On the 6th of February, the international workshop “Women in Politics” took place in Hanoi co-organised by the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public Administration (NAPA) and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Asia (RLS SEA). The workshop began with welcome speeches by Assoc. Prof. Nguyen Viet Thao – Vice Director of NAPA, and Dr. Dagmar Enkelmann – Chairwoman of the Executive Board of RLS and finally, Nadja Charaby, Director of RLS SEA.
To begin the first half of the workshop, Dr. Nguyen Thi Ha from Institute for Scientific Socialism – NAPA (NAPA-IS), presented the results of the co-project between RLS SEA and NAPA-IS on the political participation of ethnic minority women in the northern mountainous region of Vietnam. The project focused on three specific provinces in Northern Vietnam, which are: Hoa Binh, Lao Cai and Bac Kan. According to Dr. Nguyen Thi Ha, these provinces are the most important in terms of geographical and ethnographical spectrum of Viet Nam, and has aided in the clarification and analysis of the difficulties that women face in the political arena; with the main focus being on women from minorities. This has ultimately resulted in an increase in awareness of the prejudice and discrimination these women are facing. In her conclusion, she stated that the traditional culture is the main factor that hinders the political participation of women; due to the fact that men have more advantages in terms of ranking and promotion. She then urged for solutions in political policy, and emphasized the importance of human resources, education and training.
Next, Marlies Linke, Head of RLS Asia Desk, addressed “Women in Politics” in Asia with a presentation on the approaches of RLS from various perspectives: participation of women in the political process in Asia, female politicians, policies to address issues related to women and gender equality. She juxtaposed Germany to Vietnam by providing those in attendance with concrete statistics regarding women participation in the German federal government. Concluding, she highlighted the importance of internal structures and internal cultures.
After a discussion and a short break, Prof. Dr. Boungnong Boupha, President of the Women’s Caucus cum Vice President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Laos National Assembly, spoke about “Women in politics to support Gender Sensitive Parliament in Lao PDR”. She introduced the Laos Women Parliamentarians Caucus, their background, main objectives, and activities. The attendees were offered the opportunity to learn about the strong political will of Lao NA leaders, who has worked hard to attain a position that is shoulder to shoulder with men . She also pointed out some other challenges, and proposed future actions, as well as a plan of cooperation.
Finishing the first half of the workshop, Pansy Tun Thein, Director of Local Resource Centre of Myanmar, delivered a presentation titled, “Women in Politics in Myanmar.” The audience were made aware of the status of Burmese women in modern day Myanmar, which is equivalent to being invisible. Pansy Tun Thein also highlighted the historical context of Myanmar women, which until the militarization of the nation in 1988, afforded women important roles in leadership and politics, and even embraced a matriarchal system. Since 2012, Myanmar has accomplished some remarkable achievements, as there has been an increase in female participation in political positions. Since last year, 4.8 percent of the parliamentary seats are assumed by women. Especially, he strong impact Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has had in Myanmar through her strong will power that has inspired others, especially women, to fight for their rights . Pansy Tun Thein concluded her presentation by applauding the progress Myanmar has made, but also noting that there is a long way to go.
After lunch, the second half of the workshop began with a presentation by Ms. Le Thi Thu Ha, the chair women of Women Union of the Lao Cai province. Her presentation revolved around the 27 different minorities that occupy this province, and how their cultural values effectively limit the potential of women in the region. In this context, she addressed how dependent women are on their families due to their responsibility to care for the children and also maintain the household; they also maintain a position behind the husband. In contrast, she also applauded the strong sense of responsibility that these women embody. Some progress they have made in the region included the foundation of a club for women that seeks to empower them to attain higher positions in business. Ms. Le Thi Thu Ha concluded her presentation with several recommendations to empower minority women.
The chair women of the executive board of the RLS, Mrs. Dagmar Enkelmann, continued the workshop with her speech about how the German left wing party (Die Linke) attempts to achieve gender equality. For several years, Die Linke has encouraged the advancement of women’s rights. In Germany, women earn on average 22 percent less than men although they have the same qualifications; thus, Germany is faltering in terms of gender equality in Europe. In her speech, Mrs. Enkelmann highlighted the efforts of Die Linke party in Germany. For instance, The left wing party wants to establish a quota of party seats that must be filled by women. Furthermore, Die Linke supports a flexible work-life balance and the reintegration of women once they finish their maternity leave. She asserted that a framework is needed to support the role of women.
After an informative discussion, Sohpeap Chak, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre of Human Rights (CCHR), presented a speech about the increasing political representation of women in Cambodia. In Cambodia a legislative frame work exists, which supports gender equality, she said; but, this framework is not effective. Cambodia has subscribed the Millennium Development Goals, which also includes a goal that addresses gender equality. However, in Cambodia there are some barriers which hold women back from attaining prominent positions in the political arena. For instance, in the Cambodian culture, it is widely accepted by women that they cannot enter the political arena. Furthermore, socio-economic factors also exist, such as the huge gap between female and male enrolment in schools. She also pointed out some recommendations to strengthen the role of women; the main suggestion being to incorporate a quota system in electoral law, which would legally require parties to allocate 30% seats on their lists to women.
In the following speech, Dr. Pham Thi Hoang Ha addressed the traditional culture has on the participation of H’ Mong women of the mountainous region of northern Vietnam in politics. Currently, there is a closed system in place in the H’ Mong culture, which hinders the opportunities of the H’ Mong women. The gender roles reflect tradition values: the women maintain the household and the men are responsible for the relations outside of the household. The role of women is never associated with leadership or management. Dr. Tham Thi Hoang Ha concluded by asserting that it is crucial to focus on the village leaders when implementing a strategy, so that their increased awareness about the importance of strengthening the role of women, will have a trickle down effect.
Garbriele Kickut, RLS Vice-Director of the Center of International Dialogue and Cooperation, presented the closing remarks of the workshop. She stressed the importance of the strides made so far in terms of the participation of women in civil society, but noted that there is still further to go. Only 21.8 percent of national parliamentarians were female as of July, 1st 2014, according to UN Women; to solve the world problems, like sustainable development, the participation of women is essential.
The workshop was attended by 70 individuals, with 5 nations represented; most importantly, many men were in attendance to discuss the topic of women in politics. Assco. Prof. Do Thi Thach, of NAPA IS, commended the success of the workshop and the resulting lively discussion. Although there were a lot of divergent views presented, the participants agreed with a lot of points. In conclusion, the participation of women in politics is important, and we must focus to overcome the barriers women face today and continue to reflect upon the reasons that prevent women for earning equality in the global spectrum.
In the concluding remarks Assco. Prof. Nguyen Viet Thao thanked for the good cooperation with RLS in the last 5 years.
Author: Nguyen Thi Nhu Trang and Christian Landenberger