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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“Positive change” in Province Orientale

(Above: Training of trainers event with the RCPP in Kinshasa.)

“The WFD has brought a lot to Province Orientale. With every WFD seminar comes positive change.” So says Mr Germain Mbav Yav, Head Clerk to the Legal and Administrative Committee and member of the Réseau Congolais des Personnels des Parlements/Congolese Network of Parliamentary Staff RCPP. And what’s more, “all the MPs and officials are now committed and eager to improve their work.”

Mr Mbav Yav’s comments came at the end of four years of work by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) supporting the RCPP which was established in 2009 as a network of parliamentary staff across all of the DRC’s legislative bodies. By providing parliamentary expertise to instill parliamentary practices and approaches, the WFD programme sought to support the emergence of a dynamic and vibrant parliamentary culture that would be attentive to the needs of the provinces.

Germain has worked in the senate since 2005 in various positions but since 2012 he has worked in the role of Head Clerk. During this time, he has received various trainings from the French National Assembly and the UNDP but it was not until WFD became involved with the senate that Germain was truly able to realise his potential, “WFD allowed me to put into practice the training that I received in legislative drafting, not only by supporting me in drafting the module on legislative drafting but WFD also went ahead and published my work afterwards.” The example module Germain refers to was reviewed by Alistair Doherty a former UK House of Commons Clerk for over thirty years. Using British parliamentary expertise in this case has led to concrete, practical tools that can be used for learning after the programme ends.

(Above: Germain delivers training on legislative drafting to other members of the RCPP.)

Furthermore, before attending the ‘training of trainers’ seminars, Germain was unsure how to ensure his training sessions were of practical use to the trainees. “The tools of this training provided by WFD have really helped me to focus more on the effectiveness of a training session rather than just simply developing an activity that has no real objective and gets no tangible results,” he says. Instilled with this new level of confidence, and possessing new and effective training insights and skills, Germain has been able to make a positive impact on his colleagues. “Since this training, I make an effort to give my staff advice and suggestions, so that they can express their talents and shine.”

But it is not just Germain who has seen the fruits of WFD’s labour. At a broader level, there have also been noticeable positive changes and improvements. Germain has noted how officials and MPs are keen to learn and improve and, crucially, officials are now more cognizant of the fact that in their official capacity as parliamentary officials they need to remain politically neutral even if they do belong to political parties. Furthermore, following a study visit to the provincial assembly of the former Katanga province, Germain highlights how “MPs are working hard to respect the rule of procedure more consistently.”

The WFD programme has also achieved impact at the national level in the DRC, especially on missions carried out by the RCPP, the operations of the technical unit, the influence of the administrative secretariat and the functioning of the provincial assembly of the former Province Orientale. More specifically, the seminar on parliamentary institutional communications that was organised in 2010 in Matadi by RCPP and WFD, was noted to be particularly successful. As a result of this seminar and the support provided by RCPP and WFD, protocol and communication services began to really take shape in the provincial assemblies. So impactful was this seminar that the Rapporteur of the Provincial Assembly for Bas-Congo (who attended the seminar in its entirety) informed the President of the Provincial Assembly of the work that the RCPP and WFD were doing. Germain was extremely happy to observe that “it was following this seminar that he (the President) came to understand how important it was for the MPs to rely on and work with the administration.”

The work that WFD has been doing in DRC in supporting the work of the RCPP fits well with the overall mission of WFD. In helping the RCPP to instill effective parliamentary practices and approaches, the work carried out by RCPP and the WFD has resulted in an increased professionalism and more fruitful relationships amongst staff and MPs, and furthermore, as Germain notes, “finally, and for the first time, the DRC has books on legislative drafting, parliamentary chancellery and the drafting of parliamentary documents.”

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Improving capacity of journalists to report on CEDAW

(Above: Cutting season is about to start in Sebei, Eastern Uganda. An article on the topic was celebrated at WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW)

“By talking about these issues, it feeds the community with knowledge” says Joyce Chemitai, Bureau Chief at Daily Monitor Publications in Uganda. “I realised we were not doing anything on gender related issues, so [the WFD sponsored training] triggered me to get into gender reporting.”

