Party focus: African Christian Democratic Party

We met Grant Haskin, Communications Director for the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) in South Africa, and Jeffrey Donaldson, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for Lagan Valley and WFD Governor, to see how their parties’ partnership has helped strengthen the ACDP’s approach to communications ahead of the elections scheduled for later this year.

How do the parties in the Multi-Party Office build on their established sister-party relationships? Jeffrey Donaldson (JD): A lot of work in the past has focused on the sister party relationships. However, the Lib Dems and the ALN, for example, are not just working with one party but across a network. The Northern Ireland parties tend to have a single sister-party relationship, so the DUP has been supporting the capacity of the ACDP in South Africa for several years. Our current project is focused on improving their communication strategy. Grant, who is Communications Director of the ACDP, will be looking at the relationship between the Westminster team, the team in the Northern Ireland Assembly and at the local level. He will be looking at the consistency of communication output across the three different levels, which are parallel to the South Africa system.

What have you learnt from the DUP about communicating the ACDP message?
Grant Haskin (GH): There is definitely a lot we can learn, as our electorate in South Africa of course has a lot less experience with democracy in general. We are a young democracy; people are not used to voting, they are not used to translating a belief system into a vote. We are trying to bring a new message that changes that. We want to understand how the DUP over time has substantially increased their support base from a small number of MPs to having a majority – that is our ultimate goal. Our relationship with the DUP has come a long way. Our election results haven’t shown it yet, but the way we do things internally has changed substantially over the years.

Listening is essential for effective communication – how do you plan to engage with perspective voters?
GH: Our own members and our candidates need to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. The people who should vote for us need to understand why, and those who are voting for us must see the new ACDP as nothing different to what they have voted for in the past. Keeping them on the same page is a tricky business!
JD: The challenge we face is that we live in a world that is changing. The world is becoming more secular and less influenced by a faith approach to things. Issues like the economy, like healthcare, like education, are important. People know where we stand traditionally on the faith-based issues, but we don’t put them at the front and centre. If the ACDP are going to reverse the decline that mirrors the reluctance of voters to vote on their faith alone, they must demonstrate what they are going to do on the economy, on health, on education. I think the ACDP needs to get out of, as the DUP had to, the image of being a Christian party. It has to get out there and compete with other parties on socio-economic issues.

How can you keep the ACDP’s traditional support base happy and address the broader concerns of other citizens?
GH: We will do it in a way that does not alienate our traditional support base who expect us to focus on the moral issues. When they don’t hear us saying that they get worried, it’s a balancing act. Ahead of this election we have changed how the ACDP approaches the President’s State of the Nation address and the various budget votes. We have come out very strongly on socio-economic issues, like the drought in South Africa. People are hearing us on issues that they have not heard us on yet. They are seeing us as looking after the people and putting the people first in our approach to governing, instead of the perception that we are putting the Bible first.

In what ways have the ACDP incorporated the support from WFD, and the DUP in particular, into their approach ahead of the elections?
GH: I have already seen an important change in the way the ACDP is gearing itself up for these elections as a result of the focus that this programme is putting on media and communications. We are seeing members and political office bearers who are much more aware of their role. They are all being more consistent with each other. We use social media more consistently; we developed a social media policy and brought it across the country.
The party you experience in one city in South Africa is the same you should experience in a rural village. The capacity that this programme has given me to engage with the rural municipality, the village and the town is important. Now because of the programme I can engage with all of them, and take them from where they are to an improved space of engaging internally and externally within the party. We are training them on how to prepare for media interviews and conduct research; basic things that they never had the opportunity to learn. This has already improved our sense of political confidence going into the election.

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EALA Speaker praises WFD’s ‘dedication and commitment’

EALA office

With WFD’s help, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is using the region’s rapidly growing mobile and internet use to bring citizens closer to its work. More and more people are learning about its effectiveness and representation capabilities – and will continue to do so for many years.

This week saw the closure of WFD’s EALA programme after four years of engagement. Our work has contributed to the establishment of its Public Relations Office, the development of a Strategic Plan, increased engagement with civil society and, in the last six months, increased engagement with social media.

EALA Kidega

Speaker Kidega addresses the debrief event

“The Strategic Plan gave the Assembly a clear intent and direction,” EALA’s Speaker, the Rt. Hon Daniel Kidega, said before the debrief event in Arusha. “To take the Assembly to the people and reaching out was our biggest challenge – but that is what integration is about.” This engagement was illustrated by the recent Burundi crisis, which prompted an “amazing” engagement from civil society and the general public on social media.

That response reflects fast-moving changes across the region. Development across East Africa is gathering pace, while the opportunities for strengthening integration among the region’s five states are growing rapidly. EALA, which produces laws that affect the region’s 120 million citizens, plays an important role in this. Its task is to both foster regional cooperation and represent its citizens. In the coming years, EALA can tap into the opportunities offered by this rapid technological change. “Communicating what we are doing and gaining feedback is very important for accountability, oversight and representation,” Speaker Kidega added.

