Access to politics: Cost as a barrier

Encouraging broader political participation has been a cornerstone of international democracy support since its early days.

This has involved working to reduce barriers to entry to politics often based on gender, age, ethnicity, and other contextual factors. Over the past decade, however, an emergent barrier that has received less attention is the cost of politics.

The more expensive a political system is, the less accessible it becomes, and therefore the less representative and accountable. And the global evidence suggests that the costs for individuals moving from private life to public office are increasing, sometimes substantially. This means those with limited access to resources, such as the poor and many women and youth, cannot participate in the political process.

Moreover, in a country where the cost of politics is high, candidates pay large amounts of money in exchange for their constituents’ support and, in many cases, incur great amounts of debt to cover their expenses. Once in office, many will be tempted to take advantage of their access to state resources to pay their debts and, eventually, to finance their reelection – thus spiraling a vicious cycle of corruption.

To address the problem of the increasing cost of politics, countries need to examine their political systems and bring about the necessary changes through cross-party consensus. This is unlikely to happen unless stakeholders find means to break the pattern of incentives for candidates to spend vast amounts of money to get elected and maintain their seats once in office.

Given the detrimental consequences a high cost of politics can have on the democratic development of a country, WFD wants to contribute to addressing this problem through a three-staged approach:

  1. Conducting robust research on the drivers of the increasing cost of politics and encouraging dialogue among relevant stakeholders to discuss findings and conclusions
  2. Supporting multiple cross-party working groups to agree on what changes can be made in the political system to create greater affordability, transparency and accountability
  3. Providing flexible support to political parties, parliaments and executive bodies in the implementation of reforms necessary to address the causes of the increasing cost of politics
(Photo: Campaigning for President Magufuli’s 2015 win in Tanzania)

WFD is currently working on the first stage of this long-term strategy. After doing background studies in 2016 on the cost of politics in Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, and Ukraine, WFD is now conducting a six-month long primary research study on the cost of politics in Ghana.

WFD is implementing this project with funding from DFID’s Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) Initiative and with the assistance of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD). The study seeks to understand how the incentives and constraints that shape the behavior of constituents, political parties, candidates, and sitting MPs in Ghana before, during and after election periods can help explain the increase in the cost of politics in the country and inform strategies to develop a more affordable and accountable political system.

The research study will include survey questionnaires with 300 parliamentary candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, as well as key-informant interviews with political party representatives, traditional chiefs, and members of civil society. By interviewing a wide array of stakeholders, WFD seeks to gain a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of Ghana’s political system.

The study will be completed by July 2017. Its findings and conclusions will inform a national dialogue conference that will bring together stakeholders to discuss the implications of the increasing cost of politics to the development of Ghanaian democracy and to seek a consensus on how to change the pattern of incentives that is currently driving up costs.

This research study is the first comprehensive in-depth assessment of the cost of participating in politics conducted in Ghana. WFD hopes to replicate it in other countries and eventually draw conclusions that can improve the donor’s community understanding of political incentives and inform future programming on democracy strengthening.

More information on our Cost of Politics research is available here

(Top photo: A women casts her vote in the Ghanaian Presidential elections in December 2016)
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Closing civil society space in East Africa

(Above: Working groups discuss trends within the East Africa region and their effect on CSOs operating space: funding, legislation, freedom of information and human rights)

It has been said that democracy is not a spectator sport.

Good governance is rarely bestowed; it must be demanded and defended by active citizens participating in democratic processes. More often than not, the channel for this participation is through civil society organisations (CSOs), which give citizens the opportunity to engage constructively with government on a wide variety of issues.

But all across the world, civil society is under pressure. In many countries, both democratic and autocratic states are systematically restricting the work of civil society. These developments, collectively known as “closing space”, have become a global trend.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in collaboration with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), hosted a two-day conference on 13 and 14 March in Nairobi, Kenya, to explore opportunities to create a consistently open legislative environment for CSOs at the regional level. The event brought together CSOs, CSO Standardisation bodies, Government and academia to formulate draft principles toward the development of a regional bill to promote and protect CSOs.

