parliaments were strongly urged to ensure that the provisions of Article 11.1 of the Union's Statutes are strictly respected regarding the presence of women in their delegations.

42. Strengthening the Union's co-operation with the United Nations Division on the Status of Women was also proposed as a practical follow-up to the Agreement of Co-operation recently concluded between the IPU and the UN.

43. The idea of holding regional meetings along the lines of the New Delhi Conference in co-operation with the regional institutions concerned was also put forward, and the IPU was encouraged to continue to carry out research and comparative world studies such as the one presented to the Conference. It was proposed that these initiatives might be carried out with the support of UNESCO on questions such as women politicians and the media.

44. In conclusion, I would like to point out that the imbalance between men and women in politics is undeniable, that a consensus between men and women has arisen here on the urgent need to remedy this situation and that practical solutions have been identified. It now remains to mobilise sustained political resolve in order to advance from words to action. This is our joint responsibility, and in the name of each and every one of you, I wish to assert here our commitment to take up this responsibility to the full. Democracy and the development of our countries are at stake.

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