Flags of the East African Community nations fly outside the EALA building

It’s been the fast growth of social media and online platforms which has been the most recent focus of our support for EALA. Staff, EAC Youth Ambassadors, CSO representatives and Parliamentary Officers from partner states have received training in social media use and the Public Relations Office is in the process of developing a digital strategy. The internet offers a new way for citizens to engage with the Assembly and its work. WFD has facilitated this ongoing, developing relationship by producing educational YouTube videos targeted at primary and secondary school children, which will be broadcast on national television and utilised in schools across the partner states; developing new online platforms for engagement; and redesigning the EALA website, which was launched at the debrief event.

Majda El Bied, WFD’s Senior Programme Manager for Africa, addresses the debrief 

We’re now entering a period of hiatus in our activities with the Assembly as a result of this great progress but hope to return in the future. Following our programme’s completion in March 2016, the Public Relations Office will continue utilising the tools provided by WFD and the Strategic Plan runs until 2018.

The EALA offices – where WFD has been working since 2008

“The lessons WFD has learned on parliamentary communications and outreach work are valuable and can be applied to a range of other contexts,” Programme Officer for Africa Charlotte Egan said.

“WFD is proud of its work at EALA and we will maintain our valued relationships with its leadership in the years to come.”

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Moving Mozambique away from its violent past

A legislative sector approach can help move Mozambique away from its violent past

By George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Europe and Africa

The legacy of the independence struggle and subsequent civil war in Mozambique still influences and shapes many aspects of its governance. The signing of the Rome General Peace Accord which ended the civil war in 1992 was supposed to bring an end to the war and start the process of healing the country. The 1990 constitution provided for a multi-party state and paved the way for the 1994 elections. The 2005 constitution went further, providing for the establishment of provincial assemblies. These, however, have limited powers over provinces’ administration, which is overseen by central government appointees. The main strength of the Provincial Assembly is its power to approve the Provincial Government’s programme and oversee its implementation.

According to the constitution, Provincial Assemblies should have been established within three years of the constitution’s adoption. Yet it was not until 2009 that Mozambique had its first elections for Provincial Assemblies. The ten new assemblies were underfunded, ill -equipped and their staff lacked training and skills to adequately support their members. Most of the assemblies still haven’t got a permanent home, but rent space from other government departments.

They also don’t have the technical skills to effectively scrutinise the Provincial Governments’ programmes and budgets. They lack the necessary support needed to conduct effective oversight. All Provincial Assembly members are part-time (except the Assembly President). Some tend to hold full-time jobs in the public sector – the very institution they are supposed to oversee.

The assemblies are also hampered by the vast geography of each province, compounded by poor transport infrastructure, which makes the task of oversight very difficult. However, it is important to recognise that provincial assemblies do hold a key to ensuring political representation in Mozambique. Their significance is only likely to increase as Mozambique goes down the route of decentralisation.

Since 2009, the relationship between the two main parties in Mozambique has continued to deteriorate. In 2013, Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) leader Alfonso Dhlakama revoked the 1992 Rome peace agreement and returned to the bush. Former president Armando Guebuza and Dhlakama negotiated a new peace agreement that would secure the 2014 elections when RENAMO succeeded in winning three provincial assemblies – but claimed victory in six.

They subsequently introduced a constitutional amendment which would have allowed for devolution of political powers to provinces. The proposed amendment would allow the winning party to appoint provincial governors. Having had the constitutional amendment defeated in Parliament, RENAMO threatened to take control in those provinces by force. The dominant Mozambique Liberation Front party (FRELIMO) responded to the threats by attempting to disarm RENAMO. The country has since seen an increase in armed conflict between the two parties.

Mozambique has had steady economic growth and is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies following the recent discovery of new natural resource deposits. The country still remains one of Africa’s poorest nations and can ill afford another protracted civil war. The population is also wary of further conflict after the last war. Citizens would like to see their leaders demonstrate greater political maturity in negotiating peaceful solutions.

In this tense political context, it is important for the donor community and democracy partners to bring the focus back to making the institutions of Mozambique’s democracy work effectively and responsively to the citizen’s needs. It equally importantly needs to demonstrate that the decentralised legislative structures at national, provincial and municipal levels can function and bring about equitable levels of development across the country.

For this to happen the donor community must consider working together to support a single legislative sector initiative to strengthen the provincial and national assembly. Mozambique’s neighbour South Africa is a great example of how a sectoral approach has helped to develop national and provincial legislatures. A sectoral approach also provides value for money and looks holistically at the long-term developmental needs of the growing legislative sector.

The Mozambican constitution also requires the President of the Assembly of the Republic to promote institutional relations between the Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies. The current President does this through the Speaker’s Conference, a meeting between the presidents of the provincial and national assemblies. This forum could be made more effective and play a much more important role in guiding the legislative sectors development.

