Supporting CSOs to engage with parliament in Macedonia

(Above: Blagica Dimitrovska answers questions about Inkluziva’s policy paper at a press conference presenting the work of the 12 CSOs recieving WFD support)

“I know very well the problems that people with disabilities and their families face” Blagica Dimitrovska from CSO “Inkluziva” explained: “as I am one of them.”

Ms Dimitrovska is President at the Association for promotion and development of inclusive society – Inkluziva from Kumanovo, Macedonia, one of the 12 CSOs that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is currently supporting through an EU funded project. By providing the CSOs with the skills they need to effectively lobby parliament for change we hope to bring real benefits to citizens lives in Macedonia.

“Many times, I’ve been trying to initiate a meeting with state institutions, and I’ve raised this issue at many public events. However, there was no progress” Ms Dimitrovska explained her previous experience trying to support disabled people, before Inkluzia were involved in the project. –. “But now, when I have this public policy paper in my hands, I will advocate for the rights of this target group much more strongly, and I strongly believe that there will be legislative changes soon” she said.

Inkluzia’s mission is to create conditions for an inclusive society through activities and projects that will improve the lives of people with disabilities and the families who support them.

Since May 2016, WFD organised training, panel discussions and mentoring on the best methods to engage with parliament. The most recent session tackled the skills needed to plan, research and write a policy paper and present the findings to the parliament. The “learning by doing” approach was applied with the organisations having a mentor to support with conducting research and writing their policy paper.

(Above: Representatives from CSOs participating in the programme present their policy papers)

“What helped us the most was the direct work on the document with mentor support” says Biljana Dukovska, President at the Macedonian Anti-Poverty Platform, a national platform of CSOs that work to reduce poverty and foster social inclusion. “The trainings provided great theoretical basis, but we could never imagine how big this process actually is, until we started to implement research and translate the findings into a policy paper on our own” she continued.

Having direct support and someone to answer your questions Ms Dukovska found very helpful. “It is good to know that there is someone to ask when you face a difficulty, and for that we had the hand-outs and the mentor at any given moment” she said. Through the collection of life stories about people living in poverty, the Macedonian Anti-Poverty Platform’s policy paper points out inadequacies with the current social financial assistance in Macedonia that keeps people poor and excluded. They propose changes to the system that would influence poverty prevention and reduction.

This project supports CSOs covering a range of pressing human rights issues from social policy and health care issues, to discrimination in higher education and sanctions against hate speech. All 12 CSOs have improved the presentation of their research findings to a manner that an MP would find the most useful to initiate a debate in the Parliament. The ability of CSOs to conduct research and influence the debate in the Parliament will help improve citizen’s human rights in Macedonia, with legislative change being the ultimate goal of WFD’s support. “Prior to our participation in this project, we had a lot of topics and data that were promoted only through the media. Now we can translate that data into policy. Now we know how to plan a research and structure a policy” explains Ms Dukovska.

It’s not just the 12 participating CSOs that will benefit from the project, either. WFD will make all policy papers available to all MPs, thus support the CSOs’ access to the Parliament where they will be able to advocate for the proposed changes in the documents on their own. MPs will also benefit from this process, since they will be provided with relevant and in-depth information and analysis on the existing legislative and evidence-based suggestions for law changes.

WFD’s ambition is for these CSOs to be standard-bearers for a new way of engaging with parliament; successful results for these initiatives will encourage others to adopt the same practices. That can only make Macedonia’s democracy stronger. Doing so will help the effectiveness of the parliament in its efforts to achieve better policy on human rights issues. It will also improve representation of the marginalised groups of citizens set to benefit – both important ingredients in making Macedonia’s governance more inclusive and effective

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Why regional networks are important for women’s empowerment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Ukraine: Interview with Prof. Andriy Meleshevych

(Above: Photo: Valdemar Fishmen)

Money plays a central role in the political system; from selection costs to financing an election campaign, potential members of parliament often require great personal wealth to secure a seat at the decision-making table. Last July, WFD launched a series of research into the cost of politics in Europe and Africa.

