Gender Module 3 - 1

Area of expertise: Promoting Gender Equality in Parliament

There is a historic bias towards the interests of men in the laws and funding of almost all governments. Institutionalizing the role of women in the workings of parliament is a critical step in addressing these inequalities, as parliaments are uniquely positioned to enforce gender equality and women's rights. Removing the barriers to women’s full participation – whether substantive, structural or cultural – and setting the tone for a more equal society by leading by example can be done on the level of the institution’s composition and structure, as well as through its operations and programme of work.

Today, only 22 percent of parliamentarians globally are women (IPU 2016). In the context of the parliament’s structure and composition, one of the most important means of engendering the work of parliament is to ensure that both women and men have approximately the same number of seats within the institution. Since, next to a relevant ministry, the parliament constitutes the major policy making body responsible for the energy sector, increasing the number of parliamentary seats is a primary means of representing women in political leadership. In Rwanda, where women hold 56 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament, the National Energy Policy and National Energy Strategy features separate sections on gender and gender equity, giving prominence to policies which address the needs of women (such as, for instance, diversification of energy sources for cooking and lighting in the home, developing alternatives for domestic energy and giving opportunities for women to try out new technological options before they are disseminated more widely). In countries such as Georgia, with low level of women’s presence and participation in parliament (11%), gender sensitivity is completely absent in the energy sector.

This said, there is no guarantee that women parliamentarians will advocate for gender-sensitive policies, whether in the energy or other sectors, without sufficient capacity or influence. Similarly, there is no need to wait until new measures and policies result in equal representation. A parliament can work immediately to build its capacity to reflect the unique perspectives of men and women. An important means of engendering a parliament is to establish rules and procedures within the institution that require greater reflection and consultation with women, so as to balance any historical male bias in the work of the institution. The new rules may include greater use of public consultations by parliamentary committees, new standing committees or multi-party groups to promote the aggregation of women’s voices when laws are being passed, and requirements for a minimum number of women as parliamentary committee chairpersons or seats on committees.

On the level of the parliamentary activities, including the laws it passes and amends, and the budgets it adopts, gender-sensitive parliaments award equal time and attention to the voices and concerns of women and men. It also means that the laws and budgets adopted should reflect their respective inputs. Whether the parliament is passing a law or adopting the annual state budget, broad consultations that include the voices of women constituents and civil society experts that represent the interests of women will be critical to any parliamentary document having legitimacy.

Institutional Instruments

The ultimate objective of the efforts to increase women’s participation in the work of parliament, whether as an MP or a citizen, is to ensure the draft laws and the state budgets adopted reflect the needs and priorities of women and men equally. However, it must be stressed that gender-responsive policies are the responsibility of men and women MPs alike. The low number of women MPs in parliament cannot and should not excuse a lack of gender-responsive policies. Rather, all MPs and parliamentary groups should acknowledge and ensure that the laws passed and the funding approved by parliament reflect the needs of all citizens.

Coalitions can help leverage critical institutional support for gender-responsive parliaments and – by extension - policies. This can be done formally and informally, and both approaches have their merits. Formally, MPs can support a greater emphasis on gender issues within legislative and budget processes by mandating that existing parliamentary committee dealing with energy policy focus on gender issues. This goes back to the gender mainstreaming strategies discussed in module 2. Beyond that, actions can be taken to afford special consideration to gender equality questions through the establishment of a dedicated gender equality committee or a human rights committee where energy policy can be discussed. Alternatively, a women’s caucus can provide leadership on these issues and interact with relevant committees to include gender considerations. If a caucus is to have a meaningful impact not only “soft” issues but also complex, multidisciplinary portfolios like energy, it is important that its membership comprises members of a standing committee in charge of energy issues. In either arrangement, it is essential that women parliamentarians participate in and serve a leadership role in the use of oversight mechanisms and structures.

Informal instruments include cross-party groups, parliamentary networks (both national and international) and, in several cases, caucuses that exist outside of the formal parliamentary framework. Such an informal status usually means that a group is not formed on the basis of an internal act or the parliament’s rules of procedure. Through targeted interventions, lobbying and information sharing, these groups can leverage a critical amount of support. The Samoa Women’s Caucus, for example, has a constitution, a clearly defined membership base and a work plan, but it is not formally recognised by the Samoa Parliament’s Standing Orders and receives no financial or institutional support. Similarly, the cross-party Climate Parliament groups set up in India and Bangladesh in support of parliamentary action on renewable energy have no formal standing. Conversely, the Women’s Parliamentary Network in Serbia whose status is also informal, receives institutional support, with an administrator, meeting space and a conference room assigned to it by the Secretariat. Due to a reduction in the parliamentary budget, the group is also supported by NGOs and international organisations including OSCE and UNDP. Since its formation in 2012, together with the Ministry of Finance, civil and international organizations the group achieved the introduction of gender-responsive budgeting into the Budget Law, promoted gender-sensitive economic management at the local level and women entrepreneurship, all of which have potential implications for women both on the demand and supply end of the energy sector.

