Main conclusions and recommendations
Below are the main conclusions and recommendations drawn from the study:
- Equal access and participation of women and men in power spheres within the political parties are generally not to be found, either in their documents or practices. The quota principle has not been acquired as a reflex, nor has it been established as a necessity to fulfil the commitments that some of them have taken about achieving gender equality in Madagascar.
- In the democratic cultures of the political parties, the gender concept is obscured in the notions of freedom, social justice, non-discrimination/non-exclusion which for most are part of human rights, a principle all the parties subscribe to. While the concept of representative democracy is sometimes included, that of gender representation is not. In extreme cases, the parties’ democratic cultures include “the right to difference” to legitimize, by means of such notions as “complementarity” and “mutual respect”, their stereotyped and traditional view of gender roles in a “man-based society”, in which women’s roles are limited to their duties as mothers in the family sphere.
- The political parties’ systems offer few opportunities for equal access of women and men into leadership positions. Even in their constitutions/manifestos, few specifically mention the promotion and implementation of gender equality and women’s empowerment; and those who did are fickle in meeting their commitments, which usually get no further than the intention stage. The only “opportunities” are in the use of inclusive language when such positions are mentioned, pointing at equal possibilities for women and men to access them, in contrast with the sexist language that most parties use.
- The electoral processes within the parties are usually controlled by men and particularly heedless of women’s access to decision-making positions at any level. The situation is all the more serious as there are frequently no written procedures or modalities concerning the process of identification, selection and nomination of candidates within the parties. This is significant of the fact that there are no standards or norms to which the political parties are bound to conform.
- Where written procedures do exist, they tend to make women’s access more difficult, through the measures they impose. For example, (i) candidates must be sponsored by the leaders (who are mostly men); (ii) the criteria for the identification, nomination and selection of candidates usually do not include gender, whereas financial capacity, though not expressed in so many words, does matter – and the wealthier are seldom women; (iii) elections by majority vote, particularly simple majority votes, votes by a show of hands or single-round ballots put minorities, including women, at a disadvantage.
- Political parties are clearly unable to create an environment that would promote equal participation of women and men. Their environment is currently characterized by (i) protected structures, in which little space is left for any significant number of women to work within the organization or in the political sphere; (ii) women’s sections that are marginalized, and whose role is to support the party, or even the men in office, vis-à-vis the external world, by means of social activities.
- That environment is also characterized by gendered cultures among the older parties, which sprang from social struggles that occurred in a men’s environment, where women play a secondary part. Those cultures have been perpetuated by subsequent generations of parties, which originated from personal struggles between men, and were created only after their leaders came into office, with defectors from the regimes overthrown by the cyclic political crises in the country. The political manoeuvres practised in them seldom attract women, who are excluded or exclude themselves from the process, despite the incipient activism to be observed among them.
- The parties do not implement the quota principle – which is not included in any national documents anyway – within their own organisation, and have usually taken merely symbolical measures. Even the recent trends that favour quotas for party leaders still concern key positions in national institutions only. They are not enforced within the parties. This should be viewed as related to the stereotyped traditional culture prevailing in the parties, combined with political cultures that are little open to changes in power and power sharing, least of all with women. Such cultures have fostered the proliferation of ever smaller parties, creating opportunities for some women who were bent on joining the political arena, to create their own parties.
- The proportion of women in the parties’ key positions is comparatively significant in those parties that were created and/or are led by women. However, practically no parties have a real policy aimed at promoting and implementing gender equality and empowerment of women, with consistent enforcement measures – which is a threat to that small progress and limits its scope. Apart from the one political party that was created by and for women, those results, though far from satisfactory and usually fortuitous, still should be supported.
- The influence of international, continental and regional Conventions on gender equality over the parties’ policy documents thus appears to be marginal still. The deeper reasons for this lie in the parties’ indifference to and/or wrong interpretation of the principles and objectives of gender equality contained in them, as well as the lack of ownership of and belief in the idea that enforcing, and where applicable, implementing them within their organisation could be either relevant or useful. Insensitive though they are to gender inequalities in political leadership and decision-making, the parties do need technical support to help them better incorporate gender into their policy documents, and then identify and implement such measures as would be suitable to their context and ideology.