Andriy Meleshevych, Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the Cost of Politics research paper on Ukraine explains why this research is important.

Andriy, can you explain the key findings that emerged from the research on the Cost of Politics in Ukraine?

Political party finance is a controversial area in any country. In Ukraine, in the past no money was allocated in to the national budget for the purpose of public finance of political parties. Basically, nobody cared except several NGOs.

Currently we have budget money allocated to successful political parties; those represented in the parliament as a result of parliamentary elections. It is not much but it is still the first step. In fact, the first trench of money was transferred to some political parties recently. The Government also set up an enforcement mechanism; the National Agency of Corruption Prevention, which checks declarations submitted by political parties on their income and expenses. The most important thing in Ukraine is that not only the legislative framework has been adopted but the mechanism of its enforcement has been set up and the money was allocated in the national budget for this purpose.

Why do you think addressing this issue is so important for citizens’?

Nobody wants to live in a country that is corrupted, everyone would like to have some predictability, some rule of law in their country. It is much more convenient, calmer and comfortable to live in a country where you know what might happen to you tomorrow.

So, how does the cost of politics research fit into anti-corruption efforts more broadly?

Public finance of election campaigns and political parties is an extremely important issue. It is at the heart of the issue of power in a society: who holds this power, who has access to this power, in what ways such an access is guaranteed and provided, is it fair access or is it corrupted access. I think there are many faces of corruption, but political corruption especially in the top echelons of power determines the whole fabric of society.

You mentioned that new measures aimed at reducing corruption have been introduced – How did parliament react? Was there a lot of opposition?

The most recent elections to the Ukrainian Parliament took place two years ago and resulted in a significant refurbishment, or using political science terms; a major realignment of political forces in Ukraine. The political will of the majority of Ukrainian members of parliament to move closer to European institutions is one essential motivation and the other crucially important element is the role of civil society. All the major changes that I have described to you we have civil society to thank for. The Government without civil society pressure would be much slower.

Where there any surprises revealed by the research?

Yes, the amount of money involved in the electoral campaigns in Ukraine. I did not expect that they would cost so much. I expected it in the UK or the US but the amounts that aspiring politicians in Ukraine were paying for campaigns was comparable with the wealthiest European countries.

And what about the impact on sitting MPs – What costs do they face?

The Revolution of Dignity was a watershed in a way as before that members of parliament [saw being in parliament as] business. You get to the parliament, you invest money in your electoral campaign, you get access to the national budget. Then you lobby your interests, you introduce bills that somebody pays you to introduce and you make sure the bill is accepted, then you get rewarded by business: this is how Ukrainian politics worked.

After the Revolution of Dignity, the situation changed significantly. Salaries for members of the Ukrainian Parliament decreased to about 300 dollars per month, which is also ridiculous. How are you going to perform your duties if you are only making 300 dollars per month and the cost of living in Kyiv is pretty high? Currently it is getting to normal. They increased salaries to a realistic figure so people who came from civil society can survive in parliament. The civil society representatives who are currently members of parliament or joined public service didn’t come from business and they heavily rely on the money that they make as their salary.

And it’s very important to get the views of ordinary citizens represented in the parliament. It seems like there is a lot of progress being made – are you hopeful for the future?

I am hopeful because I see significant changes but what is very important is that society does not get disillusioned. We currently have very high levels of expectation in Ukraine. If society does not get disillusioned, then it can push the Government to do what civil society wants them to do in the interest of a democratic Ukraine. If these very useful anti-corruption laws are not implemented – and Ukraine is very skilled at not implementing good laws – then it will lead to instability, disillusionment in democratic changes, and perhaps even the loss of national sovereignty.