Within East Africa, crippling legislation has been passed that severely limits the remit of CSOs. From the need for CSO activities to be approved by the government in Burundi to the inappropriate utilisation of the Cybercrimes Act (2015) in Tanzania, it is a challenging time for civil society. Davis Malombe, Executive Director at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, asked critical questions about overcoming negative legislation: “How do we consolidate the space for CSOs and show governments’ the space is ours and our inalienable right, how do CSOs organise themselves better?” he said.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), the region’s parliament – the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) – presents an opportunity for CSOs in the partner states to articulate their needs and interests as a block. Advocating nationally for supportive legislation and joint advocacy for harmonised legislation for CSO regulation within the partner states provide two options.

Zaa Twalangeti, Program Manager at Tanzanian CSO TAANGO, highlighted the importance of CSOs’ ability to promote and mobilise resources domestically to secure a power base within society: “CSOs assume they are representing citizens but has this been tested? What are we doing as a sector to ensure that we are entrenched as the voice of citizens and so that citizens demand our [CSO] space?” Jimmy Gotyana, South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), asked: “How can CSOs ensure their struggles are expressed within Parliaments and reach the right audience?”

Concerning trends emerging from the research paper and discussions included:

  1. Restrictive definitions of CSOs to only those concerned with service delivery and not advocacy;
  2. Lack of clarity and unreasonable conditions surrounding the registration processes of CSOs;
  3. Increasing regulation limiting funding to CSOs;
  4. Utilisation of various pieces of legislation i.e. cyber security, anti-terrorism, to undermine progressive CSO legislation;
  5. Lack of independence of CSO regulatory bodies and challenges with self-regulation and standards;
  6. Limited access for CSOs to participate in government or legislative processes, especially around the budget and policy;
  7. Lack of protection of CSOs and human rights defenders.

At the end of the two-day conference participating CSOs agreed that regional solidarity is needed and eight draft principles were agreed upon to form the basis of a draft regional bill. Stakeholders must now collaborate across borders and take proactive steps to engage with EALA in order for the draft regional bill to materialise.

This bill can ensure that CSOs operate in a more enabling environment with a dedicated framework for human rights defenders’ that will promote greater accountability from respective governments. The East African experience has the potential to contribute to the global discourse and provide a practical example of how this issue can be overcome.

This conference was organised by WFD’s Kenya Team, based in Nairobi, contact for more information. 

The WFD-EACSOF Commissioned Research on this topic which triggered this event will be available in coming months and is part of WFD’s wider research around this topic.

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Why regional networks are important for women’s empowerment

(Above: Representatives from sister parties in Africa, the Middle East, and Western Balkans attend Women’s Political Participation Day in Parliament organised by the Labour Party International Office)

Political parties play a fundamental role in ensuring women are represented at all levels of decision-making.

A key area of the Labour Party’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy work is supporting and developing the skills set of social democratic women to play a more active role in party politics and public life.

The establishment of regional networks like the Women’s Academy for Africa, the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Tha’era, and the CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans have allowed the Labour Party to facilitate mentoring, learning and best practice exchanges between women activists operating in very different contexts but facing very similar challenges.

In a recent visit to the UK Houses of Parliament to engage with UK politicians and women activists from different regions ahead of International Women’s Day 2017, all three groups explained what it is like to be a woman activist in their region and what they get out of international support.

Fatemah Khafagy, a representative of Tha’era from Egypt felt regional networks “are the only way to change things for women.” Improving women’s rights in the Middle East “is not an easy job; there is a lot to be done and a long road to go down” Fatemah explained, “But there is no other way.”

Tha’era has received support from the Labour Party since its inception in 2013. In two years, it has formally trained 150 women through a bespoke training programme, and hundreds more informally through the space created by the network.

Fatemah added that they “benefit so much from exchanges with different countries in the region, especially the ones who are more advanced.” Referring to neighbouring countries like Tunisia and Morocco whose parliaments are already tackling discriminatory legislation, described as “crippling women from being active in public life” by Laila Amili, a member of Tha’era from Morocco.