Another plus for the sectoral approach has been the establishment of the parliamentary training centre, Centro de Estudos e Formação Parlamentar (CEFP), in 2013 with the support of WFD. The Centre’s new strategy is to encourage greater sharing of experience between the assemblies and support ongoing capacity building.

Finally, the donor community must explore ways to encourage the development of the institution of the opposition within assemblies. One cannot expect to develop mature opposition parties without supporting them with the research and skills needed to develop effective policies or to hold the government to account. Donors need to examine the current level of support provide to party factions in parliament and the provincial assemblies. Respecting the role that the opposition plays in an effective assembly is an important part of the culture of a mature democracy.

Armed conflict should never be an option in a democracy.

Photos:

George Kunnath, Regional Director Europe and Africa visits the construction site of the new Maputo Provincial Assembly in Matola accompanied by the Assembly’s President, Joao Muringano Matola.

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Party focus: East Africa Green Federation

Party focus: East Africa Green Federation

We spoke to Green Party project coordinator Jess Northey about her party’s WFD-funded work with the East African Green Federation (EAGF).

When did the Greens’ work with the East African Green Federation get underway?

This is one of our most exciting programmes. It began in 2014, when the Smaller Parties Office of WFD helped put our international coordinator in touch with the European Greens and with Dr Frank Habineza of the African Green Federation (AGF). Over the last few years the AFG has decentralised and organised regional structures, with the idea of being more effective in terms of training, experience-sharing and logistics. Frank Habineza is now part of the EAGF, which was very keen to work with the Green Party of England and Wales. They are very dynamic, interesting and inspiring, so most of our work has been focused on East Africa.

What’s the background to green politics in the region?

For years the East African green movement was dominated by Wangari Muta Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Kenya suffers her loss very deeply, but its green party has a lot of experience. If you go to Kenya you really feel the influence of a strong green political movement on citizen engagement.

The Ecological Party of Uganda was formed more recently, which makes it very dynamic – they’re excited by being a very new movement, they are learning quickly from regional partners. People are beginning to make the link between social justice, economic inequality and protecting the natural world. There are natural linkages between their experience and ours, as we’ve had a huge surge in Green membership in England and Wales

What are the big challenges for Green parties in East Africa?

The discovering of new oil wealth is a big one. Lake Victoria, which borders a number of countries in the region, poses shared challenges relating to natural resource governance. Then there’s the view held by the members and leaders of the region’s green parties that we need to move towards political parties which reject populist, ethnic-based politics and instead focus on good strong policies which tackle both social and environmental injustice. Questions of democratic representation, freedom of speech and the ability to challenge the current system are big issues – the parties are fighting a brave battle on this. They are able to support each other and work together on challenges when, for example, there are large agri-businesses which are polluting water resources.

East Africa Green Federation, Kampala, February 2015

What sort of exchanges have the English/Welsh and East African Greens engaged in up to now?

It’s been a two-way process. We’ve learned very much from the parties in east Africa. What we offer to the parties over there is our technical skills and expertise. What we’ve tried to do is work with the Smaller Parties Office of WFD to organise regional training meetings to develop their strategic planning. Laura Bannister, a fantastic campaigner and very committed member of the GPEW, came over and assisted in a planning meeting.

We also want to support their media and communications strategy. It’s a very different context – African politicians are very bored by our elections. You’d have to up your game significantly and be speaking to thousands and thousands of people. Obviously there’s different scales, and ways they can inspire us: democracy in this country is challenged in a number of ways. We can learn from their very brave campaigners as to how we have to fight to get across these messages and represent people who are at the bottom.

How much experience have you shared about the particular difficulties and opportunities of operating as a smaller party?

We need to look at what are the specific challenges of a smaller party in each of the different contexts. In the UK, it’s hard to get past that threshold to get representation in parliament. That’s not the case in other countries; under a proportional representation system they may be able to grow quicker. In the UK, we’re concerned by the potential changing of electoral borders. We need to learn from what campaigners are doing in Africa, so all parties have a voice and are able to get representation in parliaments.

How is the Green Party in England and Wales’ work with WFD helping achieve our four outcomes – around policy, accountability, representation and citizen participation?

For me, one of the reason why I’m so proud and happy to be a member of the GPEW is the way we make our policy, which while not always easy is a very democratic process at our party conference. We allow all our membership to be part of the process. Our East African colleagues have been invited by the party to the last conference we had, participated in that process, and saw how we function and develop our policies.

In terms of representation, we’re exchanging ideas and looking at how to represent the whole of society – and the country, the planet and natural world that we’re inherently linked to. We encourage young people and women to be very much at the forefront of our political party. We have the youngest greens, the largest young party in the country, and we very much want to encourage that elsewhere. And our leadership is Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas. We have female leaders in part because of the way we function at a local level; we try to aim for 50% candidates across the board, and suggest as much to our African colleagues.

It’s not a one-way process, though. The EAGF may be more representative of the ethnic and social diversity of the country than our party is; we need to increase our black and ethnic minority representation. That’s something we’re working on and trying to improve. It’s a two-way process. We are improving as a party and they can benefit from our experience. In return we can try to share how we captured the passion and the willingness of people to join up and pay fees.