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Supporting political party reform in Kosovo

(Above: Citizens’ in Kosovo take to the street to protest)

Blerim Vela, WFD’s Country Representative for Kosovo on how our new programme will support reform to political parties.

Political parties’ image in Kosovo have been tainted. Citizens’ hold a deep level of mistrust in the institutions that should represent their interests, because constructive dialogue between political parties, citizens and civil society is not happening. By not tackling public perceptions about transparency and clientelist operations within parties, internal reforms are struggling. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s new programme is set to address these inherent challenges with the party system in Kosovo.

Political parties are the most corrupt institutions in Kosovo, a special edition of the Public Pulse on Corruption from UNDP Kosovo revealed. The report found that the increase in dissatisfaction with political parties reflects the political turmoil witnessed since summer 2015, which is related to the decrease in satisfaction with the general political direction in Kosovo. Citizens believe that corruption is more prevalent in political parties because of the perception that political parties in Kosovo are not driven by clear ideology, are not democratic, and are detached from the public.

Corruption and monopolies were proclaimed to be the main forms of political patronage and clientelism in a recent study by a local think tank too. Mutually dependent relationships between economic and political arenas were designated as the way to accumulate and maintain political power and economic wealth it argued. The study attributes this characteristic to the concentration of political power to a relatively small group of people, the lack of effective rule of law and mechanisms of accountability. The quest for stability before development has created a perception among some international actors that clientelist networks are tolerated in Kosovo. Another contributing factor to informality and political patronage is the relatively large portion of the population in Kosovo living below the poverty threshold, which drives membership to political parties. People are often encouraged by self-interested reasons like employment in public institutions, or benefits from contracts offered through public funds to get active in political parties.

By supporting political system change in Kosovo, WFD will tackle these key challenges. Parties can open their structures to new members and address the needs of vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disabilities and the unemployed, as well as implementing merit-based promotions in their own ranks. Additionally, parties can ensure that their policy positions are a result of inclusive and transparent deliberation process and not from back-door discussions between small groups of people.

(Above: Kosovo parliament)

WFD’s approach brings together elements of multi-party work with support to individual political parties. We seek to address issues which exist within the legal and legislative framework in which the political system operates whilst engaging a wider representation of society. Our support to multi-party democracy in Kosovo contributes more broadly to the promotion of good governance across the Western Balkans.

As part of the multiparty support WFD will provide assistance to targeted parties. By tackling a broad range of issues which are common to political parties and the political system in Kosovo, the support hopes to unite parties on key issues including party finance, internal party governance, supporting Women in political parties, EU accession promoting a code of ethics and the decriminalisation of politics and communications.

When it comes to supporting individual parties, WFD will work to identify gaps in capacity and provide individual support based on demand to drive the needed reforms. This tailored approach will encourage the political parties to design interventions that help them move towards pre-established standards, while ensuring local ownership and buy-in.

From exposure to international best practice through engagement of local, regional or international experts on particular themes to the engagement of sister-parties, regional and international party networks for particular projects WFD will encourage suggestions from the parties themselves on areas they identify for reform. This could include self-implemented training and engagements of party membership and structures; retreats and strategy development by party bodies; as well as equipping party offices and other operational units and strategy implementation.

To facilitate sharing of knowledge the programme will produce research papers on key issues, provide comparative examples and technical assistance in drafting legislative amendments to political party frameworks through engagement with parties, parliament, and relevant government institutions.

By engaging key stakeholders from civil society, academia, international experts and the Kosovo political parties, WFD will review and highlight issues of the legal and regulatory framework that are relevant as these “rules of the game” define the overall political system, addressing gaps will ensure that parties are further encouraged towards European standard.

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FEAO: Following the money

(Above: Victor Maziarchuk, the FEAO Chief Economist, live on VRU TV Channel talking about the draft Budget 2017.)