(Above: Members of Tha’era visit the Fabian Society on a previous best practice exchange organised by the Labour Party’s International Office)

Traditional attitudes and culture, including the violence and economic discrimination women face, play a huge role in shaping all women’s political experience. The Regional Commissioner of the Southern Africa Women’s Academy for Africa, said “a change in mindset, attitudes and beliefs is needed. Women can do things – not just what society has told them to do.”

The Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection.

Fellow WAFA member and Deputy Secretary General, Daisy Bathusi, explained that the exposure regional networks and engagement with international partners, like the Labour Party’s International Office is crucial for women’s development. “Women are stronger by networking, by sharing experiences and learning” Daisy said. “It is not only an opportunity to share what is going on in Africa or our region, but to learn from others and what challenges they face. Together we can find better solutions” she added.

The importance of sharing and engaging with other women activists was echoed by Sonja Lokar from Slovenia, who has been engaged with the Labour Party’s work from 2002. “We can’t do it without the support” Sonja added, “it’s not only money; it’s know how, best experiences, relationships with other networks. Without this we are not capable of connecting, of being in real daily contact to learn from each other.”

Representatives from the Western Balkans placed an emphasis on the role political parties can play in transforming attitudes towards women. “For us the never-ending question is how to achieve gender equality within the party and then how to act outside the party externally” Dajana Bakic, a member of the SDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina explained.

“Without the support of the Labour Party/WFD, and some other international groups, our parties would never had made the progress which has been done” Sonja added, but more work is required to ensure gender mainstreaming happens.

The Labour Party remains committed to supporting women around the world become active members of political life, through their WFD programming. The mainstreaming of women’s voices in politics might not be there yet but with women from around the world working together for change through regional networks significant change is long overdue.

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Uganda: Why the women’s parliament mattered

(Above: WFD supported the first ever women’s parliament to take place in Uganda in July 2015)

“Their trend of advocacy is different, their trend of passion is different” said former MP, Olivia Kabaale about women’s role in politics, “for example, in our parliament when the budget is being passed the women look at the health sector, or education of the girl child.”

Olivia Kabaale participated in the first ever women’s parliament to take place in Uganda organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in July 2015. At the time, she was a sitting MP in charge of the women’s desk in the Ugandan Parliament. in the Ugandan Women’s Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) who were instrumental in ensuring the buy in for the first ever women’s parliament to take place in East Africa.

Almost two years later and despite losing her seat in the February 2016 elections, Olivia is convinced that the women’s parliament brought real benefits to the women of Uganda. “We are very grateful that the women’s parliament took place” Olivia said, “if it could be an annual thing that would be very good, as we [Olivia remains an associate member of UWOPA] are looking at bringing together women in a united front for advocacy, for lobbying and to ensure that they are really entrenched in a democratic system of governance.”

The opportunity the women’s parliament provided for rural women, grassroots activists and members or parliament to connect and discuss issues that are truly important for Ugandan women, Olivia described as “a real milestone” in Uganda’s 52 years since independence.

“The challenges that rural women face were articulated, in fact the women were given good time [to talk] as we debated for the whole day and captured several things” Olivia explained. From healthcare to land rights, education of the girl child to domestic violence, the women’s parliament provided an opportunity to hear real testaments from women who had suffered and attempts to get these issues discussed at the national level. “Local women who come from the village articulated their issues and they felt involved, they felt considered and they felt they belonged in the country, so that was great” Olivia added.

(Above: Women from civil society participate at the Women’s Parliament alongside women MPs)

UWOPA played a key role delivering next steps; ensuring the debate was captured in an official record by the UWOPA Secretariat and encouraging members to table a report on the issues to the Gender Committee , through a motion tabled in the tenth parliament. The report covered “domestic violence, gender based violence and they also articulated about child abuse” Olivia explained, adding that “successfully two months after the women’s parliament the children’s act was amended .”

The benefits of the women’s parliament, however, were not only about getting issues that are important to women on the national political agenda. “They became leaders of sub-counties, so we feel happy that the first women’s parliament, organised to empower women, organised to make women gain that confidence, was a success” Olivia said. Inspiring and empowering women from different backgrounds in Uganda to get involved in politics was a fundamental goal.

