While women have succeeded in promoting a feminist agenda in some parliaments, the international research shows that this is not always possible, and accordingly, not a realistic expectation for women. Parliaments, like any institution, have specific cultural norms and practices, some of which actively work against the advancement of gender equality. Understanding the conditions under which female—and male—parliamentarians might succeed in promoting gender equality outcomes has become an important avenue for research and development practice. The focus on gender-sensitive parliaments allows for a framework to identify, and encourage the development of, those conditions.
There are four key elements of a gender-sensitive parliament. First, it accepts that the responsibility to achieve gender equality, both as a policy outcome and as a process, rests with the parliament as a whole (its male and female members and staff) and with the organizations that drive substantial policy, procedural, and normative development (political parties). Second, a gender-sensitive parliament is guided by institutional policies and legal frameworks, which allow the parliament to monitor its achievements toward gender equality and allow follow-up and review. Third, a gender-sensitive parliament institutionalizes a gender mainstreaming approach through its representational, legislative, and oversight work to ensure that all the parliament’s outputs consider, and counteract, any potential discrimination against women or men, girls or boys. This element requires a reconsideration of the process and structures of the parliament, including the respective roles and capacities of members and parliamentary staff. Fourth, a gender-sensitive parliament constantly strives to eliminate institutional cultures that sanction and perpetuate discriminatory, prejudicial norms and attitudes in the workplace against women members and staff.