Finally, what ambitions do you have for the East African Green Federation in the year to come? What do you think is possible?

I also work at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, teaching about non-military solutions. Any way I can strengthen the region’s Green parties’ capacities to work on peaceful solutions to conflict – particularly regarding natural resources – is a key ambition for myself. As a Green party member, I’m delighted to be able to help do this directly by working directly with the East African Green Federation. We know we’re operating in very difficult conditions in East Africa, but we also know we will absolutely continue to support them morally and intellectually; I very much see this as a long-term cooperation and exchange programme over the coming years.

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Four presidents, one challenge: The fight against corruption in 2016

By George Kunnath, WFD’s Regional Director for Africa and Europe

Many viewed the dismissal of Tanzania’s anti-corruption chief last month as a sign that new president John Magufuli is determined to make progress in tackling the plague of institutionalised corruption. He’s not alone: Mozambique, Nigeria and Ukraine also have new leaders prepared to confront this enormous challenge head-on. But Filipe Nyusi, Muhammadu Buhari, Petro Poroshenko and Magufuli face a tougher battle than they might care to admit – and should look to strengthen their parliaments if they want to accelerate progress.

I’ve travelled to all these countries in recent months and have seen first-hand how much the stakes have been raised. Expectations are high because rising levels of corruption within the state have been matched, in recent years, by a new mood of anticipation that something will change.

These four leaders have arrived at this point of reckoning because of a number of factors. Firstly, their population is far more educated and connected through social media than ever before. While corruption was widespread in the past, it was easier for those in power to hide the extent of the problem. Nowadays freedom of information legislation, freer press, social media, the internet and television have brought the realities of the scale of the problem into the average citizen’s home.

Secondly, their societies have become more integrated into the global community. Their citizens travel abroad and return home wondering why their country’s leaders can’t be held to higher levels of transparency and accountability. People are using terms like ‘global standards’ and ‘European values’. They are also able to do more analytical comparisons. Their citizens and civil society organisations are asking why a neighbouring country can build better roads at half the cost as their government’s latest road projects. They’re less trusting of the answers being provided by their governments.

Societies that once applauded the corrupt as smart and resourceful businessmen are now looking for new leaders and role models with values of integrity and accountability. Civil society continues to demand that people holding public office declare their personal assets. How politicians respond to the declaration process is becoming an indicator of personal integrity.

Thirdly, the mono-economies which flourished under oil, gas or natural resource revenues have come crashing down with the drop in global oil prices. It was easy to overlook the cost of corruption when there was significant wealth to pave over the losses; with the oil price halved, governments have to use every dollar wisely. Nigeria has just introduced zero-based budgeting which will force every department to cost and justify every expenditure. This exercise should save the state millions in wasteful excesses. After hearing that some audit queries have remained unanswered for years, the president ordered all ministries to respond to queries within 24 hours.

Fourthly, presidents whose administrations were seen as highly corrupt have been replaced. In Tanzania the ruling CDM retained power yet again, but their reputation was so badly damaged that the party fought their campaign by promoting their presidential candidate and his name above the party brand. Most people will watch the new president to determine if he has the power to reform the party or whether the party elite will be allowed to continue their old practices. So far the signs are positive and the average Tanzanian is optimistic. Magufuli is seen as someone who is closer to the people and is likely to withstand the influences of the handful of wealth elite that control large portions of the economy.

With all this momentum behind pressures for change, surely there’s a case for optimism?

It’s true there are reasons to be cheerful – but we shouldn’t forget that breaking from the past is going to be hard for all of these leaders.

In many of these countries the laws necessary to fight corruption are either outdated or non-existent. But they are essential to prevent the loopholes by which criminal activity continues. In Ukraine, Poroshenko recently signed a new law on party funding, hoping to break the link between the oligarchs and political parties by introducing state support to parties. This is a significant development to reduce the influence that the oligarchs have over elected officials.

For the last 12 years Nigeria has been trying to pass an Audit Law that would provide the legal framework for the Auditor General to publish his work quickly and effectively. There are expectations that the new parliament will finally pass this law, which has already made it through its first reading in the House of Representatives. The indication is that there is political will to see the bill become an act.

Having the laws on the statute book may not change much, as the bad cultures which need changing are often deeply embedded. Laws are often wilfully ignored with impunity. Unless these new leaders swiftly develop precedents and make clear statements about their expectations, the old culture will resurface preventing any chance for long-term reform.

Often it’s a people problem. In many cases the previous presidents ensured their supporters were placed in positions of influence to protect the interests of the outgoing government. Replacing these figures can be complex, as they are able to undermine the new government.

Having the desire to make the change but lacking a decent alternative will be a challenge, too. In Mozambique low skill levels within the administration remain an obstacle to driving through reforms. Ill-equipped ministerial officials are left to negotiate with experts from global corporations rushing to exploit Mozambique’s resources. The parliament should scrutinise these complex deals, but it too lacks expertise.

