Feminists Strategize to Achieve Gender Balance in Politics
Beatrice Bakojja, Member of Parliament from Uganda, expressed that Uganda has very few women in politics at all levels of government. She identified the main obstacles to womenÕs political participation as being mainly cultural, educational and financial. Ugandan society is traditional and stigmatizes women politicians. In addition, few women possess the financial resources to run political campaigns and Ugandan society chastises women who engage in fundraising for any purpose, including for financing political campaigns.
Bakojja credits affirmative action for the few women officeholders in Uganda. She also praises an informal system of women' s counsels that extends from village level government to parliament as being instrumental in facilitating communication between women politicians and ordinary Ugandan women.
Virginia Pinto, a representative from the National Association of Nongovernmental Organizations in Zimbabwe and the first woman to run for City Council in her town since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, echoed Bakojja's concern regarding the small number of women in elected office. Less than 10% of Zimbabwean politicians are women.
Pinto is running as an independent candidate because none of Zimbabwe's political parties had an agenda she could support as a feminist. She spoke of her own experience of chairing a nongovernmental organization whose members encouraged her to run for office. As a feminist political activist, she has experienced much harassment from the male political establishment, included being followed and having her telephone bugged.
Switzerland's women have only had the right to vote since 1971 and are woefully under-represented at all level of government, according to Stella Jegher of the Feminist Independent List Party. Jegher is running for a national office, hoping to join the 8 other women in her party who have been elected to local (5), county (2) and national (1) level.
Jegher described how her party developed through the realization that women candidates were unable to support a feminist agenda when a party platform did not support feminist ideals. "With a feminist election list, we can be sure that our vote goes for a feminist agenda," said Jegher. Jegher also pointed to the need for collaboration and coordination among feminist politicians from different political parties.
Dr. Jennifer Jackman of the Feminist Majority Foundation described how the U.S. feminist movement first identified the "gender gap" between male and female political attitudes. According to Jackman, American women vote differently from men on issues such as social welfare, equal rights, defense spending and abortion. Jackman described examples of how the visibility of these issues in candidate campaigns has shaped election outcomes. She also attributed the Republican takeover of the U.S. Congress in 1994 to the fact that Democrats attempted to appeal to male voters by taking conservative stances on issues such as immigration and social welfare, alienating their women constituents.
The panel and participants agreed on the following effective strategies for increasing women's political participation:
* A vertical structure, as described from the Ugandan experience, for constant communication among women politicians and women voters at all levels of government;
*A horizontal structure,or worldwide caucus of women parliamentarians using electronic communication strategies such as Feminist Majority On-line, the World Wide Web site of the Feminist Majority;
*Exchange visits between groups of women politicians from different countries that would serve as political education and information sharing;
*Changes in campaign financing laws including creating public financing for candidates that would facilitate women candidates' fundraising;
*Women's organizations and women candidates forming alliances with women-owned businesses to improve resource access; and
*Make the promotion of women's