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Women Parliamentary Caucuses to ensure gender equality

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16th-Apr-2018       
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Md Osman Ali :
(From previous issue)
To help lessen this potential problem, it is helpful for the WPC members to depend on spirit of equality, cooperation and mutual respect in decision-making process to have a well-articulated gender agenda, without any other issues that may cause cross-party disputes. Accordingly the WPC is to have a common ideology which leads towards the overall advancement of women irrespective of party affiliation, social status and district origin.   
To become a change agent and an effective gender focal point, the main prerequisite for the WPC, as in Indonesia, is to contain a feminist identity as its ideology  that are of common interest to all involved political groupings.
This means that caucus members  can be united and show their commitment to common goal to secure equal political, economic, personal, and social rights for women
Prioritization of Women concern; Often the WPC must be choosy of the issues it wants support. If caucus does not prioritize policies and legislative issues, it risks possibility of becoming too scattered to complete properly. In the case in Bangladesh, the WPC should decide priority issues which may include sexual harassment, rape, eve teasing,  women trafficking and abuse of women migrant at overseers,   increase of women's reserved seat , direct election of women in reserved seat, women socio- economic empowerment etc which possibility of caucus success in getting support of stakeholders.
If caucus chooses that are too controversial and overlapped with party's agenda to have full support in the parliament, there will be greater chance of possible failure. Hence the WPC needs to prioritize issues out of core set of priority issues according to broader consensus so that parliament extent its full support for legislation or amendment of existing legislation on issues important for women advancement   
Leadership crisis of the WPC: The WPC suffers from lack of leadership crisis for which there is no adequate power to put pressure on the parliament. There is also a lack of adequate understanding regarding gender issues among the parliamentarian in general and women parliamentarian themselves in particular.
As a consequence, the WPC yet to  perform simplest role of voicing women's interests in the media or other public forums and    demonstrate its ability in promoting policies and in initiating or drafting  bills that support women's interests in parliament.
The WPC needs to be led by senior women parliamentarian who can mobilize and influence others in lobbying and the legislative processes in mainstreaming in parliament.
Hence the WPC need to have skill development  programme for strengthening women parliamentarian's capacity to engender parliamentary business on gender equality issues and women empowerment to make them  efficient  parliamentarian and more confident leaders on policies and legislation.  
Political Support for the WPC: Political parties in general do not have an internal agenda on women's empowerment. Consequently, the establishment of the WPC in the House is not regarded as important, especially for the benefit of parties.
Hence Political parties have neither particular stance towards the activities of the WPC, and nor do they have a specific policy for women parliamentarians to focus on in the Caucus.
Hence all political parties need to have a gender sensitive programmme.
 A political will, commitment and involvement of all political parties in the parliament and all women parliamentarian and an agreement among them are vital on a minimum work programme; and plan to overcome differences between political parties and sustain the operation of Caucus.
Formal Recognition of Caucus: The experience of the WPC in Bangladesh suggests that its structure is an 'informal' body, but work within the parameters of the parliament in a structured manner. Hence the WPC is dependent on parliament operationally and functionally. As result the WPC confront a variety of challenges such as lack of funding and logistic support to sustain activities.
The WPC is formal cross-party political caucus in South Africa, Namibia and Rwanda . Besides the WPC in Vietnam and Laos  are formally recognized by their Parliaments and provided with an office, staff and adequate funding for its sustainability.
A provision of WPC involving all women parliamentarians can, therefore, be incorporated in ROP of the parliament with specific responsibility and provided with staff, office space, meeting rooms, and funding from the parliament, but subject to compliance with the parliament's standing  rules  
The caucus may also ask International and national development partners for external funding in supporting the Caucuses and the legislative houses to achieve sustainable development and gender equality In Burundi, IPU finances activities conducted by the caucus.
Caucus's insignificant role: The small numbers of women parliamentarians in most parliaments render women caucuses too small an organ to enact significant change.
There is a gender inequality in Bangladesh Parliament as regards women   representative (20 percent) as compared to male representative.  Consequently women caucus is   not so strong to effectively voice women needs/ priorities in Parliament.   Political parties, women activists, civil society and NGO should prepare ground to design legislative regulations for introducing   appropriate mechanism to increase 33 percent women representation in the parliament
· Commitment of Caucus to attend meeting: Another   challenge for caucus is lack of available time on the part of the members for caucus activities. It is for this reason that caucus must be particularly organized.
Caucus members must be committed to attending caucus meeting if all possible. It might be helpful develop plan action with corresponding time frame in order to help caucus activities   focused and on schedule.

(Md Osman Ali is a Retired Joint Chief, GoB)

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