Parliamentarians also have a choice to make in these countries. They must decide to consciously reposition themselves on the side of the people and support institutional reforms. Parliaments have to lead from the front, demonstrating a higher level of transparency and openness in their affairs. If the integrity of the leaders who create the laws is in question, how likely is it that the people will respect these laws?

One way that parliaments can lead is by establishing transparency and openness committees like the one established in the Kosovan Parliament. This committee consists of members, parliamentary staff, civil society, media and government officials who are looking at the challenges of making the parliament more open and determining positive steps that can be taken.

It goes without saying that we wish Presidents Nyusi, Buhari, Poroshenko and Magufuli all the best as they forge their presidential legacy. Their decisions – including the extent to which they empower their parliaments to do this work for them – will determine how they are assessed in the history books, however.

These four leaders, elected on a promise to tackle corruption, all realise their legacies will be determined by how they tackle the problem. They have pledged to combat those who divert state resources away from development into the hands of a few elites, and will be judged on their results. Let’s see how they do in 2016.

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Working with Ghana’s Parliament: ‘Our democracy is about inclusiveness’

Democracy is about consensus-building, inclusiveness and participation.

They’re great principles that unite the British and Ghanaian views of what a Parliament should be – and a great starting point for renewed cooperation.

In 2015 WFD has returned to work with old friends in a West African country renowned for the stability of its democracy.

We had operated a targeted project providing support to Ghana’s Parliament in 2011, running training courses for its research team and new MPs. Now we are beginning to implement a much broader programme and deepen our work with the Parliament and its leadership.

“WFD has a longstanding relationship with the Ghana Parliament and we’re delighted to be working in Ghana once again,” Senior Programme Manager for Africa Majda El-Bied said.

ghana inward parliament
The Ghanaian Parliament in session. Photo: World Bank

Our new three-year programme links up our experience supporting parliaments’ officials with our political party colleagues’ links with sister-parties in Ghana. “We were really sad that you phased out, so your return is really welcome news,” the Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, Majority Leader, told us. “There are a lot of things we had to do which we thought were incomplete before you left. So your comeback is really exciting to us.”

The integrated nature of the programme was reflected in the cast list of the Ghanaian delegation which visited London in late November; its senior leadership journeyed to Britain for meetings with key UK counterparts in and around the Palace of Westminster.

ghana inward 4The Ghanaian delegation with Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith and Lords Reading Clerk Simon Burton

The Majority and Minority Leaders, together with the Majority and Minority Chief Whips, were able to hold meetings with their sister parties, with whom they have strong links. The Ghana Parliament’s Director of Research, as well as its Clerk and Principal Assistant Clerk, held similar meetings with their counterparts. And the Speaker of the unicameral Ghanaian Parliament, the Rt Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho, met with both the House of Commons’ Speaker John Bercow and the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza. “Any opportunity which offers itself to build a steady parliament and make it relevant to the aspiration of the people we represent is a good opportunity,” he said. “We are keen to see how we can strengthen parliament.”

ghana inward 2
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow with Ghanaian Parliament Speaker Edward Adjaho

Visitors to Ghana are always struck by the consensual approach adopted by its politicians. Some countries might see Parliament as a place for bitter partisan warfare, but in Accra they pursue a different approach. As the Majority Leader, the Hon. Bagbin puts it, this is a very different institution from Africa’s other representative bodies. “We’re building on the principle that democracy is about consensus-building,” he says. “Democracy is about inclusiveness, it’s about participation. So the first thing you do is to build consensus, not to vote. And in reaching consensus, there have to be compromises.”

ghana inward 3Margaret Hodge met with the delegation to discuss her work with the Public Accounts Committee

One of the challenges facing the Parliament is finding ways to strengthen parties’ parliamentary groups. There will now be a concerted effort to strengthen relationships and do more to ensure party policies are understood by the party caucus. This is something the UK parties can help with; by having a space within Parliament, they can work closely with the party caucuses.
WFD hopes to contribute to the Parliament’s ongoing work more widely, too. The biggest single element of this side of our work will be in improving its Research Centre. We’re also keen to work with a parliamentary strengthening coordination group. And, in parallel with our efforts, the UK parties will continue to offer their support to their sister parties. Our goal is to enhance the capacity of the Parliament by linking its experienced officials with British expertise – and we’re delighted that the key players in Ghana are keen to work with us once again.

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Women’s caucuses and committees: What do they offer?

“The Parliamentary Labour party is a men’s club.” That was Baroness Corston’s response when talking to the chief whip about establishing a Labour Women’s Parliamentary Group in 1992. Over two decades later, women caucuses and committees are becoming more and more important in parliaments around the world.

The impact they can have – and the challenges they face – were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Westminster Community of Practice. At the first discussion since the launch in September, representatives from the UK parliamentary practitioner community met to consider the effectiveness of formally structured groups in parliaments and how they can achieve gender sensitive policy and legislation.