Especially given that in any election period the number of women MPs can change , “we have around four women who made it” Olivia explained; “they contested, they went back after that empowerment and became members of parliament.” But, as Olivia found out when she unfortunately lost her seat it is not always that easy.

Despite this personal set back, Olivia remains committed to empowering other women parliamentarians in Uganda. “We give them support, as much as some of us are out [of parliament] we still encourage them” she said, explaining how she had provided training on the legislative process to new women MPs. “I passed on the skills and when they call on me I always come and assist” Olivia shared proudly, adding that her top tip was to focus on issues where you can really make a difference, like the education of the girl child.

Despite the success of the women’s parliament, there is still a long way to go in Uganda and around the world to achieve equality for women. “We need more women chairpersons of districts and we need more women leaders in various categories” Olivia added, “we feel that if we encourage the leaders, we sensitise the leaders then domestic violence can be reduced.”

WFD’s EU funded programme has ended but we remain committed to supporting women, youth and other marginalised groups in Uganda to engage fully in a democratic system that works for them.

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How does the cost of politics impact on marginalised groups?

(Above: Commissioner from Nigeria’s Electoral Commission addresses the Cost of Politics regional conference)

Money remains one of the single most important barriers to political participation, but there are other non-financial costs associated with being active in political life that need to be considered too.

We often forget about who is excluded from politics because they can’t afford to run for office, or who is discriminated against when they choose to engage.

The impact the increasing cost of politics has on marginalised groups such as women and disabled people was explored at Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s regional West Africa conference on 31st January and 1st February 2017. The two-day event explored the West African perspective with case studies from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The term ‘mainstream politics’ and how marginalised groups are thought of as fringe perspectives – to be brought in from the peripheries when needed – it was argued limits the expansion of views in political dialogue, often leading to key issues like healthcare, education and support for vulnerable people being ignored.

As Professor Abubakah Momoh, Director General of the Electoral Institute noted at the conference, anyone who does not have the financial resources or capital to insert themselves in the mainstream is effectively marginalised. The distinction between inclusion and participation is therefore crucial. While inclusion is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunities to all, it does not capture the agency of the individuals involved to actively participate and engage.

Women very often have the social capital – the meaningful relationships and networks within their communities – that is mobilised for their male political peers instead of for their own campaigns. In a workshop carried out in Gaborone, Botswana aimed at supporting current and prospective female candidates, I witnessed just how integral women are to the campaigns of their male peers – organising door-to-door leafleting, rallying, networking and campaigning. The question then is not about whether women are capable of contesting and holding political seats, but rather about supporting women to mobilise the skills they do have, and helping them to identify innovative ways to access the necessary financial resources.

(Above: Representatives of people with disabilities address the regional Cost of Politics)

When contesting a seat women or persons with disabilities are often attacked on a personal rather than a political basis suggesting the cost of politics are not only financial. Prospective women politicians often face higher levels of abuse and scrutiny when compared to their male counterparts. This was a point reiterated by a female MP who spoke candidly at the event of how she and her family had been threatened and a close relative kidnapped because of her frank and vocal political views. Women face far higher risks and are often criticised for defying traditional gender roles like looking after the family. This moves the dialogue away from the political capability of candidates to deliver on electoral issues and promises towards personal characteristics.

Persons with Disabilities, in many countries particularly in Africa, still face a lack of understanding and awareness from other citizens about what having a disability actually means. While countries have ratified international conventions and agreements to safeguard equal rights and fight discrimination, this is too often undermined by a failure to translate these into everyday practices, for example, braille versions of government documents; services for the hearing impaired, wheelchair accessible buildings. Until political and public spaces are more accessible it is difficult to meaningfully facilitate political participation amongst these groups.

The social cost of exclusion, marginalisation and the denial of fundamental rights to equal political participation is a real concern prospective candidates face around the world. Westminster Foundation for Democracy hopes our research into the full cycle of political participation and the costs associated at each stage will encourage active participation and engagement by people from all groups in political life. To do this we need to re-focus on the politics and not the personal.