From land rights to domestic violence, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) should ensure women are protected against a range of issues that impact on their lives. Journalism in Uganda tackles many different topics, but coverage of violations of CEDAW is lacking. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work supporting the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) training of journalists is laying the ground work for changes to traditional attitudes regarding women. Journalism can be instrumental in increasing recognition of existing international and domestic legislation in place to protect women from discrimination. Our work encouraging journalists to report on issues related to gender has contributed to increased levels of awareness within communities about the challenges women face.

“Traditionally in our communities we think many of the wrongs that happen are good, it has happened because it should happen, like violence against women” Joyce said. But through her writing about gender based violence Joyce is contributing to changing that perception.

One of the major challenges journalists face is accessing information for their reports. “I have done a few pieces and even currently I am doing a project on men” Joyce explained. “I realised out of my interactions with the communities that many men neglected their families. The women are the ones carrying everything at home. If you go to the police, to NGOs who take complaints on women’s issues the major complaint is negligence. Men go drink, they come back and beat up the women” she continued.

Through the support provided by WFD, Joyce was educated about CEDAW, how it can protect women and how to monitor when the convention is violated – techniques that Joyce is putting into practice to get the information she needs for her current piece. “I am in touch with the police to compile for me [the figures], so I ask them to give me a report of CEDAW related cases, of child abuse, of violence against women” she said, as well as contacting the federation of female lawyers and NGOs like ActionAid to get statistics on domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. Monitoring violations and reporting on them increases knowledge within the community and holds law enforcement to account, although not without challenges.  “Sometimes even police are compromised, you go to them and you want information, but they tell you “No, we are still investigating, this is not happening”.”

(Above: Joyce, far right, participates in WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW alongside district councillors )

That’s why cooperation is key. By supporting several journalists in the Sebei region of Uganda increased coordination and sharing of information was facilitated through the programme. Joyce noted the value of continued coordination with journalists from the training and she tries to encourage ones who did not participate to spread knowledge on issues related to CEDAW like gender based violence or female genital mutilation. “When there is an issue [to report on] I always call someone and I am like “Why don’t you take this up? There is this issue that is happening” Joyce said.

“Now the local radios here also call the police or local government officers who are directly responsible for a case” Joyce explained “when you talk about it on media the community will realise it is a bad thing.” It’s not just Joyce and fellow journalists who have benefitted from WFD’s support. Increased reporting on CEDAW and women’s rights is helping to transform damaging traditional attitudes in rural Uganda that impact negatively on women and girls. “There is a feedback session that helps community members to also get involved in case there are any problems, so they can help to report it, they can help to take that person to hospital. It builds confidence among the victims, or just community members who now understand” Joyce said.

And the more members of the community who understand the damaging impact discrimination against women and girls has on the individuals involved, the community they come from and Uganda as a whole, the more likely that CEDAW and the accompanying domestic legislation will stand a chance of being implemented effectively and women’s interests truly represented.

Joyce’s story demonstrates how important values are in a democratic system. Freedom of expression through an actively engaged press that is not afraid to report on controversial topics can play a fundamental role holding the government and parliament to account. Asking questions about traditional norms and reporting on abhorrent cases of gender based violence ensures this important issue stays on the political agenda.

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Interview: Samson Itado

(Above: Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YAIGA) organising for change programme, 2014)

Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), explained the contribution young people can make to political life in Nigeria.

WFD will support YIAGA as it seeks legislative reform to the constitution that currently blocks 60% of the population under the age of 35 from participating in political life, whilst sharing the UK political party experience of engaging with young people through sister-party networks.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in YIAGA?

YIAGA got started as a student discussion group in the University of Jos nine years ago. We all started meeting in each other’s rooms to discuss student unionism, human rights issues and how the school was intimidating the student union. We grew from that – promoting human rights to educate and enlighten students about their rights.