There was consensus across the panel that female parliamentary bodies are an effective tool for putting issues that impact on women’s lives on the agenda.

Such groups, Professor Sarah Childs from the University of Bristol argued, can provide “a different way of doing politics” and “by design have great potential”.

Kenyan MP Hon. Sanjeev Kaur Birdi, a member of the Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA), highlighted their work in influencing recent bills on marriage and reproductive health.

Baroness Corston explained that “issues only women raise politically” were the motivation for starting the parliamentary Labour party women’s organisation. She pointed to the first ever childcare strategy adopted by the UK government in 1997 as a result of lobbying from the women’s group and the increased number of women in parliament that year.

WFD’s Anthony Smith flagged our regional women’s programme tackling legislation across the Middle East and North Africa. This programme is trying to raise awareness of discrimination towards women. Achieving this means engaging all members of society to debate issues that impact all citizens.

Getting the support of male parliamentarians was also seen as essential when advocating for women’s groups and caucuses. Hon. Birdi referenced a dinner event KEWOPA held in which they invited male parliamentarians to be their “dates” to the event where the bill would be discussed. The support this act of engagement earned for the bill reiterated the importance of a united front. Baroness Corston, too, referred to how she measured the success of the Labour party parliamentary women’s group by the amount of times they were asked for advice from the mostly-male frontbench. They became the go-to organisation for policy concerns on gender and women’s issues.

The work Baroness Corston and other female MPs did to create an outlet for the voice of women in the House of Commons was inspirational. Hon. Birdi expressed the pride she felt in sharing the panel with women who have provided precedent for change in countries around the world. Joining the Kenyan parliament could be a daunting experience for women, she said, but added that women now in Kenya “are where they are because of the previous generation of women MPs”.

She spoke of the absurd discrimination some encountered, including bans on taking handbags into parliament and wearing trousers. Parallels were drawn between Mrs Birdi’s experience and that of Baroness Corston, who joined the UK parliament in 1992 when there were only 37 female Labour MPs. Despite the huge strides taken by the Labour party women’s group since then, including the introduction of all-female shortlists for party selection, an effective mechanism for scrutinising legislation was still lacking – until this year.

This summer marked the establishment of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. Its chair, Maria Miller, was present at the event. Her committee “filled the obvious gap on scrutiny and accountability mechanisms” that the informal groups like the parliamentary Labour party women’s group did not have. These groups, Professor Childs argued, often lack the needed resources and level of engagement from members. The select committee was established as a response to the recommendation from the all-party parliamentary group on women’s issues that more “responsive, inclusive, equal” consideration of legislation that impacts on women was urgently needed.

This positive step in the UK mirrors the approach WFD takes in countries where it has programmes that encourage women to be more active in politics. Anthony Smith highlighted the importance of fostering leadership, increasing effective participation and debating legislation – a prime function of the UK institutions that are working toward gender equality in the UK. It is political parties that have the ability to strengthen these processes and get more women active in politics. All panellists and members of the audience pointed to the crucial role political parties play as the gatekeepers to selection.

The level of engagement on such important issues at the event on Tuesday was a wonderful demonstration of the willingness of Westminster institutions and academics to partner and share expertise. It was an extremely positive meeting of the Community of Practice, which was established at its inaugural meeting in September. The wealth of experience and expertise across UK institutions is something that the Westminster Community of Practice will continue to gather together to highlight and inform the most important parts of our work – and the event on Tuesday night was a prime example of that.

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Speak up and speak out: Our message to women this International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Every day across the world, women experience discrimination purely because of their gender.

It might not be instantly recognisable. Discrimination can take discrete forms – unequal wages, lack of women in leadership roles at top FTSE 100 companies. But it exists, and can often take a violent turn.

As the world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, take a look at how three of our programmes are finding practical ways to help achieve further change…

Empowering women in Uganda

In July this year WFD coordinated Uganda’s first Women’s Parliament – a major part of our EU-funded programme in the country. Tackling violent behaviour towards women is at the heart of what we are doing, and this programme aims to ensure the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is actually implemented. To do this WFD wants to encourage a greater dialogue between women, civil society and politicians to ensure that issues which matter to women are dealt with at the national level.

What is so shocking about the situation for women and girls in Uganda isn’t just the harrowing experience of violence and discrimination but the feeling that there is nowhere to turn, that this is normal, that they deserve this treatment. One of the wonderful outcomes of the Women’s Parliament is how it empowered women to speak out and raise issues of importance to them. Beatrice Chelangat, director of local NGO Gender REACH, highlighted how ground is being covered and progress is slowly being made: “People are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.”

Our programme’s main goal is to ensure that women in Uganda understand how CEDAW can help them eliminate violence from their own lives and communities.

Uniting women across MENA

Our support for the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence unites women from across ten nations to press for reforms to legislation that impacts on women and girls.