By Tobi Ayeni, Programme Officer – Africa

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Supporting women councillors in Uganda to advocate for women’s rights

(Above: Betty Atim, former district councillor and Chair of the Women’s Caucus in Gulu, Uganda)

“If a man gets with you and wants to stay together then you should get some documentation” Betty Atim, former district councillor in Gulu and Chair of the Women’s Caucus, explains to her female constituents who face homelessness due to land rights disputes in Uganda.

Betty Atim participated in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy EU funded programme that supported local civil society organisations to raise awareness among district councillors about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The training on CEDAW delivered by GWED-G has provided local councillors with knowledge about existing international legislation, including on Land Rights, and how it can be used at the local level to protect women.

Raising awareness: What are women’s rights?

“What we [the women’s caucus] are now trying to do – is to sensitise our women and pass it over to them” Betty said. “Please don’t just sit with a man and think that you are settled, you must have something attached to you and that man, we say – and our women are now doing this” she explained.

In Uganda, half of the battle in protecting women from discrimination is ensuring they know what their rights are and that there is legislation in place both nationally and internationally to protect them. WFD’s work in Uganda centred around building the capacity of civil society organisations to ensure that laws designed to protect women were actually implemented at the local level.

“On Land Laws, most of us who were in the council didn’t know that we had the rights. We thought you could only talk about these issues in Church” Betty added “The support [WFD] gave GWED-G on certain components such as land was sobering for the women”.

Rosa Mon Abili, Secretary for education, health, sports and community based services also participated in the training added – “For us as district leaders we always believe that knowledge is power, so once we are invited to meetings like this we don’t want to miss out because we get a lot of information that really empowers us to do our work better and effectively.”

(Above: Ms Angwech Pamela Judith, Executive Director for GWED-G facilitates workshop in Gulu district, Uganda)

United for change: Working as the women’s caucus

Having the knowledge to act is the first step, but what was equally important for Betty and Rosa was being able to work with other women leaders from different political parties and sub-counties to advocate on behalf of women, something that was made possible through WFD’s support to GWED-G.

Through the women’s caucus, women councillors have worked together to support women in their community facing land disputes. “We move on to say how we can help a women” Betty added “with the grounds that yes she is a widow, but you cannot send a child to come and take over her property.”

Having representatives at the local level who understand the problems you are facing on a day to day basis because of your gender is so important for the women in Gulu that need help. “[She] then feels relaxed from talking to us and us saying that we can go to court, that we will get this issue sorted and that we can identify some good lawyers” Betty explained.

“To win this case you need to come as a unit, I think women are really picking up on that” Betty added reflecting on the importance of working as a caucus. The issue of gender based violence is fundamental to the CEDAW training too and Betty and Rosa felt the caucus was best placed to help with these cases.

“Most of our district leaders were so united that we were not looking at our party level” Rosa Mon Abili reflected on the changes in the district following the training and establishment of the caucus. “We were [focused] on the basis of service delivery and making sure that we throw one voice as women, because every women has the same kind of challenges” she said.

(Left: Participants at workshop learn about Land Rights and how they relate to CEDAW)

Working together for a brighter future

The sustainability of these changes, which are in their infancy, was something Betty, Rosa and their fellow women councillors knew they would not achieve on their own. Having the knowledge about international legislation, the solidarity of working with other women and the support of male champions are all key to seeing the long-term goal of improved women’s rights in Uganda.

“At least we know that to handle the issue of gender based violence we need men on board” Betty said “by sensitising us women alone, men are looking at it like they are not vulnerable, so by bringing a few men down they are adding to our polling.”

Okelo Peter Douglas Okow, District Speaker in Gulu was one man who played a key role in supporting the women’s caucus last year. “If women and girls do not participate in decision-making then their issues will not be incorporated into the district counties agenda” he explained.

The relationship the women’s caucus developed with the Speaker was crucial as it allowed for key issues, like land management or gender based violence, to be put on the local council agenda. “As the speaker, I interacted with them [the Women’s Caucus] and I am happy to say that this caucus helped the women in lobbying, advocacy and in championing women’s issues at the local government level” he continued.