In a country battling against corruption and facing conflict in the south-east, Ukrainians are relying on their Verkhovna Rada (VRU) to conduct robust and effective financial scrutiny. “In these times of economic hardship, it is equally essential to know the amount of public spending by the Government and the efficiency of that spending,” says Victor Maziarchuk, Chief Economist of the Financial and Economic Analysis Office (FEAO).

With support from Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Government of Germany through GIZ, the FEAO was established to support the oversight function of the parliament. It provides the VRU with financial analysis that is so urgently required to hold the government to account for the austerity measures being implemented.

Although only set up earlier this year, it has already made some startling findings. Having analysed the Ministry of the Interior’s budget, Mr Maziarchuk says, the Office found that “eight per cent of funds allocated to the Ministry were spent for purposes other than designated for this institution”.

To avoid diverting public funds in 2017, the FEAO is currently supporting the 2017 budgetary process by providing neutral expertise and assistance to committee members and staff from the VRU Budgetary Committee and nine other committees in conducting budget scrutiny. Once the budget bill is passed, the Office will continue to monitor and analyse public expenditure.

The expertise provided by the Office also supports individual MPs in conducting their oversight work. This underpins a meaningful dialogue between Parliament and the Government in regard to accurate forecasting and the appropriate use of public funds.

“Cooperation with the FEAO helps me to better understand the budget and, as an MP, to take informed and qualified decisions on effective allocation of public funds,” says Victor Kryvenko, Deputy Chair of the VRU Budgetary Committee. “I am using the 2016 Budget Diary prepared by the Office to study the 2017 budget bill that is being considered by Parliament. The Diary also helps me in assessing the Government’s initiatives to be funded from the state budget next year”.

It is not just members and staff who benefit from the FEAO; civil society activists and journalists grappling with financial issues take advantage of the analysis too. Through miscellaneous communication activities the Office has been actively engaged with interpreting the draft budget 2017, contributing to greater awareness-raising, public discussion and transparency of the budget process in Ukraine.

“As a journalist writing on economic matters, I used to lack timely, objective and complete information regarding the state budget,” says Channel 5 reporter Olha Kalynovska. “This made it difficult for me to prepare high-quality, professional media stories on this topic. Thanks to the FEAO’s materials, I have come to understand the budget document better, and the entire budgetary process has become more open and transparent. I’m glad that the Office often uses the platform of live broadcasting offered by our TV channel to promote such openness and transparency”.

The parliament’s ability to scrutinise where citizen’s money is going is crucial for delivering oversight and transparency of public spending. The Governments focus on on-going fighting in the south-east, EU accession and dealing with the economic crisis, means support for financial scrutiny is of great importance.

“The FEAO programme is committed to ensure that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is a capable, accountable and responsive institution with regard to financial oversight and scrutiny, providing useful perspectives on economic sustainability, development and growth,” says WFD’s Country Representative Halyna Shevchuk. Although a number of macroeconomic reforms have helped stabilise the economy, more challenging restructuring lies ahead.

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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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Women candidates in Bosnia & Herzegovina: What role can the media play?

With five weeks to go until local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Westminster Foundation for Democracy brought together political parties, civil society and the media to discuss the level of coverage of women candidates – and the relationship this has with the number of women in politics.

Excluding 50% of the population

Having lived through the media furore which followed her election as the first hijab-wearing mayor in Europe, Amra Babic of Visoko has direct experience of the impact headlines can have on women politicians. “The media can turn you into a star, and the next day they can throw you down to the mud,” she told WFD’s conference in Neum. Her message to women politicians seeking coverage, though, is one of determination. “Women have to be courageous. It is difficult and demanding, but there is no other way I’m afraid.”

The figures suggest women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina face a real challenge. Out of 3,276 articles on the 2014 elections, Anesa Omanovic from civil society group Infohouse told the conference, just 176 discussed women candidates. Of those 176, 40% of the articles referred to only one candidate (the current Republic of Srpska Prime Minister). The result was that in a country whose population is 52% female, women made up under 20% of the legislature.