Over the last nine years the organisation has carved an image for itself as one of the leading CSOs working on youth. We have built a reputation for ourselves in that field as well as in elections, democracy and public accountability. Today we sit on several committees in the parliament and the electoral commission. And it might interest you to know that YIAGA is still led by young people under 35.

Why are young people so important for Nigeria’s future?

First and foremost, the point needs to be made that developed nations were able to tap into the resourcefulness of the productive workforce, which is the young population that make up 60% of population in Nigeria.
Young people – history and studies have shown – are energetic, skilful and resilient. These are the qualities developing countries like Nigeria need to tap into for development.

And secondly, the issue of inclusion. When you talk about inclusive government for democratic development you need to involve all of the critical stakeholders. If 60% of your population are young then they should actually have a say in the way their society is being governed, in how their resources are being used.

How involved are young people at the moment in Nigeria – what outlets and channels exist for them to participate in political life?

We must look from two perceptions. There is formal political participation and then informal spheres. For the formal structures, of course you’ve got voting at elections. You’ve also got youth institutions like the national youth council and the Nigerian Youth Parliament. There are also young people who are used as election officials by the Electoral Commission.

But within the political parties we have noticed a low turnout of young people as candidates and this is related to the lack of internal party democracy, the increasing cost of politics and running for office in Nigeria, as well as legal factors.

The constitution excludes young people from actually running for office at a very young age. You have to be at least 40. This is unlike what you have in the UK, with an alignment between the voting age and the age of being a candidate. In Nigeria, you have to wait to be a certain age before you can run for office and that is completely undemocratic.

Why do you think these attitudes exist towards young people in Nigeria?

The Constitution was introduced in 1979 following military intervention and decided by the constitution drafting committee, who thought that young people are too adventurous and can be too destabilising if not properly monitored.

Young people have been organising at different levels since then. There are different social political movements across the country advocating for constitutional amendments. One of the most successful campaigns ongoing in Nigeria is the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign – a local campaign that aims to increase the number of young people running for office.

Our political parties have contributed to excluding young people from the political process through party constitutions, party guidelines and the selection of delegates for party congresses. And what has worsened the situation is the fact that the youth engaged in the political parties do not have youth wings or caucuses to represent them.

(Above: #NotTooYoungToRun campaign)

Are young people eager to get involved in politics in Nigeria?

Yes, there is an appetite for young people to get involved despite the argument that political engagement is not interesting for them. Politicians think young people are too adventurous, and that they care too much about fashion, music and entertainment than governance, but that is not the case.

There is a huge appetite amongst young people who want to run for office, but how can they run for office when the constitution excludes them? How can they run for office when they are economically disadvantaged? The stereotypes have been institutionalised and learning is needed if the space is to be opened up for young people.

Capacity is also an issue. We look at our education system: What kind of subjects, what’s in the curriculum, do we have state education? There are a lot of issues that will need to be addressed if we want to increase the participation of young people in the political process.

How do you hope the programme with WFD will help contribute to greater participation of young people in politics in Nigeria?

There is the need to build very strong partnerships between youth and political parties, including those who are not members. Strengthening their advocacy skills and supporting party reforms to open up the space for young people to get involved is central. We need to engage the youth leaders of political parties and build their capacity to strengthen youth engagement. Political parties do not have structured party programmes that are targeted at building youth leadership. Parties do not improve young people’s capacity for advocacy, political organising or even on standard governance issues of how to participate. So those platforms will need to be created and the political parties can actually help these platforms.

By looking at good practices elsewhere we can learn from them. Promoting cross-cultural engagement or peer learning is a key tool that can help close the knowledge and capacity gap. It would be nice to learn how young people are organising in political parties in the UK, as well as what is also happening in Nigeria.

Experience-sharing has proven to be one of the fastest ways young people can learn, because they learn from the practical experience of their peers who have actually gone through the murky waters of politics and have succeeded, and learnt from the challenges of their experience in office. So, for young people who want to run in 2019, they will learn from this experience and ensure that they structure their campaign well enough to help them secure the needed votes..

You mentioned earlier that the Government’s perception of young people is that they are only interested in fashion and music – can focusing on the issues that are important across Nigeria show that young people have the ability to succeed politically?

