Parliamentary Action Points
To arrive at gender-responsive legislation and gender-responsive budgets, gender considerations must be taken up by every sector and in every committee. Costs can be kept down by sharing specialized staff across different services and committees. Staff profiles could be revised for future recruitments to ensure that those who join the institution – where possible and appropriate – are familiar with the subject. Budget & Finance Committees and PACs should ideally be stacked with MPs who, at a minimum, have a reasonable awareness of gender equality and its implications. One way of ensuring this is through gender sensitivity trainings, which can form a part of parliamentary induction at the start of each term. Committee mandates and agendas should reflect the need to review proposals and assess implementation from a gender perspective.
Successful gender mainstreaming calls for sustained measures across all sectors and is only possible with the full support of ministries, parliament and the relevant audit institutions.
The UNDP Country Offices have assisted a number of parliaments in including dedicated gender sessions in their induction programmes.
Moldova In Moldova, tailor made training programmes and individual coaching were provided to all 13 newly elected and 9 existing women MPs which covered public speaking, personal branding, building strong media presence and relations, and making use of social media platforms to engage more closely with constituents.
Nigeria In Nigeria, UNDP supported the Gender Technical Unit (GTU) in the National Assembly which is run by a group of gender focused CSOs in Nigeria. The GTU assists women parliamentarians through provision of technical support in analysing draft bills from a gender perspective, updates women parliamentarians by providing necessary information, data and facts on various issues relevant to their work, and serves as a resource centre on gender issues.
A gender equality focal point is a person or unit tasked with the responsibility for promoting gender equality policies and offering expertise on gender mainstreaming to the members can be found in more and more parliaments.
Both houses of the French parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate have had a ‘Delegation for Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities for Women and Men’ whose expert staff and informed members act as focal point on gender across portfolios. Their function is to mainstream gender throughout the legislative process. They are cross-party bodies, composed of both women and men, which can scrutinize proposed legislation and monitor implementation. They also conduct consultation and research to produce proactive reports aiming to influence future legislation. The delegations have extensive powers to call expert witnesses, obtain documents, and question ministers. The delegations have made recommendations on developing gendered data collection to better inform the Parliament and the executive’s activities.
The delegations work closely with other gender parity mechanisms and reinforce the influence of a gender equality perspective inside the state administration.
Parliamentary questions are the most commonly used oversight tool. Questions are intended to assist legislators to reach an informed decision on a subject by clarifying or discussing government policies, and may lead to interpellation, where the rules permit, if the answer is not satisfactory. In order to properly monitor the executive, it is essential for Members of Parliament to be properly informed of the energy policies of the executive and its ministries. Government responses to parliamentary questions may lead to the publication of valuable information.
Questions asked during debates on legislative proposals are central to the parliament’s law-making function. Votes are often held to conclude a debate, which may involve then passing or rejecting a proposed new legislation or simply registering their opinion on a subject. Questions can often be asked in oral or written form, although oral question and answer sessions may provide a dramatic atmosphere and opportunity for response and follow-up by either side. Consequently, the organisation of these sessions is essential to effective parliamentary oversight. With respect to energy policies, MPs can, for example, send written questions to relevant ministers or their departments when they require more substantial responses, including sex-disaggregated data. During budget debates, MPs can question ministers on public expenditure and its impact for women and girls.
Inquire about the impacts of energy policies on the economic and social situation of women and girls:
- Do existing policies on climate change and energy address the needs of women and girls? If so, what gender provisions are in place?
- How are existing adaptation projects catering for women and girls? Are gender-specific initiatives being carried out?
- What budget(s) have been set aside for gender-responsive action?
Refer to the process by which energy policies are developed and determine whether the data on which the energy policy is based is sex-disaggregated:
- What research has been done on the linkages between climate change and gender?
- Are women’s patterns of energy service use reflected in data used by the government as a basis for policy-making?
- Do energy ministries systematically collect sex-disaggregated statistical data?
Establish whether there was sufficient consultation of women in the design of the energy policy.
- Were women and groups with interest in gender equality issues engaged in formal communication channels and consultation processes? What is gender?
Members of the Parliament of Morocco drafted 25 parliamentary questions, thirteen of which were subsequently raised by MPs in plenary sessions of the National Assembly and meetings of the Energy and Environment committees.
The questions focused on several areas, including the ability of the Moroccan Government to reach its target of a 42% share for renewables in the energy mix by 2020 by
- progressing with the Ouarzazate concentrated solar power plant
- Morocco's flagship renewable energy facility
- future budget allocations for renewable energy
- putting efforts to make the Moroccan Renewable Energy Agency more proactive; and others.
Adequate parliamentary infrastructure is a must. Among the reasons for the success of gender budgeting in the Swedish Riksdag is the fact that the Committee on Finance has been empowered – through established rules and adequate timetables – to analyse and discuss each expenditure item with interested stakeholders.
Revisions of the Rules of Procedure should be properly motivated and should not be undertaken lightly. It requires time, thought and a thorough examination of available resources and complementary procedures. In light of the ever changing demands and increasingly complex tasks parliament faces, however, appropriate revisions can be critical in shaping more gender-responsive institutions.
Parliament cannot carry out its functions without the support of a qualified and sufficiently resourced Secretariat. With regard to gender mainstreaming, parliaments must be able to engage staff with gender expertise, which means adequate remuneration (no less than that paid to staff in government departments). In order to retain expertise, secretariats should ensure that such staff are employed for the duration of at least a full parliamentary term. Keeping staff skills up to date is also important; attachments to other parliaments, training seminars and professional networks with civil society organisations, statistical departments, universities, and so on are good ways to do so. Such capacity building activities are most effective when timed with national planning cycles.