Constituency Engagement

As representatives of the constituents who enjoy unique access to and legitimacy with the executive branch, including the most senior figures, MPs can effectively advocate on energy and gender issues and ensure that voters’ voices and interests are represented in policy-making. Outside of parliament, parliamentarians can build a network of those who support the development of renewable energy, such as community leaders in off-grid regions, industry figures and investors. Such networks can create pressure on a government to develop a plan to implement renewables, or identify and advocate for the changes required to make an existing plan more effective.

Not less importantly, through their direct link to constituents, MPs are best placed to seek their input on an ongoing basis at both local and national levels, to gain insight from their experiences and to ensure that the laws passed and the monitoring conducted by parliament are reflecting such interests and concerns. There are a number of constituency engagement tools including local public forums on specific issues, public consultations, partnering with local CSOs, social media outreach, surveys and surgery hours. MPs can use them to learn directly about specific energy needs of their women and girl constituents, how the climate change impacts them and how the existing policies affect them. As mentioned in the previous module, engaging constituents and civil society in parliamentary work becomes especially important in countries in transition where opening political space to non-governmental actors is key to creating democracy. Consulting such actors can help ensure that new energy projects, infrastructure, regulations or market incentives serve the needs of a diverse society.

At this point, resources become critical. The parliament must ensure there are sufficient resources to enable committees and individual MPs to conduct specific outreach and dialogue with women, particularly from marginalized groups such as indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious minorities. Resources can also be assigned to regular engagement with CSOs that represent women’s interests.


Energy governance can reinforce or challenge the way in which women and men are valued and recognized in society (Danielsen 2012). In order to address the gendered nature of energy access, poverty and the energy sector, the energy system governance, policy, programmes and corresponding budgets need to address structural gender inequalities at the level of institutions, while taking into account customary laws and traditions which determine the success of implementation.

The latter in particular often proves to be a significant stumbling block. It is important to ensure that the promotion of gender-responsive energy policies is not seen as imposition, or worse still, a rejection of established and accepted customs and traditions. Carefully crafted outreach and engagement initiatives can be instrumental in securing the buy-in of senior figures, local government officials and citizens alike. All of this ideally must be made to fit within a wider strategy on women’s political participation and empowerment.

Political Parties

Without the support of a group of colleagues, an MP is less likely to influence a parliament’s legislative, budgetary and oversight decisions. In most democratic systems, political parties are the main vehicle for support. They play a critical role in sharing information among their MPs (see Module 2 for more information) and, consequently, in building legislative consensus and support. By effectively communicating on key topics, parties bring parliamentarians together on issues and facilitate coalitions within parliament. The formation and strength of such alliances can determine the pace of reforms and delivery of public services.

Political parties are best-placed to channel aggregated social interests into policy platforms and act as gateways for political participation. They also serve as a training ground for politicians and are the main avenue for electoral and political campaigns on issues important to their electorates. In doing so, they play a pivotal role in prioritizing the legislative agenda, as well as shaping and maintaining the relationship between the parliamentarians and the executive on the one hand and the voters on the other.

Ghana: Citizens’ Energy Manifesto 2016

General elections will be held in Ghana on 7 December 2016 to elect a President and Members of Parliament. Ahead of the election, representatives of the country’s civil society (ranging from entrepreneurs, traders, students, civil society activists, teachers, other public sector workers and ordinary citizens) had a chance to contribute to the Citizens’ Energy Manifesto 2016. The process was facilitated by the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), a Ghanaian NGO.

The purpose of the manifesto has been to urge political parties to act on its 7-point Agenda for Energy Sector Development. While policies advocated for in the manifesto do not address gender issues in particular, participation of women was encouraged during the consultation process. The purpose of the initiative has been to enable the general public to express what they consider their priorities in the petroleum and energy sector:

  • influence the manifestos of the political parties on the petroleum and energy sector
  • increase the public understanding of these proposals
  • inform the choice of the voters and help form a stronger social contract based on which the elected government will be held accountable after the general elections.


Lastly, returning to the earlier points on women’s political empowerment, parties can ensure that women expertise and perspectives - including in the field of energy, and climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies - are integrated in political debates and, in turn, policies, by increasing the direct participation of women in politics. To this end, parties can and should create strategies targeting the inclusion of women MPs. Bringing in women candidates and leaders sends a strong statement of the national will to enhance women participation. Driven by electoral competition, many parties tend to adopt a conservative approach whereby they favour candidates who have traditionally won election, namely older men with a strong political or business record. In countries where women are by and large excluded from decision-making and thus less likely to build up the credentials and professional track record, they are disadvantaged when competing for a nomination in local or national elections. Likewise, with respect to energy policy in particular, not only should such inclusion strategies address the disparities between the number of men and women entering the parliament but also taking on leadership positions in specialised standing and ad hoc committees.

UNDP/NDI Good Practice Guide: Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties

This publication identifies targeted interventions for promoting the stronger presence and influence of women in political parties as well as advancing gender equality issues in party policies and platforms. The lessons learned and common strategies in this Guide are drawn mainly, but not exclusively, from 20 case studies that were commissioned by UNDP and conducted by NDI during 2009-2010. The entry points identified are designed to provide ideas for action for political parties, development assistance providers, party foundations, and CSOs in their work to support parties.