Yes, absolutely. But check the social media use in Nigeria. Today young people are asking questions on social media platforms and asking their elected representatives critical political and governance questions.. There is a new paradigm with state actors and public officials today, who have used social media for getting policy and feedback for the Government.

We can use music to talk to young people about issues of our governance. And young people can also use music to contribute to democratic development or even public accountability. The point must remain that young people as a social category have a way of doing stuff. We have our own language, the way we dress – some will continue to use the tools that we have to propagate our own message, mobilise our peers, engage the government and make them listen, whilst also creating platforms where government can interact with young people on policy related issues. That is very key.

You have a big task ahead of you – what are the key challenges you will face?

The first challenge will be access to data. Ours is a country that has no privatised data, we have no data. Because this programme is hoping to be cascaded at the state level and not just the national level, we are looking at local communities as well. That will require data from all different levels about who is active in politics.

The second issue will be the political climate and the political parties. Working with parties who are floored with leadership crisis will make it very difficult to actually coordinate. That is one of the traps. Identifying young people as the key beneficiaries of the project is something that will take time.

The level of funding and the frequency, as well as the time frame for delivery can also constitute a challenge. But my sense will be that within the limited resources available we will have a maximum impact.

Sam, thanks very much for talking to us.

No problem.

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Tynwald offers helping hand to Sierra Leone’s Parliament

(Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone meet with officials from the Isle of Man)

“Hansard is behind, out-of-date, and only a historical record when it is finally produced,” say Musa L A Foullah, Editor of Debate, and Patience C Brown-Dawson, Stenographer from the Parliament of Sierra Leone following their participation in a two-week secondment to the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald).

The backlog that has developed in the Parliament of Sierra Leone means the official record (‘Hansard’) is only prepared after several months have passed – an area Ellen Callister, Head of Hansard at the Isle of Man’s Parliament (Tynwald) was keen to support.

“The more up-to-date Hansard becomes, the more people will become interested in the Parliament,” Sierra Leone’s Hansard officials hope. “It may even become a problem to cope with such growing demand!”

Having an official record of what’s been said in a Parliament is fundamental to any democracy. This is why parliaments maintain written records of their proceedings so they can be accessed by citizens, civil society and – of course – politicians.

“At the present time very few people are interested in reading Hansard,” Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson explain. “Typical users are university students, lobby groups and NGOs, looking especially at the controversial issues.

“To find out what is happening currently in the Parliament, people rely mainly on the media – PR and the national broadcaster on radio and TV – to tell the public about the main decisions made.”

As Westminster Foundation for Democracy prepared a broader programme in Sierra Leone supporting the new parliament after elections due in early 2018, it identified an opportunity to help address the limited usage of Hansard.

Thanks to the willingness of Ellen Callister and her colleagues to engage with their Sierra Leone counterparts, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson could discuss ideas about what might help clear the backlog – caused by a lack of good-quality equipment and limited knowledge of best practice.

The fortnight of hands-on, practical training will be followed by a visit from an Isle of Man Hansard representative, alongside a representative from the Chamber & Information Service, who are eager to evaluate progress and to share further best practice regarding research and outreach with the Parliament of Sierra Leone. Learning from smaller parliaments and the devolved assemblies across the UK can be very valuable, and this exchange proved no exception.

Helping the team work better will, as Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson put it, “enable staff to feel less isolated and dispirited at having to do such a huge amount of work on their own”.

But it’s not just the Parliament of Sierra Leone’s Hansard team which will benefit.

(Above: Freetown, Sierra Leone)

“The biggest difference if the Hansard service is improved will be to the civil servants and to the general public,” they say. “This will cause people to do things right, effectively and on time.”

“A well-functioning Hansard will enable MPs and the public to access Hansard on time and make quick reference to past debates and follow up where needed.

“If Hansard is more quickly produced and up to date, it is more relevant and there will be greater demand and reliance on it as the official record.

“As a consequence, it will enable more effective lobbying of MPs and Government Ministers.”