Take the most recent Coalition meeting that took place in early November. Its main goal was to create a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim. The coalition meetings provide a space in which women can share experiences of how discriminatory laws have been defeated in other Arab nations and find a way forward to tackle the issues with their respective parliaments. That is what Gilberte-Zouaine MP took from the latest meeting. She said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab countries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

It’s felt that this regional approach can gather momentum in favour of women’s rights across a region with an existing difficult context for women to work and live in.

The first step in this process is to raise awareness of the forms and consequences of violence. The more women know about their rights and how to access them, the easier it will be for them to take a stand. Secondly, having discussions on these issues across the region provides examples of best practice in how to deal with what is often perceived as a controversial issue amongst traditional elites. Finally, WFD has encouraged the development of Violence against Women Laws in four of the ten countries the Coalition operates in (Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon).

Together, these three steps will help provide solid progress for women who want to access justice. But getting the legislation through parliament is only the beginning. Changing cultural attitudes that discriminate against women is a long process, but we are confident the Coalition’s work will contribute toward this end.

Promoting women in politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Improving representation is one of WFD’s four outcomes, and it’s this which our programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina is focused on. Its emphasis is on providing practical help to get women into politics. By actively engaging with the media and civil society to ensure women are represented and listened to ahead of the 2016 local elections, the team hopes to yield some impressive results.

This autumn we’ve seen a series of local discussions bringing together local women councillors to discuss issues of importance ahead of the 2016 elections, like this event at the University of Mostar. A common theme which has emerged from these discussions is the critical role played by political parties. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar), for example, mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented. This is something that is surely felt here in the UK too – it was big news this year when the shadow Cabinet split roles 50/50 between men and women.

The debate over the relative merits of setting quotas for women will run and run. A quota is not a gateway to equality, which is why the work the Bosnia team is doing is so important. By using a range of different activities including training courses, public debates and media training they are providing women with the important skills they need to make a dent in the political landscape.

 

Change can be achieved, and in a relatively short period of time. Look at the UK: as recently as the 1990s it was legal to rape your partner if you were married. No longer. Women across the world trying to eliminate abhorrent laws which condone violence should believe that progress is possible. One hundred and eighty nine states have ratified CEDAW; the sustainable development goals put gender equality high on the agenda; and at WFD the focus is now on implementation and getting women represented in institutions that shape fundamental decisions. Now, more than ever, there is international momentum towards improving women’s rights.

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Social media in East Africa: Connecting citizens with lawmakers

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular social media sites are steadily gathering growing audiences in East Africa.

That poses a big challenge to parliaments in the region – and an opportunity, too…

WFD’s currently working with the East African Community in Arusha, Tanzania, to boost the communications and outreach capacity of the East African Legislative Assembly. A regional intergovernmental organisation, EAC is comprised of the five member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – a combined population of more than 138 million people.

EALA 1EALA plays a critical role within the EAC structure. Much like the European Parliament, its role is to draft and scrutinize legislation which advances the community’s goals of establishing a common market, monetary union and political federation. The Assembly’s made up of 45 MPs – nine for each member state – which meets in the chamber, pictured here.

EALA 2WFD’s been working at EALA since 2010. We’ve supported the production, dissemination and monitoring of EALA’s strategic plan for the 3rd Assembly 2013-18. We’ve assisted four of the Assembly’s six standing committees, strengthening the knowledge and skills of their members. And we’ve engaged with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), which has mobilised civil society organisations to consult with EALA. Our office is based in the EALA wing of the EAC building – pictured here in the shade on the left.

EALA 3Across the five member state countries there are lots of audiences which EALA needs to communicate with – from universities, schools, business groups and civil society organisations to national assemblies and citizens. The challenge for EALA, as with other regional parliaments, is finding ways to give citizens greater access to its processes – first by growing awareness of EALA, and then by helping them participate more in its work.

EALA 4WFD’s head of communications, Alex Stevenson, headed to Arusha to develop a social media strategy for EALA. He’s pictured here with EALA’s comms team of Bobi Odiko and Lawrence Munezero. Their intention is to use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect EALA’s work with the active debates and discussions already taking place in East Africa on social media.

EALA 5It’ll be a big moment when a social media user’s comment is fed into EALA and actually influences its legislation. That will be a key milestone, not just for EALA but for the whole East African Community and the region as a whole.

EALA 6As the strategy is implemented it’s hoped that the growing use of social media across East Africa will be harnessed to strengthen public sentiment and awareness about EALA – and its ability to change people’s lives. That is an outcome for which the EAC’s founding fathers – Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya – would surely all be proud.

EALA 7

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Promoting women’s and girls’ rights in Uganda: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Ending sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality in Uganda isn’t easy. But by helping local leaders and civil society organisations bring women together through the country’s first ever Women’s Parliament, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping gather momentum behind the campaign for real change.

In recent years, Uganda has taken some big steps to implement the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It’s passed a raft of legislation in recent years to that end. But as we’ve heard, implementation is proving difficult.

