This year’s session of the Commission is considering two priority themes: “Enhanced participation of women in development: an enabling environment for achieving gender equality and the advancement of women” and  “Equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels”.   For IFAD, an enabling environment to achieve gender equality has three dimensions: economic empowerment, participation in decision-making and improved well-being.  Economic empowerment means access to productive assets, land, water, markets, finances and technologies.  Improved well-being for rural women requires improved infrastructure and essential services, changes in women’s workload, better health, training and education.

Women’s role in decision-making in community affairs

Women’s role in decision-making in community affairs and local institutions is necessary for increased political representation and sustained political involvement of women.  In IFAD supported projects, quotas are sometimes introduced for the number of women on community development groups, water user’s associations and self-help groups. Giving women a voice in community matters and access to leadership positions at the grass root level is the first step, which is then followed by supporting women at the municipal and departmental level, at the province and governmental level, such as in Ministries for Rural Development or Agriculture.  Women are more likely to participate in both private and public decision-making if they have greater knowledge, economic assets and income-earning capacity which in turn increase their self-esteem and confidence.  Support from husbands, other family members and local leaders is also essential and they need to be made aware of the importance of women being involved in such activities.  Women’s groups and organizations have proved very effective in giving women collective power and influence.

Facilitate links between elected women

Women elected to parliament at national or local level remain in the minority and many of them are relatively new to the process, so alliances with each other and with others and equality advocates can be important in enabling women to be effective as parliamentarians and in advocacy for equality issues. The national women’s machinery can play a role in facilitate the formation and work of such alliances. In Rwanda, for example, seminars the constitutional process brought together the Forum of Women Parliamentarians, the Legal Committee and Constitutional Committee, Ministry of Gender Affairs and representatives of civil society organizations. Thanks to close collaboration between these actors, progress has been made in a certain areas: mobilization of women to participate in the drafting of the constitution and in elections as voters and candidates; raising public awareness of existing inequalities and women’s rights; sensitization of decision-makers and planners on gender equality issues; development of a national gender equality policy; and joint work to examine and recommend the repeal of discriminatory legislation.

Non-partisan group of women in Uganda brought together members of the constituent group Elected in 1994 and, with the assistance of the National Women’s Mechanism, organized meetings seminars and training workshops on advocacy, campaign  management, constituency building, parliamentary procedures, etc. They also forged links with organizations the Uganda Women Lawyers ’Association, which contributed to the review of the constitutional provisions, as well as with organizations that have enabled the Women’s Caucus to remain remain informed of the views of women at the grass-roots and to communicate with them. The experience gained through their effective interventions during the Constituent Assembly formed the basis for later work in building the capacity of women leaders at the local level and potential candidates for parliament, and in incorporating gender equality perspectives in legislation before
parliament.

Many countries have established formal parliamentary bodies to consider issues related to the position of women and gender equality. These take a range of forms and many include men as well as women. An informative on-line database on the structures and mandates of such specialized bodies is maintained by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

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