In the wake of the Ebola epidemic and in the lead-up to elections in early 2018, Sierra Leone needs its Parliament to be operating at full effectiveness. WFD intends to assist with this by stepping up its engagement in Freetown through a long-term parliamentary and integrated programme to support the Parliament.

It’s an institution which will play a crucial role in Ebola recovery and will require continued and reliable support from the international community if it is to perform its essential legislative and oversight functions.

The Parliament’s most pressing issues, Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson, say, are for it to improve financial scrutiny and more broadly its oversight of Government departments; and for the implementation of both Committee recommendations and laws passed by Parliament. WFD’s work will address this need by providing support on administrative capacity-building; financial oversight and internal financial management; providing the Parliament with research capacity; and strengthening the protection of human rights, as well as parliamentary engagement with civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, follow-up planned for later this year will ensure the changes discussed on the two-week secondment at Tynwald become a reality. Mr Foullah and Miss Brown-Dawson have already started putting their experience from the Isle of Man into practice. In October, five parliamentary sessions took place in the Parliament of Sierra Leone and all five have been transcribed with four published on the website.

As with all of WFD’s trainings, the discussion on the Isle of Man was very much a two-way process. The same approach will apply for all of WFD’s future work with Sierra Leone’s parliamentarians and parliamentary staff.

“We in Tynwald have learned a great deal about Sierra Leone as a country, about their Parliament and many style points on how to assist in drafting their Hansard reports,” Ellen says.

“We found the experience extremely interesting and rewarding, and recognise the many sustainable and positive outcomes from our joint project. We are looking forward to continuing to work with Musa, Patience and the rest of the team in Freetown and wish them every success.

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What do parliaments & parties bring to the SDGs?

(Above: Effective gender budgeting would support women councillors in Gulu Uganda to deliver vital services for women in their communities)

WFD’s Director of Programmes Devin O’Shaughnessy reflects on how democratic institutions can influence implementation of the global goals. 

Parliaments and political parties have important roles to play in helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular Goal 16: promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice, and building accountable and inclusive institutions.

Legislation, oversight and representation: The role of parliaments

From drafting legislation to conducting oversight, parliaments play a critical role when it comes to the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Around the world, legislation will need to be passed or amended to create new government programmes that address structural barriers to achieving equitable growth, protecting the environment, and improving health and education. Parliamentarians’ legislative skills and expertise in various sectoral areas must be bolstered, through investment in parliamentary libraries and research units and technical support to select committees.

Budgets will need to be scrutinised and passed that commit sufficient resources to meeting the development goals; this could mean less investment in the military and more on infrastructure and water management systems, for example. Effective use of gender and youth budgeting to make sure government investment is benefitting women and other vulnerable groups will also be key.

By enhancing the role of parliament in the oversight of a country’s efforts to achieve the SDGs, it can act as a check on the executive in its commitment to achieving the SDGs, whilst ensuring that each ministry is playing its role effectively by implementing programmes and making investments that tackle the whole range of issues covered by the goals.

Parliamentary Budget Offices (PBOs), like the ones WFD has helped establish in the Serbian, Ukrainian, and Montenegrin parliaments over last few years are a vital tool in producing the analysis and information needed to ensure implementation of the agenda stays on track. Improved research capacity will be essential to test whether governments are providing accurate data on social and economic indicators; key to measuring progress.

Parliament’s role as a representative body means it can facilitate input from a broad group of citizens. By holding hearings and engaging CSOs, the media, and citizens on the importance of the SDGs and the progress being made (or not made), parliaments can make sure people’s views are being represented in the policy process.

Public interest, delivery and an international approach: The role of parties

Political parties have a critical role to play in generating debate and public interest in the SDGs. The SDGs can serve as a useful pillar in party platforms and manifestos, focusing the attention of their supporters and voters on the importance of making progress on these goals, as well as providing direction to their senior officials when they are in power.

When in opposition, parties can look to the SDGs to hold to account the party or parties in power, pointing out any failures to make progress and offering alternative policy ideas and leadership to help achieve these goals.