The lack of coverage of women candidates just underlines the important role the media play in shaping political discourse. It’s noticeable even to diplomats like Edward Ferguson, the UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. “My newspapers are filled with page after page of men,” he told delegates. “That points to a problem; the media has a key role and responsibility for creating a space where women’s voices can be heard.”

WFD is committed to increasing the representation of marginalised groups through our parliamentary and political party programmes. In Bosnia and Herzegovina WFD has united the two in our new integrated programming concept, sharing the British democratic experience to encourage more women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “There is no justice or democracy without equality between men and women,” Professor Zarije Seizovic from the University of Sarajevo says. As a local male champion he firmly believes that “society develops faster if it includes more women.”

(Above: L-R: Amra Babic Mayor of Visoko and UK Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Edward Ferguson)

Party systems or unfair coverage?

In any democracy grappling with issues of representation there is a debate to be had about what constitutes the most important factor. Is it the role of political parties’ leadership? The number of articles published during campaigns that feature women candidates? If coverage is given, does style or substance matter? All these important issues were raised throughout the conference.

Damir Arnaut, BiH state parliamentarian and vice-president of one of the largest political parties in BiH, SBB, suggested: “The responsibility does not rest with media, but with the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Marija Milic, a candidate for the PDP in the upcoming local elections and former journalist, agreed. “We could talk to leaders about women’s visibility,” she argued. “They should understand that women have good ideas and can discuss issues with men on an equal footing. Women are slightly shy and do not have the will to speak publicly, but that is wrong because there are so many things women could say.” Political parties play a key role in choosing which candidates are promoted within the media; she felt that parties could do more for their women candidates.

Jadranka Milicevic, representing the CURE foundation, also felt that political party support was vital for women candidates who are trying to gain media coverage. “Most women are not aware of the official positions of their political parties, let alone serious issues like maternity leave, the economy and other male dominated issues” she said, “which has a negative impact on their coverage.”

The dual discrimination women with disabilities face was raised in the final session by Nihada Hadzic, an SDA councillor in Bugojno, who shared her inspirational story . “The media are a driving force that shapes public opinion,” she said. “Reports on people with disabilities are biased, and describe them as disadvantaged, vulnerable people.” Like women, “people with disabilities are invisible, we do not see them in the press or on television. But disability is a part of every-day life and this should be reflected in the media.”

(Above: L-R: Anesa Omanovic from civil society group Infohouse, Marija Milic standing as a PDP candidate and Damir Arnaut, BiH state parliamentarian and Vice President SBB)

Next steps: A commitment for change

Over 40 participants, including directors of some of the main public and private media outlets in BiH, representatives of some of the most widely represented political parties, and activists, adopted the declaration drafted on the second day of the conference. This calls on the media, civil society, political parties and women themselves to make greater efforts to promote women in politics in the run-up to the local elections.

The declaration set out concrete measures which they can take, like ensuring women candidates are represented in party campaign events and paying particular attention to the way women candidates are presented. Building on the momentum generated by the conference, the group will keep fighting for gender equality and positive discrimination ahead of the general elections in 2018.

Already during the conference and the day after, the message of fair play elections for all and the need for greater equality and women’s representation was on the airwaves of Bosnian media. From television reports to web news sites and newspaper articles, a very diverse range of media outlets all reported on the conference itself and its topic.

Referring to the declaration and opportunities provided by the conference, participant and female candidate for Nasa Stranka Aida Koluder-Agic said: “It won’t mean anything concerning the law, but it’s a voice and it’s good for this voice to be heard before the elections.”

She added that it was a great opportunity to reach out to colleagues in civil society and the media. “Meeting directors of public media was a real opportunity,” she said. “For us, we are all pioneers in this and I think it is very helpful to be brought together.”