WFD’s support to GWED-G has ended but we hope the skills, training and support provided to women councillors, male champions and GWED-G itself will continue to help women in rural Uganda. Betty, for example, is just one councillor who now feels confident enough explaining to women why they should not be physically abused, or thrown out of their homes. If she continues to pass on this knowledge and explain to women who come to her for help that they have been treated badly and that they can do something about it, then the future will be very different for women.

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From Northern Ireland to DRC: Women and the peace process

(Above: Members of the delegation from DRC in Belfast, Northern Ireland )

All civilians suffer in conflict, but women and children often bear the burden.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Democratic Republic of Congo where citizens have suffered since 1994. Women were exposed to the harsh realities of conflict, but when it came to building a lasting peace agreement were denied a seat at the table.

In January, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy invited a targeted group of women political and civil society activists from DRC to learn important lessons about the role they can play in bringing about lasting resolution to conflict. Outbreaks of violence still occur in some regions even today, but we hope through best practice exchanges with key institutions involved in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland women activists will be encouraged to participate fully in the process.

Empowering women leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to facilitate meaningful change through their work was at the heart of WFD’s previous programme. Our support to Dyfcoside, a group composed of 8 women MPs and 12 representatives of women CSOs led to the submission of the first ever non-budget related edict in Province Orientale submitted by women representatives. This demonstrates how MPs and CSO activists can overcome traditional social barriers and work effectively together to advance issues of social justice on behalf of citizens. A model that could apply significantly to bringing lasting peace in DRC.

By facilitating the sharing of lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process, the delegation were encouraged to engage in inclusive dialogue with excluded parties from different communities and exposed to ways in which women build influence the peace process at home and abroad.

“The visit to Belfast was very beneficial as we were able to see women first hand who have taken charge when experiencing their own difficulties” Nasha Mulangala who has held various roles in civil society said. Meeting with women who initiated dialogue in Northern Ireland resonated with members of the delegation. Nasha added “I believe they can provide us with the tools to help lobby for our own cause and organise ourselves back home, both in Kinshasa and in the provinces.”

(Above: Participants at WFD organised workshop in Province Orientale, DRC, 2014)

Reflecting on the time in Northern Ireland, Eve Bazaiba, Secretary-General for opposition party Movement for Liberation of the Congo explained that “seeing how they get the community together is very important.” She added that “the conflict in Congo is very different because it was mostly political conflict but the consequences and the way of dealing with it are the same.”

As a post-conflict democracy that has received wide acclaim for its ability to successfully negotiate peace terms after more than three decades of sectarian violence, the Northern Ireland Assembly is an important case and reference point for modern peacebuilding efforts.

Monique Kapuwa Kande, member of Alliance of Christian Democrats (ACHRED), also participated in the visit explained that this experience “helps to guide [women in DRC] and show them the path that would help them see the direction they need to go on” she added that “by taking us to places like Belfast we were able to see things outside of the box and that there are opportunities available.”

To date, peace-building in Northern Ireland has utilised a range of actors working with various target groups at all levels of society to address the causes and dynamics of conflict through reconciliation and reconstruction, state-building and political and social transformation.

Sustainability of any peace-agreement is crucial and the Northern Ireland model points to this. Ms Kapuwa Kande noted in DRC “we get bogged down in the conflict and can’t really see anything that is beyond the immediate but this visit has given us ideas for a long-term approach.”

In the future, WFD wants to engage grassroots activists in DRC to engage communities in solutions that can lead to sustainable peace. Women often bring a different perspective to negotiations that men are missing. “By helping women and educating women you are helping the community, it has that cascading effect” Lucie Basonea Isude, member of New Alliance of Democrats (NAD) explained, “The presence of women in these political discussions is necessary.”

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Women’s political participation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is expected to hold general elections in March 2018. This provides an opportunity to increase the level of women’s political participation. Women constitute more than 51% of the total population but occupy only 15 out of 124 seats in parliament.

