FOR MEN ONLY

My dear fellow Parliamentarians, over the past few years, I have been privileged to be permitted access to the pages of this journal of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association where I have been able to express my thoughts, ideas and sentiments targeting mainly my sister Parliamentarians as my readers. This time, however, I am hoping to reach you, our male Parliamentarians, as I endeavour to help you to understand where we women Parliamentarians have come from, our trials and how you can work with us as we strive to be agents of change for a better world.
I am drawn to sharing these thoughts after an intense conversation I had recently with a colleague. I had been telling him how I felt undone when, as the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Chairperson, I was interrupted at least eight times while delivering the CWP report at the General Assembly during the CPA's 56th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in July 2011. Worse yet, I complained, there was not one photographer at the conference’s CWP's Business Meeting which was being held at the same time as the Clerks-at-the-Table meeting. I have nothing against Clerks of Parliament, at the Table or otherwise; but the fact that the organizers of the conference felt comfortable about deploying their lone (as I was advised) available conference photographer to attend to the requirements of the Clerks-at-the-Table instead of taking photographs of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Business Meeting put a lot of things in perspective for me. And what was more, we were not even told about it so that we could have made our own arrangements.
Naturally I was aghast when my said colleague told me that I was being silly; he did not see any reason for me to be so upset.  I said to him:  “How dare you decide what should and should not upset me? Do you realize how hard the CWP has strived to get the recognition it has thus far?”  I went on to explain to my colleague that as the current custodian of these gains, I have an obligation not only to build on the gains but also to ensure that they are not whittled away.
Since I share the notion that man's perception is his reality, I realized that my colleague's reality as it relates to what makes women Parliamentarians tick may be off target. I hope that after reading this piece I am able to deflect the perception of our male colleagues more in line with our reality.
I view the CWP as a vehicle for which women Parliamentarians are taught not only good driving skills but how to maintain the vehicle as well. As every driver knows, learning road safety and courtesy is important; but it is also essential to know how to manoeuvre when fellow drivers will not give way or when other road users are being down right discourteous. To continue the analogy, the vehicle must be serviced regularly to maintain top condition. Workshops and seminars are the service centres of this CWP vehicle and the funds from the CPA constitute the petrol that keeps the vehicle running. As every driver knows, when other motorists drive badly, it puts all other drivers at risk.
Though women in politics have come a long, long way, there is still a great distance to travel. Without doubt our male colleagues have assisted greatly in this regard. After all, it is hard to be one of their number who – on hearing the knocking, knocking, knocking of aspiring women Parliamentarians – opened the door so that women could get in and, once in, proved their mettle.  It is now fair to say that women in leadership roles all over the world have shown that we have an important contribution to make and that we are agents of change.
So, when we tell you that:

• We feel slighted over a particular issue:  Please listen to our argument and try to see our side of the discussion. Do not belittle our point of view.
• We are Parliamentarians, yes; but we are also wives, mothers and grandmothers with additional duties to yours:  Please acknowledge our multi roles.
• We need funding for important projects that are not obvious vote-catchers:  Do not let us down. Remember society depends on all of us to thrive.
• We stand up in Parliament in support of legislation which will relieve the women of our country of the scourges of domestic violence, rape in marriage and genital mutilation, and introduce harsher penalties for rape, incest and other such crimes:  Stand by us in the name of and on our behalf of your mothers and daughters and sisters.
• We have stumbled and fallen because we are human:  Be there to pick us up and help us to regain our footing.
• Our personal path through politics to Parliament has been difficult and even fraught with danger:  Encourage us and make a promise to yourselves to be more supportive of women candidates in the future.
• We are next in line to make our contribution to a debate and we tell you that we have been up all night caring for our sick child:  Step in and accommodate.

We are not enemies. Sharing the space in this universe as we do, we are partners in development, unity, peace and progress. Ultimately we have much more in common than we may have differences. I urge you, our male Parliamentarians – and our female Parliamentarians too – to remember always:  Whatever one gender can do, two genders together can do even better.
And so, as 2012 is beginning, I wish all Commonwealth Parliamentarians a peaceful, harmonious, healthy and prosperous New Year. I also extend special season's greetings and the wish for a fruitful, collaborative New Year to the CPA Chairperson and my other colleagues on the CPA Executive Committee, and to the Secretary-General and the CPA Secretariat staff.