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Women’s networking in politics was discussed in Demo’s seminar

Together with the Network of women members of the Finnish Parliament, Demo Finland organised a seminar on women’s cross-party co-operation in politics. The seminar took place on 23rd September, and its programme included the premier of the documentary film “Woman’s Friend is a Woman” and a panel discussion with President Tarja Halonen, Member of Parliament Eila Tiainen, Secretary-General of Nytkis (The Coalition of Finnish Women’s Associations) Johanna Pakkanen and the coordinator of Demo’s gender project in Nepal, Sarika Jaiswal. The panel was hosted by Eveliina Talvitie, who has written on women in politics in her book titled Keitäs tyttö kahvia.

Woman’s Friend is a Woman is a documentary film on the collaborative platform of Tanzanian women politicians. The Tanzania Women Cross-Party Platform was founded on 2010 with the support of Demo Finland, and it brings together the women’s organisations of all the Tanzanian parliamentary parties and works as a forum where they can work together on issues that are important to women. According to the chair of the platform, Anna Abdallah, women from the government parties face similar challenges than women from the opposition parties, and therefore the cross-party co-operation is an effective way to impact decision-making in Tanzania.

In Finland, women’s networks in politics have existed a bit longer. For example, the Network of women members of the Parliament was founded in 1991. The vice-chair of the network, MP Eila Tiainen spoke about the activities of the network and about its role as an effective actor inside the Parliament.

Women’s networking was also discussed in the panel. According to Johanna Pakkanen, it is a myth that women could not build networks, for they do it a lot in their private lives. President Halonen also mentioned examples of women’s networking on international level and gave advice on how women can support each other in politics. The panellists also agreed on the fact that women and men are often treated very differently in politics. For example, the media tend to write on very different matters when it comes to women politicians. In politics, men’s looks is not discussed as much as women’s. Women politicians often feel like attention is given to completely secondary matters instead of their expertise and views. “My handbag has always been too big”, said President Halonen.

Sarika Jaiswal spoke about women’s opportunities to participate in decision-making in Nepal and also about the country’s political situation, which is currently very fragile and unpredictable. The constitutional review is unfinished, as the Constituent Assembly, elected in 2008 was unable to write the Constitution on time. The new elections are announced to be held on 19th November, but there remains some uncertainty on whether the elections will take place on the announced date. However, these elections are crucial for the participation of women, says Jaiswal.

The Nepalese society is hierarchical and patriarchal, which makes it challenging for the women to get their voices heard in the political decision-making. Although the number of women was quite good in the Constituent Assembly, the women didn’t have real decision-making power. Often the women are simply neglected in politics, or when gaining power, seen as a threat.

Demo Finland’s EU-funded project that Jaiswal coordinates, aims to tackle this problem. The project has a steering group that consists of the representatives of 18 political youth and student organisations. The members of the steering group are all women and they have a strong ownership of the project. The activities of the project started in March 2013, and they include trainings for young women in 16 districts and in Kathmandu. The aim of these trainings is to strengthen women’s self-confidence, co-operation and ability to be efficient actors in political youth and student organisations. According to Jaiswal, the focus in the trainings is on very practical issues and skills that are useful to women who are in the beginning of their political careers. President Halonen’s advice for the women was that one shouldn’t try to be good at everything at once.

The challenges that women face in Tanzania, Nepal and Finland alike were referred to several times during the seminar. Challenges exist even in Finland, which is often regarded as an example of gender equality. “Women face similar challenges everywhere, although the level and context may be different”, summarised Sarika Jaiswal.

The audience was also interested in Demo Finland’s work in Nepal and Tanzania, and in concrete methods to increase women’s political participation. In the conversation that followed the panel discussion, MP Eila Tiainen and Senior Advisor of Demo Finland, Sari Varpama told about Demo’s working methods and principles. Demo always follows a bottom-up principle and aims at including the grassroot level in all its activities. This contributes to creating an important link between national and local level actors.

More photos on Demo’s Facebook-page.

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