(Above: L-R: Nihada Hadzic, SDA councillor in Bugojno, Tvrtko Milovic director from KISS TV, Prof. Zarije Seizovic, and Nerina Cevra, WFD Country Representative. )

Nerina Cevra, WFD Country Representative, said: “I was encouraged by the positive response from the media present at the conference and the action that has taken place since the conference ended. They have taken on board their responsibility toward women candidates . Now it is up to all, including women who are already in office to tell women voters in BiH why they should vote for women on the lists on October 2.”

As those elections approach the importance of hearing the voices of all parts of society – including women – is becoming clearer and clearer. Mr Ferguson, who opened the conference, said the value women could bring to policymaking and delivery sprang from their different experience and perspectives. “We all need to understand that a healthy society is where all citizens, men and women, gay or straight, can play a role in shaping the future of their communities,” he said. “To compete and survive in a modern global economy a state needs to use all of its talent, not half of it.”

 

Declaration for Equality: Fair play elections 2016

Deklaracija Za Jednakost: Fer Plej Izbori 2016

Javnost u Našem Dvorištu (Public In my Backyard)

Javnost u Našem Dvorištuhttp (Cirilica)

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Shaping democracy: Update from WFD’s openDemocracy debate

In February 2016 Westminster Foundation for Democracy launched our editorial partnership with openDemocracy with the goal of seeking to encourage a discussion about democracy assistance.

From torture in Georgia to corruption in Mongolia, a range of issues have arisen from the debate since our last update in June. Here’s a quick overview of the direction the debate has taken…

Mari Valdur, previously of SOAS and currently on the Doctoral Programme in Anthropology at the University of Helsinki, shines a light on some of the realities for citizens living in transitioning democracies. With the spotlight on Mongolia, the role of corruption and how this shapes citizens’ perceptions on what democracy can bring was analysed.

“While people say it’s very nice to have democracy, the reality is that [our] salaries are among the lowest in the world. The government provides very minimal services to citizens.”

WFD is proud of the support we have given to the Georgian Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, tasked with reporting on the torture violations exposed in Georgian prisons by civil society and international NGOs. Mairi Mackay, Senior Editor at openDemocracy, met with Eka Beselia, Chair of the Committee and former public defender, to discuss the systematic torture taking place in Georgia’s prison system before 2012.

“After that, [the] repression [started]. I remember when I met the prisoners, they had always been tortured. We defenders could not help [them], because this happened everywhere, it was a systematic programme.”

In the most recent piece, Bram Dijkstra, policy analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, introduces the idea of election observation and the weight international organisations hold in pushing for compliance with international standards.

“Foreign donors must pay attention to the rapid release of the rule of law – and the EU should lead them. The EU, together with its member states, is Zambia’s biggest donor of foreign aid, a major trade partner, and maintains regular political dialogue with Zambian authorities.”

If you want to respond to any of these articles, get in touch by emailing mairi dot mackay @ opendemocracy.org.

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Lobbying for change: WFD’s support to human rights CSOs in Macedonia

(Above: WFD’s opening public event held in Skopje, Macedonia)

“By deconstructing the myth that marriages under 18 years old are part of the Roma tradition, we want to ensure the realisation of children’s rights and encourage institutions to follow the trend, as well as provide legal protection to the families in risk,” says Nesime Salioska, the Executive Director at ROMA S.O.S, one of the 12 civil society organisations Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is working with in Macedonia.

From patients with rare diseases to the issue of child marriage amongst the Roma community, WFD’s programme in Macedonia is set to support a wide range of civil society organisations tackling different human rights issues. WFD will support the CSOs by building their capacity to engage with decision-makers in Macedonia, encouraging a dialogue on human rights based on research and evidence.

Conducting research – how to engage decision-makers

The programme, which brings together 12 civil society organisations in Macedonia, delivered its first training explaining the best way for the CSOs to conduct effective research and present it to parliament through a policy paper.

