Ukrainian politicians ‘buddy’ with British MPs

(l to r: Jeffrey Donaldson MP; Sergei Alieksieiev MP; Yuri Levchenko MP; Philip Davies MP; HE Natalia Galibarenko, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK; Sir Gerald Howarth, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine; Natalya Katser-Buchkovska MP; Jonathan Djanogly MP)

Westminster Foundation for Democracy helps share understanding about British politics overseas, but it is not the only source of information for MPs working in other parliaments.

“I’m a big fan of Yes, Minister,” Yuri Levchenko, a Ukrainian MP visiting the Houses of Parliament, said earlier this week. “This visit is a great opportunity to see how it really works on the inside.”

The antics of fictional politician Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey, the unruffled civil servant who carefully guides him through his time in power, are “satirical”, as Mr Levchenko pointed out. But the British MPs present at the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group where Mr Levchenko was speaking freely accepted the programme contains more than a grain of truth. For British MPs, APPG Chair Sir Gerald Howarth joked, Yes, Minister is an “instruction manual”. WFD prefers to offer visiting MPs insight into British parliamentary practise through more formal methods – including the ‘buddy’ scheme linking British parliamentarians with Ukrainian MPs taking place this week.

This approach reflects WFD’s commitment to exploring new ways of innovative programming. Mr Levchenko, whose party has five MPs in the Verkhovna Rada, has been partnered with Jeffrey Donaldson, a WFD board member and Democratic Unionist Party MP. Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly was accompanied by Natalya Katser-Buchkovska, a member of the Rada’s Sustainable Development Committee; this week she attended sessions of the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee. Sergei Alieksieiev is shadowing Philip Davies, the Shipley MP, who has taken Mr Alieksieiev to Bradford Crown Court. “I am very grateful for the chance to exchange experiences,” Mr Alieksieiev told the all-party group meeting. “I would like to stress that there is not so much populism in the British parliament; all the decisions are made professionally.”

Such a remark could not be made without attracting self-deprecating comments from the British MPs present. They were full of praise for the Ukrainian MPs, applauding their resolve in dealing with a political and security crisis. “We want to help them get where they want to be,” Mr Donaldson said. Mr Howarth spoke of the Budapest Memorandum and Britain’s “responsibility to support Ukraine at this difficult time”. Stephen Pound, a Labour MP, described Ukraine’s significance in terms of both its size and its symbolism. “It’s important we realise there is a great future of collaboration with Ukraine as a European nation,” he said. “It is an extremely and increasingly important country.”

The British political commitment to Ukraine is reflected in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s three priorities for the country, as described by Jason Rheinberg. These are returning Ukraine to its sovereign borders; helping Ukraine reform; and strengthening its democratic institutions, “an extremely important part of that road ahead”. WFD seeks to contribute to this. Our programme, in collaboration with GIZ, has established a Financial and Economic Analysis Office which can help strengthen the Rada’s financial scrutiny work. “I would like to thank WFD for helping us,” Natalya Katser-Buchkovska said. “There are a lot of laws which need economic analysis, and now we have a chance to receive really high quality expertise. This is really valuable for us.”

Improved financial scrutiny can help expand the Rada’s role in anti-corruption, an important part of the present government’s reform efforts – and a point of political contention reflected in the comments of the Ukrainian MPs present. Their debates on this issue and others will continue in the Rada. As they do so, the FEAO and WFD stand ready to support their work.

“We’ve found a group of members of the Rada who are extremely motivated but working in difficult circumstances,” Anthony Smith, WFD Chief Executive, told the group. WFD aims to work with the Rada’s staff “as they seek to refocus their support to MPs for many years to come… We want to be there for the long-term.” Just as WFD has helped individual MPs develop relationships with their British counterparts, so we aim to harness British expertise to help strengthen the Rada.

As Mr Howarth put it: “The new members of the Rada are very well motivated, it’s been most encouraging for us. The future of Ukraine rests on some of those who are here today, and your colleagues in Kyiv.”

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What does Europe offer for peace, security and development?

Collective action at the EU level is essential to improve the correlation between peace, security and development.

