We, the women rights campaigners from South Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) working as members of parliament, in political parties, civil society organisations, business and academia, gathered in Kathmandu on 6 and 7 August 2017 on the invitation of All Nepal Women’s Association (ANWA) to acknowledge and extend solidarity to the women’s struggle and to converge the idea for expanding spaces and enhancing rights of women’s participation at local governance in South Asia. We collectively acknowledge that including women in local governments is an essential first step towards creating gender equal society, governments and gender sensitive policies in South Asian region.
Local government ensures people’s access to politics at a very grass-root level and is a vital building block for any democracy. Although women’s political participation in South Asia has received significant attention over the years, their presence in the local level of democracy has been inadequate and even their existing participation has been overshadowed by their secondary role to that of their male counterpart. Patriarchal mindset and political structures, social values and traditions and extremist fundamental religious influences stand as strong impediments against enhancing women’s meaningful engagement in politics and local governance. Some progress has been made but the progress is insufficient provided that women in South Asia are still underrepresented in decision-making and leadership positions and the lacklustre implementation of the internationally agreed agreements including the Beijing Platform for Action and currently the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We recognise that women’s participation in local governance not only enhances their rights and space but also strengthens democracy, and their exclusion is a violation of fundamental human rights and a breach of the spirit of universal declaration of human rights.
Reconfirming that women’s participation in politics and governance is not an endowment rather entitlement of women and compensation for historical and structural exclusion of women, we call upon political parties, governments, civil society organisations, and mass media in South Asia to take adequate steps to ensure women’s equal representation and political participation in local governance. It is men who have been exercising power in most spaces, political and otherwise.
The convergence appeals the relevant stakeholders to take the following actions to ensure and enhance women’s active participation in politics and expand these spaces through democratic processes.
- We urge the political parties of South Asia to provide a minimum of 33 per cent of the seats for women’s representation at all decision-making levels in the party machinery and to create a gender sensitive environment in the inner-party culture. We expect this percentage to rise to over 50 percent as women form half of the world’s population and their presence in equal numbers in the political and decision making levels is as important. Reservations in direct elections are also imperative.
- We call upon political leaders to effectively prove their commitment to the non-negotiable cause of equal rights and opportunities for women by formulating policies, enacting laws, creating a conducive environment and allocating resources to increase women’s participation at all levels of governance and to respect all international obligations, including the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- We demand that quotas, reservations and other mechanisms be introduced in all countries of South Asia so that all South Asian countries achieve at least 33 per cent representation of women by the year 2020. Effective implementation of these quotas, ensuring they are filled and making special provisions in countries where such provisions are not yet in existence is necessary.
- We call upon all women and the parties/organisations they belong to, to work towards feminist goals of bringing more women into political decision-making by using their voting rights.
- We urge governments across South Asia to work towards gender friendly markets and economic policies, to economically empower women and on labour laws and social security for women working in the informal sector.
- Ensuring access to education, capacity building and furthering leadership development for women in the region is another challenge that all sections should take up on a priority basis.
- It would be imperative for women’s organizations to establish connects with parliamentarians and women in political parties, as one of the means of promoting women’s participation and brining foreground women’s issues.
- Patriarchy masquerading as religion and majority religious fundamentalism/extremism has adversely affected women’s rights, pushing women back into the realm of their homes, thereby hindering the process of their participation in public life. We urge states and civil society to address the issue of religious fundamentalism of all kinds and guarantee women equal rights as enshrined in most of their respective constitutions.
- We urge all those working on issues concerning women, their participation in public life, on securing them their rights to come together, as most of the issues faced by women in South have many commonalities. Hence, learning from best practices wherever possible and standing in solidarity with their counterparts, pressuring governments to take up their cause is also imperative.
- We demand that mechanisms be created for women to be elected and appointed to all decision-making structures and secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) ensuring their 33 per cent representation.
We make a solemn pledge to continue to struggle for women’s political rights and ensure their fair representation in all state mechanisms at local level.
7 August 2017