Women, like men, are normally elected as a member of a political party and sit in a parliamentary group once elected. The ability of a woman parliamentarian to push the issues that are important to her, and women in general, will be closely tied to her ability to work within the confines of that party and group. Therefore, it is critical that parties and their parliamentary groups be the focus of support to promote the empowerment of women.
Parliamentary groups are a critical part of any parliament. If they are effective and well organized, such groups will ensure the parliament is productive. If not, the parliament can be dysfunctional. But beyond the normal organizational capacity of a group and party, specific focus needs to be placed on the role of women in the party and group.
To start, women need specific encouragement to run for parliament or take a lead role in an election campaign. If the party has a process that encourage women to run for office it is more likely to be accepted by all members of the party and, in turn, will result in respect for the women who gain a seat in parliament as a result. Training for women candidates is one option, but more and more, support includes direct support to the parties to change their nomination processes to allow women the space to choose to run for office.
Once elected, women must be offered opportunities to showcase their skills. In some cases, this may need to be done subsequent to direct training and support for women MPs to allow them to feel confident to speak and be heard in the parliament. But no matter the order, parliamentary groups should recognize the skills brought to the group by their MPs who happen to be women. This may include key leadership roles within the group (e.g. – whip) and important critic areas (e.g. – shadow cabinet posts related to finance, justice, etc.). Where the system allows for groups to appoint parliamentary committee chairs, the group should ensure some of the posts are reserved for women MPs.
Parliamentary groups should encourage women to interact with women MPs from other parliamentary groups. Such opportunities can result in women finding a common voice on issues that are otherwise not being reflected in the work of the parliament. Such opportunities will have to coincide with the MPs working within the various groups to promote these issues.
By providing reasonable opportunities for women MPs to succeed within their parliamentary groups they will have the venue and confidence to prove themselves within the parliament as a whole. This will eventually lead to these women MPs taking leadership roles within the parliament, where they can then ensure gender issues are reflected in all the work of the parliament.