Mar 08, 2019

Unrepresented Women in Politics

In 2019 the UNPO and the Coppieters Foundation released a report entitled “Minority women in politics – The political participation and representation of minority and migrant women in Europe”. The study identifies differences in representation, analyses factors that produce better levels of representation in some places but not in others and describes historical and recent developments in different parts of Europe. The launch of this study also marked the beginning of UNPO’s Unrepresented Women campaign, aimed at making the challenges faced by these women more visible, shedding light on their engagement in social change, fostering their inclusion in decision-making processes, and encouraging greater opportunities for women within UNPO member movements.

Download the report by clicking here.

Why this report?

Along its years of activity, UNPO has learned that women from the communities it works with face even more intense discrimination than men because of their gender. They face specific and grave forms of human rights violations, such as sexual violence, which affects the women living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, but also aggravated forms of human rights violations compared to men, as is the case with the lack of access to health services, putting pregnant Hmong women living in the Laotian jungle in danger. Despite those specific challenges, women continue to be largely excluded from decision-making, whether it is in the context of peacemaking negotiations or in national politics – as of January 2017, 18.3% of government ministers were women and we can safely assume that this number is significantly weaker for indigenous and minority women. Despite the odds though, women are active: they get organised in associations, such as the Naga Mothers’ Association, and actively fight cultural oppression and defend the rights of their peoples. Women are not only victims, but actors of change.

At the European level, women make up more than half of the electorate but continue to be under-represented in decision-making positions and processes, despite being highly educated. Here again, it is safe to assume that minority women also constitute more than half the demography of their communities, but continue to be under-represented nonetheless. This we feel is a real question of democracy and self-determination, and raises questions as to how we can expect to come up with policies that really reflect the diversity of experiences and ideas of EU citizens without making the policy-making processes inclusive of these women.

The study: methodology and main findings

It is with this in mind that UNPO and the Coppieters Foundation have decided to carry out the work presented in this study. The first section of the document focusses on minority women’s political engagement and representation, featuring five case studies: Welsh women in the United Kingdom, Basque women in Spain, Kurdish women in Turkey, Breton women in France and Turkish-Muslim women in Greece. The second section of the report is composed of essays by minority women who have specific experience with migration or statelessness in Europe. These contributions were written by women who are diverse in age, background and occupation, presenting their own experiences, allowing for a nuanced understanding of migrants as internally diverse and made up of heterogeneous individuals who relate to the group in different ways.

The study reveals that politics remains a male-dominated domain where the glass ceiling is firmly in place and minority women have to navigate discrimination from their male or other women counterparts. Welsh women, for instance, have reported that women are still discouraged from pursuing political positions because they witness the way other women are treated – sexualised, infantilised and objectified. The study also shows that democratic political institutions often fail to reform their structures, procedures and leadership positions for more equality. Some parties, however, demonstrate that positive measures can be taken in this regard: the Turkish Peoples’ Democratic Party and Peace and Democracy Party, for example, have put in place co-presidency and –mayorship positions within their internal structures and municipalities. Aside from political structures, minority women continue to be disproportionately affected by unequal pay and employment opportunities, as well as the unequal sharing of childcare, leading many to abandon their political activities to take care of their families, as reported by the Basque women interviewed. Legal discrimination can also be strongly detrimental to women’s participation and representation, as is the rise of far-right movements and political parties whose ideologies are based on misogynistic, racist, nativist and islamophobic values and ideas, such as the Golden Dawn in Greece or the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the UK/Wales.

The study also finds that the overall lack of devolution of political power in Europe makes political systems less inclusive and responsive to the needs of the citizens. On the contrary, the Basque and Welsh parliaments, for instance, regularly allocate funds and pass policies that are favourable to a diverse range of women in their regions. The report also demonstrates that gender-mainstreaming measures are insufficiently implemented in a wide range of sectors. Gender balance indeed depends in part on the adoption of concrete and practical gender-sensitive policies in fields like education, urban planning or finance.

The report also sheds light on the varied experiences on women when it comes to discrimination. While Breton women in the study report feeling discrimination against the Breton community more than discrimination on the basis of their gender, Kurdish women feel threatened because of the Turkish State’s stance on women’s role in society, as well as its heavy-handed approach to Kurdish affairs. In addition, some minority women in the report also report that they are compelled to divide their energies and juggle multiple “delicate loyalties” within a variety of social movements, because of the inability of most movements to see self-determination and women’s rights as intertwined.

What next? UNPO’s Unrepresented Women campaign

On the basis of these findings and UNPO’s experience working with women activists, the organisation is launching a new campaign, entitled “Unrepresented Women”. UNPO believes that the challenges faced by unrepresented women need to be made more visible and addressed by decision-makers, whether they act at the local, national or international levels. This implies a bigger and better inclusion of women in decision-making, because they have things to say and are, effectively, actively involved in social change. The campaign’s objectives include the production of reports and communication materials on the challenges faced by unrepresented women and what to do to address them; support to these women in the development of skills aimed at empowering them; the building of UNPO Members’ capacities to be more inclusive of women; and the building of a network of women, allowing them to support each other and share their experiences and ideas. The first step is a social media campaign which will be kicking off on 9 March 2019 – stay tuned!