Introduction: Women in the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Group developed from an informal meeting of women parliamentarians held at the 35th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Barbados in 1989, initiated by Senator Norma Cox Astwood of Bermuda.
The main function of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) is to provide an opportunity for the women Members of the Commonwealth community and other interested parties to meet together to share experiences, discuss problems, seek solutions and discuss topics of particular significance or relevance to women, as a minority in the parliaments and legislatures of the Commonwealth. It provides an extra means of networking for individuals beyond the scope afforded by the program of the annual CPA Conference.
A further opportunity to raise the profile of women in Parliament was availed of when the Association conducted a satellite Workshop to the Seventh Meeting of Commonwealth Ministers Responsible for Women’s Affairs in Fiji in June 2004. Participants of the Workshop entitled ‘Gender, Development and Democracy’ concluded that Parliamentarians are strategically placed to provide leadership in advancing gender issues in political and decision-making processes. The participants forwarded a Communique to Ministers who were finalizing the new Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action 2005-2015. The key message that participants conveyed to Ministers was that Commonwealth parliamentarians could play a crucial role as partners of government and civil society in achieving gender equality. They also urged Ministers to recognize that parliamentarians have a special responsibility to advocate equality, accountability and sustainable development.
At the 2004 Meeting of Commonwealth Minister's Responsible for Women's Affairs, Ministers reaffirmed the 30 percent target of women in decision-making in the political, public and private sectors by the year 2015 set by Heads of Government in 1997. However, it was recognized that most Commonwealth countries would have to make radical changes in the next few years if they were to meet that target. The numbers of women in Commonwealth parliaments is still low, having hovered around 12 to 13% for long periods. The numbers vary heavily from region to region and, within regions, there are significant variations between member countries. For example, some parliaments in the Caribbean (for instance, Saint Kitts and Nevis – IPU data from 2005) do not have any women MPs.