“We now have the knowledge, skills and support provided by the mentors to conduct this research, discover the challenges and best practices, and prioritise accordingly,” says Anja Bosilkova, Vice President from Wilson Macedonia, a support group for patients suffering from the rare disease. Her organisation is advocating for the government to introduce changes to existing legislation on health care, insurance, medicines and medical devices.

“Then we will be able to propose adequate solutions to the most pressing issues first, such as having proper diagnostic procedures available for early diagnosis.” Anja says that WFD’s first training in May 2016 helped her approach the challenge in an effective way. She explains: “As patients, we know our problems, but in order to find out the major issues for most of the patients, and translate it into policy paper, we need support to go through this process.”

Nesime Salioska believes her CSO has benefited because the training’s focus on evidence and research “could change negative perceptions and attitudes toward this issue in Roma communities”. She adds: “We gained capacity and knowledge which will enable us to bring evidence and raise the interest of different stakeholders to join our efforts.” This enables her and her colleagues to explain, using evidence, why Roma communities should be protected through legislation.

(Above: Anja Bosilkova-Antovska, representing Wilson Macedonia at the WFD opening public event)

Elena Nakova is a lawyer who volunteers at Free Software Macedonia, another CSO benefiting from WFD’s support. Its campaign aims to improve the privacy of citizens’ personal data following the abuses of voter list information during the political crisis. She said she felt the training was helpful in outlining the stages a CSO should work through when presenting information to parliament. “The training held at the School of Journalism and Public Relations helped us define certain aspects, such as the stakeholders and the need to make interviews with them in addition to the desk research in order to obtain valid information,” she said.

Legislative change – protecting citizens’ human rights

But, how does improving the ability of CSOs to conduct research help improve citizens’ human rights in Macedonia? Legislative change is the ultimate goal of WFD’s support.

For Elena Nakova of Free Software Macedonia that means they “want to see real change and work hard so that Macedonian citizens obtain better protection of their personal data.” She continues: “The problems that occurred during the political crisis and the handling of the voter list drew our attention and we knew that an urgent reform to the Law on personal identification numbers is needed. We were already familiar with the Croatian model and we made draft provisions that should be included in the new Law.” This is a significant change which, if achieved, would protect Macedonian’s citizen’s privacy and personal data.

(Above: Elena Nakova, representing Free Software Macedonia)

Anja from Wilson Macedonia is also focused on changing the law because she believes “long-term solutions are a necessity for a proper, institutionalised approach to the treatment of rare diseases in Macedonia. Recognising rare disease patients as a separate group with specific health needs and introducing the necessary legislative changes in health protection will make a real difference to the lives of this marginalized group. This is what we aim to do,” she said.

The importance of legislative change also applies to ROMA S.O.S. “The issue is related to children who are not mature enough to make decisions independently, so the state is the one that through legal regulations and acts of the institutions should protect them within the frames of established norms for the rights of the children and their best interests,” Nesime Salioska says.

ROMA SOS hope to overcome this issue “by undertaking mainstream activities that contribute to the improvement of Roma’s comprehensive integration in the context of human rights and to the concept of equality for citizens, no matter the status or belonging to which group”.

By providing training around the key principles of evidence, advocacy and access, WFD is set to support Macedonian CSOs to deliver change to citizens’ lives through their improved lobbying of parliament. It’s not just these three CSOs which will benefit, either: this programme supports 12 CSOs covering a range of issues from discrimination in higher education to sanctions against hate speech.

WFD’s ambition is for these CSOs to be standard-bearers for a new way of engaging with parliament; successful results for these initiatives will encourage others to adopt the same practices. That can only make Macedonia’s democracy stronger. Doing so will help the effectiveness of the parliament in its efforts to achieve better policy on human rights issues. It will also improve representation of the marginalised groups of citizens set to benefit – both important ingredients in making Macedonia’s governance more inclusive and effective.

(Below: Daniela Cvetanoska , representing ROMA S.O.S, also participated in the WFD training)
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