A parliamentarian will quickly learn that the stories and concerns raised by women constituents are often different than those raised by men. Studies have shown that women, as primary care givers, are more likely to be impacted by policies that attempt to address poverty, education and health. They also will have significant influence in the voting patterns of the family, though little of this may be observed by the outside world. They can offer legislators important insights and information, and the potential political contributions they can make are invaluable. Too often, however, this potential goes unexplored.
Therefore, it is important that parliamentarians make the efforts to hear and act on the concerns of women. In traditional or patriarchical setting, the voices of men - for various reasons - still resonate more loudly. Opportunities must be found and created to encourage women to share their needs, concerns and ideas.
Some of the potential solutions are quite practical in nature, and can be implemented relatively easily. For example, where women are not traditionally called on to speak in public or in front of large crowds, efforts can be made to meet with them in smaller groups. Such meetings could be arranged ad hoc on specific issues, but they can also build on existing groups that meet through schools, religious organisations and other community-based affiliations.
An MP can also seek input from civil society organizations (CSOs) that represent the interests of women. By engaging these groups the MP is likely to hear aggregated concerns, and can get a more comprehensive picture of shared needs and suggestions. It is often also useful to deal with (experienced) advocates that can articulate what policies are required to meet such needs.
Regrettably, literacy is also still a bigger concern for women than for men in some countries. In such contexts, seeking written feedback from constituents may result will exclude women from the conversation. Extra efforts should be made to record the concerns of women by other means.
Key to all of these suggestions is a tailored strategy to build a dialogue with women alongside the general dialogue and interactions an MP maintains with his or her constituents. Similar actions should be taken for other marginalized groups where relevant.