At the local and community level all the way to the highest levels of government, women are often underrepresented in leadership positions, left without a voice in decision-making and ignored as an electorate. Women hold only 22 percent of national parliamentary positions globally. This means that women are underrepresented in all facets of the political process often due to social-cultural barriers, the absence of training and resources for women’s political organizing, standards of living and precarious economic challenges.
Through the conversation Empowering Women in Political Participation and Leadership, New Tactics in Human Rights has sought to uncover the tools, tactics and resources used by individuals and organizations to empower women to overcome the obstacles preventing them from political equity and equality.
The obstacles to the political participation of women listed by the participants to the conversation were the lack of public/social support and political party support, entrenched traditional views, lack of confidence, lack of financial means, lack of capacity building opportunities, lack of access to technology, gender discrimination, division according to ethnic lines, violence, and intimidation.
Tactical Examples Shared to overcome the obstacles
- Local role models who share their experiences and knowledge to help build local capacity
- Women's wings within political parties as part of the political party decision making structures
- National Democratic Institute (NDI) is piloting a new data collection tactic to train election observers to look for and recognize violence against women in elections so that it can be mitigated and formulate strategies for prevention
- Coalition of women's non- governmental organizations to lobby for policy reform in support of gender equality. Organized efforts of women’s groups (more than one hundred organizations across Canada came together to ask federal party leaders to commit to a debate on women in the upcoming 2015 election
- Women’s caucuses to provide structured support through training programs and by making workplaces more hospitable for women. Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) and Arab Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI). African Women's leadership Insitute, an initiative of Akina Mama wa Africa.
- Cross-sector women’s caucuses
- Constitutional provisions
- In 2006, the Fiji Womens’ Rights Movement engaged with local businesses in fundraising on behalf of women which enabled women candidates to focus on campaigning
- Mandatory quota for the participation of women in local elections. Morocco introduced 30 percent quota for women in party decision-making bodies in 2011-Gender quotas
- Fundraising for women political candidates
- Giving training in the political process to women
- Working together with key political institutions
- USPEaK in Lebanon trains women in conflict resolution, media and social media trainings, leadership, advocacy and campaigning
- Support from International and local women's organizations . Project Womankind and WiLDAF-Ghana implemented women’s political participation by providing other in-kind support to female candidates to the local District Assembly elections
- Establishing women’s Leadership Schools (WLS) as was done by the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN)
- Long term regional women’s partnerships
- Political education forums for women
- Public support through street protests
- Consistent lobbying and campaigns
- Training at grassroot levels
- Electoral codes of conduct to prevent violence and intimidation
- Partnering with local shop owners to create neighborhood safe zones free of sexual harassment
- Organizing intervention teams to rescue women who are sexually assaulted during protest demonstrations
- Using victims testimonies to create public awareness and encourage positive action
- Organizing mock tribunals to raise awareness of human rights abuses and influence public policy
- Gender mainstreaming
Women’s Political Participation
Women’s political participation is the actual and equal involvement of women in the governance of the communities they belong to whether via elective, appointive or merited positions. It means the recognition and value attached to the contribution of all including women in the governance system of any community/country. Decision-making becomes beneficial to the entire country when it reflects the collaborative inputs from all members of the community without discrimination.
It is important to have both quantity and quality in the women taking part in governance. Studies have revealed that increased women’s participation has resulted in a bigger economic benefit, increased cooperation across party lines and more sustainable conflict resolution. It is important to raise women’s engagement in politics by raising their awareness of opportunities available, building confidence and skills. Targeting women at the grassroot level has brought about impactful results as can be seen in Saudi Arabia where women are allowed for the first time to run as candidates in the local elections.
NGOs have been a very strong driving force behind the increase in the number of women in the political arena by linking local campaigns to global actions and trends. The United Nations through its various conventions which governments have adopted have set the minimum international standards such as the Beijing Platform for Action, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and Moreso, including regional instruments for gender equality.
Political parties are essential vehicles that could enable women’s participation in the political system.
Obstacles to Women’s Political Participation
The obvious obstacles are traditional and cultural barriers that are entrenched and social norms and attitudes against women as leaders and decision makers. It is important for women to have the necessary social and family support to overcome this. It is important to highlight the benefits of having women in decision making and to have local role models to help build local capacity. To engender political parties, it is useful to have mandatory quotas such as 30% minimum women in leadership structures and having women’s wings within political parties.
Another major threat for women is violence and intimidation. This can be prevented by having electoral codes of conduct and assistance from non-governmental organizations such as International Republican Institute (IRI) on good practices adopted to local conditions.
Another obstacle facing women are economic barriers. This can be mitigated by enlisting the assistance of women in business and obtaining in kind resources similar to project Womankind and WiLDAF-Ghana provided other in-kind support to female candidates in the local District Assembly elections. Campaign financing restrictions and measures to curb corruption should be imposed.
Another obstacle faced by women is the lack of access to information and communication technologies (ICT) which also been used to attack women. Positively, ICT can be used to raise awareness of women’s political activism and to organize campaigns for advocacy such as HarassMap in Egypt.
Political Parties and Electoral Systems
Women in parties have to be specific with party leaders with behaviors and practices that exclude them from decision-making. In the US, change in the internal rules for the Democratic Party convention and structures over 30 years ago have paved the way for more women’s participation. It is important to have fundraising such as Emily’s List (www.emilyslist.org) specifically for women candidates to enable them to focus on campaigning. UNDP and NDI had produced a publication entitled "Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A guidebook to promote women's political participation" (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/womens-empowerment/empower-women-political-parties/) to guide women and political parties on the issues to consider throughout the electoral cycle.
Women need to support each other by having strong caucuses to further their interests. Mandatory quotas for women have been successful in increasing women’s participation in elections such as in Spain where researchers found that Spain's mandatory quota (requiring parties to ensure 40% of their candidates for local elections were women) had measurable positive effects for parties.
Training and Empowerment
International and local women's organizations play a substantial role in increasing women's participation in politics such as IRI's Women's Democracy Network (WDN)’s Women’s Political Education Forums (WPEF) has been used to increase women's political engagement. Conducting training such as developing media skills, designing campaigns and building knowledge of key national and local policy issues along with long term mentoring has assisted in building women’s confidence to take on leadership roles beginning at grassroots levels.
Compendium of Good Practices for Advancing Women's Political Participation in the OSCE Region (new resource released May 2016)
© 2007 Sean Hawkey, Courtesy of Photoshare