On 20 and 21 February, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) hosted a two-day summit in Freetown with legislators, political party officials, election authorities, UN Women and civil society organisations from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. Organised in collaboration with the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), the event aimed at finding concrete and effective solutions to promote women’s access and participation in political life.

Opening a roundtable on barriers to participation, Dr Fatou Taqi, President of the 50/50 Group said: “women make up over 50% of the Sierra Leone population and when you give them a chance to participate then you will see that half of your problems have been solved”.

As political campaigns continue to be competitive, candidates face a range of issues from financial constraints to political violence, a lack of political mentoring and other immaterial barriers set up to deter women.

“Women need to support each other and mentor each other. We have the strength and we don’t even realise the strength that we have until we face the difficulty” explained Augusta James Telma, Secretary General from the All Political Party Women’s Association (APPWA); “we just have to use that strength”.

Delegates noted that to encourage inclusive and representative democracy, women must be supported in diverse yet sustainable ways. Diversity should be guaranteed at all levels of government: within political parties, national parliament and local authorities.

Sunkarie Kamara, Mayor of Makeni demonstrated this through sharing her story of resilience: “in my council, we have achieved exemplary gender balance of almost 50% men and 50% women” she said; “I would advise women here to take full advantage of their capacities. From my experience, persistence and being adamant is key. I was intimidated and silenced but I remained steadfast. Only then they realised that I was being serious.”

Delegates took part in panel discussions, group work, case studies and sharing of personal stories between participants. Former Ugandan MP Olivia Kawagala, told participants that “stopping women from performing and coming forward is violence against women.” This was seconded by Rose Sakala, former UN Consultant on Conflict Resolution in Zambia , who said “When you stop women from what they want to do and limit them in their homes that is also a form of violence”.

Mohamed Alpha Jalloh, WFD’s Country Representative in Sierra Leone explained that women’s’ political participation is essential to deepen democracy in the country. To achieve greater participation of women in politics a collective effort is required. “We need men who can serve as role models to stand up, stand tall and proudly champion the democratic course of women’s political participation in partnership with women” Mohamed explained, “I am a woman champion and will lead WFD’s support to promote women’s political participation in Sierra Leone.”

WFD continues to support women through its programmes in Africa. Our Sierra Leone activities will support the enhancement of Sierra Leonean women’s leaders in achieving their full potential in politics.

This event was part of WFD’s programme that brings together parliamentary and political party expertise.

It is being implemented in parallel to a parliamentary programme and a DFID-funded elections programme: ‘Standing Together for Free, Fair and Peaceful Elections,’ which we are implementing in consortium with local partners.


(Photo: Top: Participants at the end of the two-day summit in Freetown, Sierra Leone)
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The real value of regional programmes

Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

In some international development circles, the term “regional programme” carries with it a certain stigma.

“Expensive…too many international flights…no national impact…unsustainable” are just some of the criticisms lodged against regional programmes. Moreover, the tendency among most major donor agencies to devolve decision-making powers to embassy level leads to minimal demand for regional programmes, as what embassy wants to dilute their resources for the sake of other countries?

As a recipient of a global grant from FCO and DFID, WFD is in the privileged position to be able to design and deliver regional programmes that otherwise would be difficult to find funding for from the donor community. This has allowed us to deliver a series of unique programmes in the Western Balkans, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Africa that are driving significant political reforms in financial oversight, women’s rights, and parliamentary and political party effectiveness.

For over two decades, WFD has been facilitating exchanges between the UK and partner countries in order the share the best of the British experience in political party and parliamentary practice. In recent years, we came to realise that we could enhance our approach by supporting exchanges among our partners through regional programmes and not just between the UK and the rest of the world.

At first, our decision was based on the recognition that the UK’s systems and practices might not be as relevant to our beneficiaries as good practices from their own region, where history, language, political systems, and resources were often more similar than to the UK. However, over the years we have increasingly recognised that as relationships deepen among our partner parties and parliaments, a form of “positive peer pressure” begins to develop, whereby our partners compete to see who can make the most progress on its reform goals.

