The Kigali Declaration: (Re)Committing to Gender-Sensitive Parliaments

The Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) 145th Assembly recently held in Rwanda was on ‘Gender equality and gender-sensitive parliaments as drivers of change for a more resilient and peaceful world’. It resulted in the Kigali Declaration and a recommitment for parliaments to achieve gender sensitivity, writes Sarah Childs who offers a brief summary of the Assembly deliberations for us.

Image: The recently-concluded IPU with delegates from 120 parliaments. Image credit: Sarah Childs.

The theme of the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) 145th Assembly recently held in Rwanda was Gender equality and gender-sensitive parliaments as drivers of change for a more resilient and peaceful world. The centering of gender equality and gender sensitive parliaments (GSP) at the gathering of more than 1000 Speakers of Parliaments and MPs, not only acknowledges the situation of the host country – which ranks number 1 in the world for women’s political representation – but crucially recognises that the world’s crises, whether health or disease related, ecological, economic, social, and/or political, are never gender neutral but exacerbate existing, and create new, gender-based inequalities. Just as Covid-19 did, they put the most vulnerable populations in an even more precarious situation.

After five days of discussion amongst delegates from 120 parliaments, the Assembly agreed on the Kigali Declaration. This declaration not only marks ten years since the publication of the IPU Plan of Action for Gender-Sensitive Parliaments, but recommits parliaments to achieving gender sensitivity. It calls for parliaments to be more ambitious still in the forthcoming decade: GSP must exploit technological developments where they support gender equality and the work of women parliamentarians; and gender sensitive parliaments today must also be green institutions.

The Kigali declaration pledges ten actions for the next ten years. These commitments will make parliaments more quantitatively and qualitatively gender-sensitive and, in so being, better meet the needs of those they represent.

The ten actions for the next ten years:

  1. Assess the level of gender-sensitivity of our parliaments twice to ensure progress in-between the two milestones (2022 and 2032).
  2. Create a gender-balanced steering committee to follow up on the findings and recommendations of the gender sensitivity assessments that has the power, resources, and mandate to lead reforms.
  3. Recognize the individual differences among women and prioritize the inclusion of underrepresented groups such as young women, indigenous women and women with disabilities.
  4. Create, resource, and empower a gender equality committee or similar body which can effectively hold government and parliament to account, and a women’s caucus that can effectively support women MPs in their parliamentary work.
  5. Adopt formal rules to establish gender-balance across all parliamentary leadership positions, ensure the parity of participation of women and men across all parliamentary activities, and prohibit single-sex committees and groups.
  6. Engage men MPs and other men active in the parliamentary ecosystem to act as allies for gender equality, including by co-sponsoring bills, initiatives, and actions with women MPs, across the legislative, oversight and representation fields.
  7. Ensure that gender sensitivity, gender equality and gender mainstreaming and budgeting guide all of a parliament’s work at all times.
  8. Conduct gender audits of legislative, budgetary and oversight actions but also of initiatives aiming to introduce or reform, inter alia, parliamentary technology, measures to make parliaments greener, initiatives to engage citizens in the work of parliament, and implement the respective recommendations from such audits.
  9. Become caring parliaments by providing fully for the caring needs of men and women MPs and staff as they carry out their parliamentary duties.
  10. Introduce stringent policies with the objective of zero tolerance of violence against women, sexual harassment and bullying in parliament, and establish independent and efficient grievance procedures with strong sanctions.

Image: The Assembly resulted in the Kigali Declaration. Image credit: Sarah Childs.

I had the privilege of working with the IPU in advance of and during the 145th Assembly; I attended the plenary, the meeting of the Women’s Bureau, the Parity debate, and the Young MPs Meeting. My invitation built on prior relations with Zeina Hilal, Manager of the Gender Programme at the IPU, who facilitated the GSP audit of the UK parliament in 2018, a recommendation made in my The Good Parliament Report two years previously. Doing impactful work is, in my view[1] a feminist imperative. Working with international organizations on GSP enables academics to apply our feminist research to the real world of politics; to try to change as well as to study political institutions. In Rwanda, I presented my own reflections on gender sensitizing the House of Commons[2] but more importantly I listened: to young women who did not think their parliaments would support them through their pregnancies; to women who experience sexual harassment in their political life from colleagues and from the media; and to women who felt marginalized by men within their institutions. But, in the sharing of experiences – of breast-feeding rooms, women’s caucuses, and gendered policy work – discussed in the formal sessions, over lunch, and on the dancefloor at the women MPs dinner, new connections were made between women MPs from around the world, and between MPs and the IPU’s gender team. It is in these connections, and empowered by the Kigali declaration, where my confidence lies that transformative change will happen.

[1] Campbell, R and Childs, S. (2013) ‘The Impact Imperative: Here Come the Women :)’,  Political Studies Review, 11, 2: 182-9

[2] The Scottish Parliament is currently undergoing a GSP review. Professor Fiona Mackay, Dr Meryl Kenny and me are acting as advisors to the Presiding Officer. The Report of the review is scheduled for publication early in 2023.

Author Bio

Dr. Sarah Childs in Personal Chair of Politics and Gender at the University of Edinburgh. Her research centres on the theory and practice of women’s political representation, gender and political parties, parliaments and institutional change. Childs latest book Feminist Democratic Representation (co-authored with Karen Celis) was published by OUP in 2020, and jointly won the PSA W.J.M. MacKenzie book prize in 2022. Childs is also author of The Good Parliament Report, 2016, which followed a secondment to the UK House of Commons. She is finalising her new book, Designing and Building Feminist Institutions, which will be published in 2023.