Political parties are vital avenues to political participation. Over the years, CALD has strengthened the development of parties through its missions, workshops and conferences. Beyond strengthening parties as crucial institutions to political development, CALD firmly believes in the importance of empowering its members and providing equal opportunities in terms of participation and party decision-making.
It was on October 2005 when CALD organized the LI Women’s Workshop and CALD General Assembly with the theme “Advancing Women in Politics: the Role of Political Parties,” a first in the history of CALD to provide the platform and opportunity for women leaders to discuss women’s roles and involvement in the advancement of parties. The training sessions were designed for women who had plans of running for political office and were aimed to develop women’s campaign skills to provide them with the understanding and confidence to run for political positions. The workshop also concentrated on how to overcome the challenges and constraints women face given complex political environments and how to find and sustain support within their political parties.
An expanded conference coinciding with the CALD General Assembly also took place, involving women political leaders, party executives and members involved in advancing women in politics through political parties. It was during this time when CALD passed a resolution expressing its commitment to the “Win with Women” Global Action Plan and to the implementation of the plan’s four-point agenda such as:
– Removing restrictions on women’s political participation, including restrictions on women’s suffrage and candidacy
– Increasing the number of women elected officials at the national, provincial and local level
– Ensuring that political parties include women in meaningful leadership positions and in meaningful numbers
– Encouraging greater participation of women in government decision-making and advocating for legislation that enshrines full equality of men and women.
The Win with Women Global Initiative, spearheaded by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a CALD partner organization, promotes strategies for increasing women’s political leadership worldwide. Its Global Action Plan outlines practical recommendations for political parties to broaden their appeal by addressing women’s role as voters, candidates, party activists and elected officials.
CALD also called on its member parties without a women’s wing to establish one and to commit itself to the creation of a CALD’s women’s wing in order to pursue the objectives of the said action plan and to further promote women’s participation and empowerment.
On June 2006, the CALD Women’s Caucus was formally launched during the CALD Executive Committee meeting in Tagaytay City, Philippines where Hon. Henedina Abad, MP, then Liberal Party of the Philippines’ Vice President for Sectors, was selected to be its Chair. Hon. Abad was subsequently elected as the Vice President of the International Network of Liberal Women in November 2006.
It aims to broaden women’s participation in CALD member parties; to open and strengthen more avenues for women in CALD parties to assume greater leadership roles; and to identify and mainstream gender issues and gender-related policies and initiatives within CALD organizations and activities. It also calls upon CALD member parties to develop their respective women’s wings. And just to help ensure everyone is up to date with whatever the Caucus is up to, it recently put up the website www.caldwomen.org.
The key objectives of the Caucus are as follows:
– To broaden the participation of women in CALD member parties
– To open and strengthen more avenues for women in CALD parties to assume greater leadership roles
– To identify and mainstream gender issue and gender-related policies and initiatives within CALD parties and in CALD activities (i.e. human trafficking, access to health care, environment/peace building initiatives)
CALD has always recognized the role women play in the organization and elsewhere, but now there’s the CALD Women’s Caucus that is putting even more focus on women’s abilities and skills. In October, it held a workshop on grassroots organizing in Phnom Penh that had among its discussion topics assisting women in organizing themselves, attracting them to join political parties, and encouraging them to seek leadership positions.
“Empowerment cannot be enforced from outside or ‘the top,'” observes Mu Sochua, current head of the Caucus, as well as a human-rights activist and Cambodian opposition MP. “Only through education programs, awareness-raising, and continuous discussions can we push for a world in which both men and women actually truly believe in and respect the equality of all. This must take place at all levels of society, within elite circles, as well as at the grassroots level.”
“Today, all of the world’s countries still hold a strong culture of disregard toward women’s qualifications,” she adds. “However, the paradigm is shifting slowly in almost all countries in Asia, and even drastically in some as we have seen women emerging to take the top office of their own government.”
A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Mu Sochua herself has been doing more than her bit to bring international attention to women’s political participation in Asia. In December, for instance, she addressed the Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe at the European Parliament during the staging of ‘Seven,’ a play about human-rights activists that included her story. During a visit to the United States in that same month as SRP women’s wing head, she joined a panel discussion organized by the Economist in New York.
Mu Sochua is also the acting vice president for Asia of the International Network of Liberal Women (INLW), which includes the Caucus among its members. Says the Cambodian politician: “We as political representatives of CALD are the fortunate observers of exciting and important times in Asia, as well as direct responsible participants. As greater space is being available to women on the political scene, we hold the ability to push for further and faster changes.”
“Across the world,” she says, “with the Asian region certainly leading, women are speaking out, becoming public figures, but also demanding yet more equality and respect. And as representatives of all the people, we cannot but respect these requests. To ignore them would only erode our legitimacy and relevance.”