On a global level, party internationals can mobilise their member parties to discuss the SDGs and take common stands on the importance of achieving the goals, and how they as a family of parties would go about achieving them through the application of their ideology and policies.

(Above: Workshop to update CPA Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures in line with the SDGs)

With both parties and parliaments, we can help encourage the establishment of global and regional standards and mechanisms to help facilitate the achievement of the SDGs. For this, we will need to work with others to tackle implementation at different levels. Our efforts to update the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Benchmarks on Democratic Legislatures to take account of the SDGs – in close collaboration with the World Bank, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), UNDP, and others – will ensure progress against goal 16 is not ignored. Encouraging participants from three of our partner parliaments to take part in the International Parliamentary Project on Sustainability, Energy and Development, led by CPA (UK Branch), raises awareness of the range of issues addressed within the goals. Establishing or bolstering regional parliamentary networks that share information and best practices on how to encourage countries to meet their SDG targets will be crucial as well.

WFD firmly believes that the SDGs provide a real opportunity for parliaments and political parties to be actively involved in the new development agenda shaping citizens’ lives for the next decade and a half.

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On the ground with Botswana Movement for Democracy

By Harriet Shone, Liberal Democrats Head of International Office

“It’s clear from what people have said to me that they have had enough of being let down by the government. They want change. I am fighting to make sure we have better schools, smaller class sizes, a strong economy where everyone has a job, and a transparent government that people can trust.”

These words were shared by MP and opposition leader Ndaba Gaolathe across thousands of households in Botswana. They remain his commitment to the people of his constituency. Ndaba is now actively working to improve the lives of every Batswana.

In reaching this point, the Africa Liberal Network in collaboration with WFD initially focused on three primary areas of support for the ALN’s sister party, the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD). These included campaign support in a local by-election, a best practice workshop on political communication, and finally in the run-up to 2014 national elections, research and voter outreach. Doing so directly contributes to WFD’s four outcome areas: the ALN’s support has helped strengthen the policies developed by the BMD and its ability to both represent and reach out to Botswana’s citizens, improving their engagement and participation in the political process.

To the shock of many Batswanas and the campaign team, the much celebrated and admired BMD leader Gomolemo Motswaledi passed away in a car accident just a short while before Election Day in the country. This tragedy was a major blow to the BMD, ALN and all involved in the campaign. Still, the ALN was determined that more could be done to grow liberal democracy in Botswana. The belief was that this would be the best way of commemorating the late BMD leader.

With a firm understanding in sharing successes amongst our members in Africa and abroad, the ALN facilitated the involvement of the Democratic Alliance (South Africa) and the UK Liberal Democrats Head of Strategic Seat Operations, Victoria Marsom. This led to a peer-to-peer mentoring programme of the BMD and its coalition partners in the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC).

BMD2Towards the end of the project, Victoria worked closely with the leadership of the UDC, guiding their assessment of key constituencies and the setting of targets.

“Polling day was approaching. I spoke with Ndaba Gaolathe who had taken over as BMD Leader and Deputy Leader of the UDC.

“I arrived in Gaborone six days before the election. It was a hectic week! The handwritten blue letter from Ndaba was delivered across the constituency by the volunteers in around five hours and it really energised the team and motivated voters who’d never received anything like it before.

“On Facebook, Ndaba already had a successful personal page and a campaign page which had thousands of likes. I livened it up with calls to action such as asking supporters to change their profile photo after they had voted for him, filling local Facebook feeds with his image.

“The phone bank on election day also had a huge impact – I bought seven cheap handsets and some credit, wrote simple scripts (which were translated in to Setswana) and organised the data from the months of door to door campaigning. Nine callers took it in turns to call identified supporters, and we spoke to around 7,000 people during election day.”

The success of this project speaks for itself. The UDC now holds 17 seats in Botswana’s parliament, an increase of eight seats since the previous elections. The message of delivering change resonated with voters. Identifying key issues and themes was an exceptionally important part of the campaign, with voters now benefiting from the BMD and UDC’s work in improving sanitation, education and a cleaner, more transparent government.

