Women usually make up a majority of citizens in a country, but in only a handful of countries do women’s numbers in the parliament reflect such equality. Without equality in representation, the voices and perspective of women cannot be fully reflected in the work of the parliament – laws are passed that are biased against women and the focus of any government scrutiny is less likely to focus on issues important to women.
However, parliaments across the globe have seen a slow increase in the numbers of women elected to serve as Parliamentarians. In some countries the increase in female representation is due to the implementation of gender quotas, while in other countries it is due to other factors including the efforts of one or more political parties or changing perceptions about the role of women in society.
The increases in elected women representatives provide opportunities for women‘s voices and perspectives to be injected into the legislative process. It is important that women parliamentarians are given the same access to resources and opportunities as their male colleagues. For example, women parliamentarians have reported that they are disproportionately assigned to committees that have jurisdiction over subject matter that is deemed more in the sphere of women’s gender roles, such as education or health, rather than committees that handle finances or deal with foreign relations. They are also less likely to be provided with leadership posts within their parliamentary group or the parliament as a whole.
While increasing the proportion of women parliamentarians in parliaments is important, ultimately both male and female parliamentarians are responsible for processing legislation that will affect male and female members of the general public. All parliamentarians, as well as parliamentary leadership, should be made aware of how the legislation and the budget they pass affect women in their society. Mainstreaming gender issues should be the objective of all those working in legislation; to achieve this, knowledge must be transfered, quotas must be enacted, gender responsive budgeting must be reported, multi-party caucuses must be created, and other methods, all listed below, could be used.
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