Giving citizens meaningful opportunities to take part in law-making and budgeting allows governments to shape policy frameworks that reflect the most pressing priorities, and to better track the effective implementation of the allocated budgets. In recent years, a whole range of digital platforms has been designed to improve communication between citizens and their representatives. Such platforms can allow citizens to share proposals and parliamentary questions. Some go as far as allowing citizens to provide direct inputs on bills under consideration, taking public participation in parliamentary processes to new levels.
The crowdsourcing of legislation is one example. In Brazil, law-making is becoming a more dynamic, two-way process thanks to Wikilegis’ tool which allows people to comment on and suggest changes to draft laws. In Argentina and Germany, the Buenos Aires Net Party and the German Party frustrated with the lack of transparency and gridlock of the government, have sought to involve citizens more directly in the voting on legislation by creating their own web-based direct democracy platforms. The Buenos Aires Net Party has launched its own software, "DemocracyOS", while the German Pirate Party has used online chat rooms and discussions on collaborative document-sharing software “PiratePads”, an open-source software much like Google Docs, bringing together users with members from Pirate Parties across Europe. While, at the end of the day, it is the MPs who decide on the new laws, members of the public are granted new ways of contributing ideas and feedback to the law-making process and debates. The examples below show how such platforms can be used in the energy and gender contexts.
The ADI! seeks to provide an opportunity for citizens to provide input into debates on current issues and on draft legislation coming before the Basque Parliament.
Citizens who register with their Facebook or Twitter accounts can upload comments and vote on the comments and ideas of other participants. Upon completion of the discussion period stipulated for each topic, the Basque Parliament draws up a document collecting activity on ADI! and to ensure that the most significant initiatives reach all parliamentarians before the close of debate in the chamber.
One of the draft laws discussed on ADI! was the 2011 draft climate change climate law of the Basque Country, which addresses the disproportionate impact climate change has on women. (http://www.adi.legebiltzarra.eus/es/)
The digital platform "City 50-50: all and all for equality" (www.cidade5050.org.br) was launched in September 2016 in the run-up to the municipal elections in 2016 by UN Women in partnership with the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court (TSE) and civil society organizations.
The objective of the initiative was to encourage the candidates to take public commitments to the rights of women and girls. The platform recognized the importance of municipal public policies for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the territory of the cities, in public and private spheres, the economy, politics, environment work, health, education, culture, leisure, mobility, public transport and other public areas.
The digital platform allowed candidates from the 5,568 Brazilian municipalities where there will be elections this year to publicize their commitments to promote women's rights. Upon the election, citizens will be able to consult the platform and to track how the elected official’ deliver on their commitments.
Providing students with the opportunity to enrol in an internship program in the secretariat, parliamentary committees, MPs’ offices and different directorates provides young people with a unique opportunity to see the institution from the inside. Interns can support their respective departments in a variety of ways, for example, by carrying out research tasks, supporting communications and media outreach, or alleviating some of the administrative burden of their team. Interns can also step in where it would not be advantageous to divert other employees – such as qualified expert staff - from their specialised areas. Graduate students are often flexible and motivated individuals, and come highly qualified and prepared to cope with varied assignments. Those with background in energy, public policy, economics or gender studies, to name a few, can support MPs in their work on gender aspects of energy policies and budgets.
The Canadian parliament as well as four provincial legislatures have established internship programs which involve recent university graduates in research, committee and constituency work, and speechwriting. The programs provide long-term benefits to the country by educating a knowledgeable group of young people about the parliamentary process. At the same time, they provide a valuable service to individual legislators.
Research is an important type of evidence that can strengthen parliament’s ability to fulfil its democratic functions. Academic research – that is, from published peer-reviewed research articles and papers – lends credibility to the findings due to its methodological rigour and independence when compared to other types of findings. Parliaments can engage with academics in many ways. For example, university libraries, scrutiny units and in-house research services can be in touch with the academia as part of the development and maintenance of background knowledge, briefing and scrutiny work. Academic expertise can also be approached to evaluate or assess the effectiveness of parliamentary processes and services. Some parliaments, for example in the UK, involve academic institutions in their work through informal all party parliamentary working groups on specific issues. To formally commission research or technical assistance from academic institutions, committees will require a budget allocation. In recent years, many universities have explored analytical frameworks and carried out operational research which can improve energy project design and policymaking with gender-sensitive insights.
Since 2006 the Department of Library and Research in Uganda has been actively involved in the ongoing Parliamentary Research and Internship Program.
This is a program by which Interns are selected from three universities, given an orientation by parliamentary staff, MPs and former interns and then placed in offices in parliament where they work on research, legislation, legal issues and administration. This program helps foster partnerships among Ugandan Universities and Parliament, as well as between State University of New York (SUNY- the Project implementer) and academia.
The program has contributed to increasing the capacity of Ugandan institutions of higher education to play a more active role in fostering good governance and social and economic development in Uganda.
In the UK House of Commons, Professor Sarah Childs has undertaken secondment from the University of Bristol to work on gender-sensitive issues across portfolios and research for the Speaker. Professor Childs has recently launched a report, “The Good Parliament”, which makes recommendations on how the House of Commons can meet the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s “Gender Sensitive Parliaments” framework. In the aftermath of the report, the Speaker of the Parliament convened the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, which will examine the independent report with the aim of taking forward its recommendations. In its inaugural year, the Speaker will chair the Group, which will be cross-party and be comprised of both women and men.