How to start a women’s parliamentary caucus in 5 stages
On International Women’s Day 2023, the CPA launched a new online course on ‘Effective Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses.' The course offers an introduction to the main methods used to establish and run effective women’s parliamentary caucuses, based on the experiences of Parliaments across the Commonwealth and beyond.
This article is adapted from the content of the course. It was co-authored by the CPA and Gender Solution, a team of gender equality and parliamentary experts with 15 years of experience in qualitative and quantitative research who supported the development of the course.
Women’s parliamentary caucuses (WPCs) are very important mechanisms for empowering women Parliamentarians and strengthening their political impact. They also help to change parliamentary working environments by advocating for equality between male and female Members and parliamentary staff. Currently almost 100 Parliaments around the world have functioning women’s parliamentary caucuses. This article outlines five key steps to follow in order to establish a successful women’s parliamentary caucus.
1. Garner support and map your allies
Establishing a new structure within a Parliament requires support from different stakeholders and a good understanding of the political context in which it will operate.
During the consultation process, map potential allies and identify challenges that might arise while forming a women’s parliamentary caucus. It is particularly important to reach dormant supporters (not active in a given moment but with the ability to become active allies in the future) to gauge the level of assistance and/or resistance the group might receive.
Start your mapping process with the following actors:
- Fellow women Parliamentarians: It is important to make sure that enough women are interested in the initiative.
- Party and parliamentary leadership: Especially in the case of a less favourable political context or in the face of political change, it is imperative to confirm the existence of support for the caucus among political party leaders, as well as Presiding Officers.
- Women’s movement and civil society: The support of women’s organisations and other civil society groups can be important in raising awareness and support from wider society.
- International community: It can be helpful to liaise with women Parliamentarians or civil society members from other countries who have had experience in setting up, or participating in, a women’s parliamentary caucus.
Experiences of different Parliaments prove that there are certain ‘windows of opportunity’, that is, moments in which the process of establishing a caucus is more easily carried out. This can be in the immediate aftermath of a parliamentary election, during parliamentary work on drafting gender equality legislation or around international events regarding women’s rights or international resolutions influencing the situation of women.
2. Establish rules and design the decision-making process
Although a WPC is generally less formal than a parliamentary committee, it is important to establish and write down specific details of its operating procedures. Documented rules and regulations ensure that everyone is aware of the roles and functions of the caucus and its membership, providing a solid basis for the caucus’s future endeavours.
The rules of procedure for a WPC depend on the type of caucus being created (partisan verse bipartisan) and are ordinarily established internally by the caucus’ members. Remember, there is no single model of women’s caucus, therefore there is no single formula for what should be included in its rules and procedures. However, there are some important questions that should be considered by the initiators of the WPC when deciding on its rules. These include:
- What are the rights and responsibilities of the WPC members?
- Who can become a member of the WPC?
- How are leaders are selected?
- What is the voting method of the WPC
Online Course: Effective Women's Parliamentary Caucuses
Register for the CPA Parliamentary Academy today
The 'Effective Women's Parliamentary Caucuses' course offers an introduction to the main methods used to establish and run effective women’s parliamentary caucuses, based on the experiences of Parliaments across the Commonwealth and beyond.
The course provides a comprehensive yet accessible introduction to the issues covered in this blog. It is suitable for both Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff, including those with limited prior knowledge or involvement in establishing or working in a women’s parliamentary caucus.
3. Define your focus areas and prioritise objectives
The vision of the women’s parliamentary caucus and its main objectives should be identified and defined as early as possible, since they impact all aspects of WPC functioning. The WPC’s common objectives provides strategic direction, which is also crucial in terms of cooperation and building trust, especially in bipartisan caucuses.
Below are some ways in which a caucus can identify common objectives:
- Map common interests among the potential WPC members;
- Organise a debate or consultation among women Parliamentarians;
- Research examples of similar bodies in various Parliaments and their vision and mission;
- Perform a gender-sensitive audit in your Parliament to identify key policy gaps;
- Consult with gender equality experts on the main challenges for women in your country.
Once a clear shared vision has been built, the WPC members should try to rank the objectives identified in order of precedence. Limited and well-defined goals make it easier to plan concrete actions, whereas addressing a more extensive agenda can dilute the impact of the caucus.
4. Plan activities
The activities of a women’s parliamentary caucus should be designed to achieve its agreed objectives.
Below are some common activities undertaken by WPCs across the world:
- Building coalitions around gender-related issues
- Raising awareness on gender equality issues among MPs and parliamentary staff
- Advocating for a non-discriminatory, gender sensitive working environment
- Monitoring and evaluation of government policy and legislation
- Communicating with external stakeholders (media, civil society, business, academia, government ministers)
- to facilitate discussion between citizens and politicians
- Lobbying for women’s promotion to positions of leadership in Parliament
- Commissioning research to inform parliamentary debate on gender issues.
To exert meaningful impact and perform activities that will advance gender equality, resources are needed. These include essential material resources that will allow the WPC to conduct regular activities, such as a meeting venue, IT equipment, office supplies etc., as well as financial resources to hire experts, organise events and official visits or engage with civil society through outreach programmes.
5. Monitor, evaluate and communicate performance
To measure progress and recognise the impact of the WPC, set up clear indicators for the objectives you want to achieve as a caucus and systematically evaluate the caucus’ work using these indicators.
Effective monitoring and evaluation will help the caucus to identify successful strategies and adjust its programmes and budget accordingly. Having clear evidence of successful outcomes can also help to convince parliamentary leaders to continue providing the caucus with support and funding, contributing to its durability beyond the completion of a parliamentary term.
Communicating successes to key stakeholders is also important. You will only convince people of the value of the caucus if you can show them exactly how the caucus has contributed to progress on gender equality. Caucuses often produce written reports on their work, but try thinking about additional ways to clearly and simply showcase impact. This could be a series of video interviews with women members discussing a new policy, or an infographic presenting statistics on women’s political participation in a visually engaging way.
Message from the authors: We hope that this blog article inspired you to further explore the topic of women’s parliamentary caucuses. We invite you to sign up to the CPA Parliamentary Academy and take the online course. It will give you knowledge, motivation and confidence to either establish a women’s caucus in your Parliament or scale up the performance of an existing one.