By Kerrie Doogan-Turner

This was the key theme highlighted by Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) event on Europe in the world which took place this week. In his call for greater multilateral cooperation to tackle the global challenges of climate change, human trafficking and mass migration, he said there can be “no peace and security without development and no development without peace and security”.

Actors from the international development community gathered at the ODI event on Tuesday to discuss what Europe’s role in the world means for the peace and security. 2015 saw a culmination of global crises that are set to boil over at the European level as 2016 begins. Mass refugee migration on top of conflicts in Ukraine and Syria are putting strain on an already tense European community.

The gap between public opinion, national sentiment and foreign policy in Europe is stark – and growing. You only have to look to the rhetoric being used when discussing UK membership of the EU at the moment to see this. But the majority of problems and challenges the EU face at the moment are cross-border issues that will not be defeated unilaterally. And now more than ever, it was suggested, is the time to focus on what the European Union has to offer collectively in terms of achieving increased peace, security and development.

(Above: Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development)

If the EU can harness collective momentum to gather around the values that connect them, simultaneous improvements in development and national security can occur, the panel agreed. This applied particularly to the importance of sustainable development goal 16, which calls for “the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.”

The importance of goal 16 has been repeatedly underlined by Anthony Smith, WFD CEO. Although welcoming its inclusion in the SDGs,  and its reference to the accountability of institutions, at the ODI he expressed his disappointment that the word ‘democracy’ was not actually used. He outlined a specific tension between the wider development community and the democracy and governance sphere. This develops when considering whether democracy directly correlates with improvements in key development indicators like health, education and climate change. He argued that – in spite of the evidence – democracy, especially in Europe, is about values. Respect for human rights, the rule of law, access to justice and strong institutions, which hold the executive to account, are all prominent features of the most successful democracies.

The European Union, he said, “can make a distinctive contribution in these areas”. When it comes to managing internal conflict, authoritarianism and abuses of power, Europe has a lot to offer. The experience the EU can share with states encountering such issues now is a vital tool that should not be overestimated. Europe’s promotion of democratic values comes as a result of the collective challenges we have faced and overcome together. And in spite of the challenges we do face in Europe at the moment, he argued, the systems are “pretty much as good as it gets, in terms of forms of governance that reflect the will of the people and protect from abuses of power”.

The development sphere “can and should address politics more directly” as development tends to deal exclusively with the executive, and therefore ignores the ability of parliaments and political parties to hold the government to account. If health, education, women’s rights and climate change are not on the agenda of the executive, then how can progress be made without parliaments, parties and civil society trying to change that agenda? It’s all these skills which need to be drawn together from the wealth of diplomatic and political experience that exists within Europe to help tackle the current global challenges.

This is why at WFD we share the experience of the UK parliament and its devolved bodies in the countries we work in. As WFD’s Anthony Smith highlighted, this “allows others to learn from our experience and decide their own way”. We encourage small, practical changes that can be made in fragile and transitioning states to build institutional change. We work with parliaments and parties to ensure they have the right tools to hold the government to account, improve participation and representation of individuals and therefore create policy that is addressing the needs of citizens.

It is this collective approach and understanding of shared experience that should be reflected in the EU global strategy it was agreed. But ultimately, it is the wealth of experience in establishing developed, democratic societies and maintaining relative peace and security that Europe can and should bring to the table.

Featured image: Flickr – bibliotecabne
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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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Human rights in Macedonia: Linking up CSOs with Parliament

WFD is launching a new partnership in Macedonia – connecting civil society with parliament to improve human rights in the country.

By Ivana Petkukjeska

We’ll link up with the School of Journalism and Public Relations in the 12 months to December 2017 to facilitate a dialogue on human rights policy. The project will build on the experience of our work in Georgia, as well as our previous cooperation with the Parliament of Macedonia, to bring together civil society organisations (CSOs) with decision-makers in Skopje.

The problem CSOs in Macedonia face is that their work doesn’t usually result in significant legislative changes. While there are organisations in the country that are really focused and sincere when it comes to improving the laws concerning the target group they support, they often lack capacity to conduct research- and evidence-based advocacy. Those who do conduct their own research often find they lack the ability to make their case publicly because their findings are just data on paper. This lack of both research and advocacy skills reduces their impact on the legislative process, undermining their chances of achieving a positive change.