“Most women have been blocked by culture,” Olive Gidugu, a union activist based in the Sironko District, told us. Their education is neglected during childhood because “in our culture, girls are prepared to be housewives”, she explained. Illiteracy in adult life is coupled with a culture that demands, in Olive’s words, that “if a man comes to you, you can’t deny them”.


Nearly 200 women participated in the first ever Women’s Parliament in Kampala

We’ve heard real-life experiences of a whole range of problems: unfairness to women in the a corrupt legal system, denial of access to and control of resources, limited participation in decision-making, and many others. Looking back at the two three-hour plenary sessions of the first Women’s Parliament, Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said she was “touched” by the story she heard of the teacher who had to give up her job because of sexual harassment. Milly Molly Omach of Oyam district recalled the story of a woman who left her alcoholic husband. “He was very drunk and hanged himself. The day after, the in-laws blamed her. The culture here always blames the women. The women who want to help her don’t know what to do as they are not aware of their rights.”

The consequences of these attitudes are far-reaching, as the statistics show. Sixty-eight per cent of married women aged 15-49 in Uganda have experienced domestic violence. In the Eastern region, 85% were found to be aware of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010, but there awere reports of people avoiding arrest despite continuing the practice. Property ownership is also problematic: Furthermore, 90% reported that the clan leadership dominates decision-making over property ownership – so when land is distributed to sons after a death in the family, for example, the views of mothers and daughters are largely ignored.


Left to right: Ms Rosette Sayson Meya (EU); Hon. Jovah Kamateka (chairperson, human rights committee); Hon. Safia Juuku Nalule (national representative for women with disabilities)

Changing this means bringing people together. And that is what happened on 7 July 2015, when over 150 women from across Uganda gathered in Kampala for the Women’s Parliament. The project, a bid to create an all-inclusive platform for dialogue on gender issues, is part of WFD’s EU-funded 30-month programme to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Uganda’s northern and eastern regions.

It aims, as WFD’s programme manager Dorine Lakot puts it, to “increase the political discourse on women’s rights and issues”. Her goal was to make the Parliament “a vehicle for sharing good practice on local implementation of legislation with all other regions in Uganda, and to also feed into future policy issues and legislative amendments”.


Dorine Lakot (second from right, front row) with Women’s Parliament participants

As the Women’s Parliament progressed some striking stories emerged. Betty Bwamika praised a speaker who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was nine. “She was able to stand and talk in front of everyone – it’s [speaking out like this is] very important for her to get hope for her children.” Another contributor explained she had become pregnant while in school, but her parents had put her back in school after she gave birth. “That’s inspiring and rare,” one attendee said. Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, spoke of her own efforts to expose a fraudster who had stolen millions from the government. “I was pregnant and scared to lead this investigation… I escaped some strong threats against me,” she said. “I resisted and won the case for the government, but it was hard.”


Outside the Parliament building in Kampala

It’s hoped that by raising these issues in a single forum, their prominence in the debate across Uganda will spread.   “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika said afterwards. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.” It’s not just a handful of delegates who can follow her lead, either. Around 200 stakeholders including legislators, development partners, journalists, academics and representatives of regional parliaments and central government, among others, gathered at the Women’s Parliament in July to hear these stories. They heard calls for more “sensitization” to the issues. They heard calls for women to gain more financial independence and for more girls to stay at school; currently just one in three girls manage to complete four years of secondary education. And they heard warnings about the dangers of women leaving Uganda’s poorer districts for work, only to find themselves trafficked to China or elsewhere.


Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, presided over the session

Increasing the political debate around women’s and girls’ rights  is a key goal of the civil society groups whose work WFD’s programme is supporting – particularly the Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) organisation and the Gender Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (Gender REACH) organisations. The Women’s Parliament also supports the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association, a parliamentary caucus of women MPs. WFD is working closely with its staff to help it become a critical generator of political debate, oversight and scrutiny.

These organisations are steadily growing in confidence. “Where we have been implementing through WFD/EU funding,” explains Beatrice Chelangat, director of Gender REACH, “people are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.” The gradual spread of understanding about the UN CEDAW convention is being facilitated by the activity of the Women’s Parliament and WFD’s broader programme in Uganda.


A young contributor makes her point during the plenary session

Attention is now shifting to the Ugandan Parliament, which campaigners hope will accept the recommendations of the Women’s Parliament. An important message from the July event is that more activity is needed at the It is seeking more activity at the regional level, where capacity-building, coaching and mentoring efforts will be most effective – especially when that work takes place in cooperation with local civil society groups like GWED-G in Gulu. Its executive director, Pamela Angwech, says: “We’ve taught local leaders to empower them to become more active on this matter.” Gulu is quickly moving up the regional rankings as a result of implementing the Domestic Violence Act 2010.

Gulu’s  success shows why many of those at the Women’s Parliament are now seeking support for their cause at lower levels of governance. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots,” Asio Rose Mary declares. “This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believe they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change are being encouraged.

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