Ultimately it will be Batswanas who benefit from these policies and having a party which works hard to reflect their views. Westminster Foundation for Democracy funds programmes which support political parties because doing so builds their ability to make better policy, strengthen accountability and improve citizen engagement and participation – particularly among marginalised groups like women and youth. That is exactly what the BMD has achieved with the support of Victoria and the ALN.

The BMD along with its broader UDC coalition have championed key issues to campaign on, such as access to clean water and reliable electricity. They have continued campaigning and won by-elections including a parliamentary defence and gained local council seats. They provide Botswana with a hope for a different kind of politics, and that there can be an alternative future in a country which has never changed government since independence.

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CEDAW: Ugandan journalists give ‘voice to the voiceless’

Of all the stories she covered reporting on gender issues in Uganda, journalist Abalo Ireme Otto says the one which upset her most involved an eviction. “A woman was thrown out of the house by her husband,” she says. “Her children witnessed the scuffle.”

The press in Uganda frequently come across distressing stories like this. Another journalist recalls: “A woman was raped and she went to the police to report it. But instead a policeman kept her as a wife for some time.” These shocking incidents underline the importance of seeking change.

Reducing violence against women and girls will involve a long-running campaign. But it is one the Ugandan government is committed to, having passed a raft of legislation in 2010 bringing the country into line with the UN’s Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The challenge now is implementation. In particular one issue keeps appearing again and again, reflected by a case study described by journalist Emmy Ojave: “A woman who was denied access to land, together with her children, after her husband’s death.”

Tackling discrimination against women

Land rights for widows are protected by law under CEDAW, but this does not automatically result in justice for bereaved women. In economies heavily dependent on agriculture, land rights are extremely important. So when married women are separated from their spouses, either by divorce or by death, their in-laws often seize control of her possessions and property. In Uganda – as across much of East Africa – these discriminatory practices often clashes with the law.

In order to tackle this and the other issues covered by CEDAW, Westminster Foundation for Democracy supported the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) in its training of journalists in December 2014. “It shall help to sensitize the masses on their rights to gender equality,” as journalist Komakech Geoffrey described the training’s purpose. WFD’s goal has been to improve reporting on CEDAW in a bid to improve understanding of the new laws which enforce it.

Woman Cooking in Uganda - Mark JordahlJournalists spread awareness

Since then many of the journalists have updated WFD about the difference their subsequent reporting has made. “After the training I was able to trace down a survivor of gender-based violence and exposed her plight to the world,” Julius Ocungi says. “The response to her was overwhelming, because she was beloved. She was exposed to humanitarian organisations who helped in treating the citizen.”

Emmy Ojave has a similar example .”I advocated for the rights of a widow who was denied access to her late husband’s land,” she explains. “I wrote about the role of women in bringing about change. They mediated and the woman with children was given a plot of land for cultivation and construction.”

These journalists have contributed to raising awareness about CEDAW and in the process helped establish women’s rights. All those updating WFD say they have much more to offer, too. “I expect to accord more women and young girls the chances of having justice served to them,” Julius Ocongi says. “I feel revamped to do more to help our women out there,” Abalo Ireme Otto adds.

‘A voice for the voiceless’

For these journalists, trained by UPPA with WFD’s support, their work can make a real difference to citizens’ lives. Their role is to be a “voice of the voiceless”, as Komakech Geoffrey puts it. Wilfred Ronny Okot is more specific. His role, he says, is “to inform, educate and empower the public on their roles, responsibilities, contributions and rights”. For Abalo Ireme Otto, her mission is simple: “To stand for the truth in the fight against women discrimination.”

WFD’s 30-month programme supporting CEDAW is approaching its closure, but we aim to offer further support to the Ugandan Parliament in the years to come. In the meantime our work with Ugandan journalists has changed reporting on these issues – and even shaped the views of the reporters themselves. One anonymous journalist confessed to having changed attitudes because of the training. “Culture had a serious effect on my way of reporting,” he admitted, “since some cultural practices promoted discrimination against women. But now it won’t affect me.”

Featured images: Flickr
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