- In Madagascar, candidates to elected and appointed positions continue to come from the political parties, although Independents are more or less accepted, depending on the regimes. Women’s participation and representation in positions of power, which have been very low for decades, can thus be accounted for through the lack of a culture of gender equality among the leaders of the political parties, whose rules give them all but absolute power. Party leaders are then the main sources of change and the main resources to give it impetus and reverse the trend. Madagascar ranks 13th out of the 14 SADC member countries on this issue.
- The current Transition phase, which is expected to result in the establishment of a new Fourth Republic by means of elections at all levels, provides opportunities to launch actions aimed at reducing or even eliminating gender inequalities in politics. There is a call for renewal of the political class, the quest for new ideals and political practices and, through women’s organisations and movements, for increased representation and participation of women in the political arena.
- Further opportunities have emerged, including the following: (i) young women politicians, who were recently sensitized on the issue, have decided to create a “gender caucus”, so that they could collectively face the obstacles to women ‘making it’ in politics – which is revealing of urgent needs; (ii) a number of women who have been trained in gender and political participation are likely to join the parties, which would help those that are willing to embrace change; (iii) some parties have written equal participation and representation of women and men among their objectives in their constitutions; some women party leaders have demonstrated their commitment to the gender cause, and other party leaders are beginning to be gender sensitive: all this may foster the launch of a process of change in the world of political parties, who are in favour of human rights already; (iv) some parties have experienced how their women’s branches have improved their image outside the party. This may lead to women’s branches being created and/or revived so that they could become an efficient means to achieve gender equality in a really representative democracy.
- The recommendations are based on the following evidence, which emerged from and/or were confirmed by the results and conclusions of the study. Political parties play a key role in promoting women in the political life of the nation, as they are in a position to : (i) change the legal framework on gender equality and empowerment of women, through institutionalisation of quotas in the laws, as well as their implementation; (ii) promote the right framework for gender equality to be implemented within their own organisations, giving both genders the same opportunities to access and hold leading positions in their parties; (iii) put women and men’s names forward as candidates to the various elections in the country, and support them in an equitable way. The major challenge that underlies the following recommendations is then to find the means to encourage the political parties to support gender equality in a sustainable way.
- Disseminate the results of this case study among the political parties and their leaders, so as to start the debate on the concept of representative democracy, or even equal representation, on the democratic cultures in the country and their implications in the change and share of power as well as on electoral procedures; within such a framework, sensitize them on the part they may play in promoting the achievement of the objective of gender equality and women’s empowerment; include those party leaders who have been identified as open to the issue, as well as the “trans-party gender caucus”, in the dissemination process.
- Develop a set of arguments emphasizing the added value of the participation of both genders in decision-taking for the parties (and for the country), and also the competitive advantage they could derive from it, not to mention the moral strength and structural basis of the initiative (the national commitments and the party’s democratic values); using the experiences of other countries that have implemented it, show its concrete implications, such as improved policies, that would be better suited to the diversity of citizens, the introduction of new themes into public issues, etc.; placing practical motivations in the near future (forthcoming national elections), highlight how the party could benefit from optimal use of available resources – half of which come from women – in terms of talents/capacity, as well as the weight of women as voters.
- Support political parties in writing political documents in which gender equality is specifically mentioned, and work with them to implement the provisions stipulated therein.
Begin with those that have expressed the need for it and aim to reach a critical mass of parties, so as to have positive impact on the country’s political landscape; label those political parties who undertake to do so, and facilitate their connections with political parties in other countries who have previously experimented it.
- Organise specific capacity building for women in the parties and help them in creating or restructuring women’s specific branches and committees, so that they become able to (i) advise the party in terms of gender equality policies, (ii) sensitize activists on gender issues and (iii) politically organise and train women.
- Support the incipient initiative of the “trans-party gender caucus”, (i) by developing with and for them such strategies as are appropriate for their advocacy among party leaders, so as to encourage the latter to enforce gender sensitive policies within their respective political organisations, and (ii) by providing them with the support they need to explore possible partnerships and means to implement them.
- Organise, in collaboration with civil society movements committed to the issue, continued sensitisation and advocacy to fight the widespread belief that gender equality can be taken for granted in Madagascar.