(Above: From top: Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Regional meeting on SDGs hosted with GOPAC in Asia, Network of Parliamentary Committees from the Western Balkans)

The UK’s Liberal Democrat Party, through its support to the Africa Liberal Network, was able to secure human rights commitments – including prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – among more than 40 political parties across the continent, a result that would have been impossible working only at the national level. The Labour Party’s Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection. The Conservative Party, Green Party, and Scottish National Party are increasingly investing in this model as well.

Meanwhile, regional parliamentary programmes in the Western Balkans and MENA are bringing together members of parliament (MPs) with mutual interests in financial oversight and combatting violence against women, respectively. In 2015 WFD collaborated with the Serbian Parliament – with technical expertise from the Scottish Parliament – to establish the country’s first parliamentary budget office (PBO), which WFD hoped would inspire other parliaments in the region to consider establishing similar bodies. Soon after, WFD began working with the Montenegrin Parliament to establish a PBO, and WFD is now in similar discussions with the Kosovo Parliament.

WFD has supported the Arab Women MP Coalition Against Violence since its founding in 2014, helping establish chapters across MENA to advocate at both regional and national levels to combat violence against women and girls. With the support of FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, over 250 MPs from 11 Arab Parliaments have provided each other moral and technical support in developing national legislation, with notable improvements made in domestic legislation in Lebanon, and new draft laws on domestic violence in development in Tunisia, Iraq, and Morocco. The Coalition is also working closely with Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU) to develop a regional convention on violence against women and girls; with WFD’s support, the Coalition was recently granted official observer status by the AIPU.

In short, we believe regional programmes can deliver results in ways that other programmes cannot, and that WFD and the UK parties will continue to explore the potential of regional programmes to catalyse widespread political and governance reform.


(Top: The Labour Party supports Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity through it’s WFD funded programme)
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The Cost of Politics in West Africa: WFD regional conference

How do we make politics more affordable?

This is the central question WFD’s research into the cost of politics is tackling. The research programme, launched last July in London, will explore the issue in West Africa by convening the region’s experts at a conference in Nigeria on 31 January.

The conference will address the whole cycle candidates face – from securing nomination to campaigning and maintaining a parliamentary seat – and the associated costs individuals face at each stage of this journey.

The variations in social, cultural and political dimensions that exist between Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone will be examined with the aim of exposing the different contexts politicians must operate in, and the impact this has on the incentives which drive MPs.

“Because our work is political, it is most successful when there is political will – a factor commonly driven by incentives. What we’re learning is that a lot of these incentives are set well in advance and the cost of politics plays an important role in determining the incentives” WFD’s Regional Director for Africa, George Kunnath, explained.

To address the issue of incentives in the region, the event will focus on how existing regulations can be enhanced and the role political parties and the media play in shaping them.

The impact this phenomenon has on marginalised groups, such as women and youth, as well as the need for cross-border cooperation will be debated by leading experts from election management bodies, civil society, political parties, MPs, the media, academia and enforcement agencies. By facilitating cross-border learning and an exchange of best practice we hope to identify priority issues that can be addressed in the region, with the long-term aim of developing a regional action plan.

Going beyond an assessment of politicians and political parties, the conference will look at the role citizens and society play within this phenomenon and the broader impact this has on governance. In Ghana, George Kunnath explained “people have done the numbers and realised it is not worthwhile for them to get into politics” – especially when an MP is compelled to spend £750 a month supporting funerals in their communities. These ‘associated costs’ mean political life is intrinsically linked to corrupt practice, whether by securing re-election through the exploitation of state resources or the increased power that comes with the role.

Adebowale Olorunmola, WFD Country Representative for Nigeria, highlights trust as a major issue in the region. Contributing to WFD’s Cost of Politics report he illustrated the “gulf between the parties and people” that currently exists; a gulf created in part by the huge costs associated with selection but also by the motivations of current politicians who “get into political office to serve personal interests, leaving well-intentioned citizens, with ideas to move society forward, without access”.

For more information about WFD research click here. Follow WFD on Twitter for updates on the #CostofPolitics


(Above: Photo – Henry Donati captured citizens’ waiting to vote in Ghana’s most recent presidential elections as an Election Observer on the European Union Mission in December.)
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