On the other side is the Government. It has a Strategy and Action Plan for cooperation with civil society, but the extent of implementation remains limited. There is a need for improvement. CSOs find it almost impossible to reach the MPs they need to communicate with to advocate for specific legislative changes.

Photo: Andres Musta

WFD has been supporting the development of the Macedonian Parliament since 2008 through various programmes. Since then we’ve established solid relations and cooperation with the Parliamentary Committees and members of different political parties. Now, our aim is to use our access to the Parliament to help CSOs. We’ll connect them with the MPs and relevant Parliamentary Committees to try to achieve legislative changes which will contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation in Macedonia.

The initiatives for changes to the law will be completely demand-led. We’ll open a call for policy initiatives dealing with human rights and democratization issues. CSOs will be invited to identify issues which will directly benefit certain communities or groups of citizens. By offering research and advocacy trainings, as well as access to decision-makers, the action will strengthen CSOs by capacity building and increasing their integrity with the local communities.

It’s an approach we’ve been pursuing in Georgia for some time. After two years, our initiatives are showing great signs of progress. Just take a look at the event which took place on Monday December 7, the latest in a series of opportunities for local CSOs to highlight pressing issues about torture, property law and children’s rights, and you’ll see the difference WFD’s work can make.

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‘You can’t ignore human rights’: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

This week, Georgian civil society organisations (CSOs) have been sharing with the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee the harrowing stories they’ve encountered through their work.

MPs will take these grim examples to the Government in Tbilisi – with the help of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the UK embassy in Georgia.

“Currently no-one cares for him – neither parents, nor the State,” says Maia Gedevanishvili of the Apparatus of Public Defender of Georgia. She’s talking about an 18-year-old who came to her for help. “There’s no state policy regarding young people who aren’t under the care of the state anymore,” she explained. “He is not ready for fully independent life. He doesn’t have a proper education, or job, or home. It is essentially important to help this category of young people prepare for adult life.”

Mrs Gedevanishvili was given the opportunity to raise this case to MPs thanks to WFD’s programme with the Georgian Human Rights Committee. We’re aiming to increase the committee’s oversight; the Government is implementing its Human Rights Action Plan, which needs scrutiny.

On December 7, committee members visited homes for parentless children in Rustavi and Kojori. They were seeking to check the living conditions are consistent with the children’s rights. But they also heard from a range of organisations – including the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights.

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” its spokesperson Vakhtang Kanashvili said, “is the conduct of the comprehensive investigation of facts concerning crimes of torture that occurred before 2012.” The Centre is calling for a firmer criminal policy and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in order to comply with international standards. “The next step must be the correct qualification of facts concerning crime of torture and the persons who perpetrated that crime must not be granted any kind of legal privilege, including plea bargaining,” Mr Kanashvili added. These are significant changes, but the MPs who are being lobbied believe they can help achieve them.

The committee’s chair, Eka Beselia, who was a lawyer advocating on human rights issues before her election to parliament, keenly feels the importance of her work. “I strongly believe that you can’t make a difference by ignoring human rights standards,” she says. “Any reform which doesn’t take human rights standards into account is doomed to failure.”

Mrs Beselia believes this engagement reflects the strength of feeling in her country. “The Georgian people very much know what human rights issues are, because they feel it. They’ve been through inappropriate treatment, they were themselves in many cases the victims of violations of human rights.” The language of the petitions and claims received by the committee reflects this, she adds. “They feel that human rights should be engrained in this country. They don’t trust the country, which is why they apply to the committee.”

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Among those participating in the December 7 field visit was the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, who highlighted the case of a businessman who was forced to give up his home to the state. “He was forced to sign a deed of gift,” Archil Kaikatsishvili explained. “He lost the property he gained through years of hard work. After the change of government he addressed our organisation and asked for legal assistance; despite our efforts, it was not possible for his violated rights to be restored.” Parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the Public Prosecutor will ensure the prosecution’s responses to the most burning questions will be answered.

These cases reflect the difficulties of dealing with a bleak legacy of human rights in Georgia – and the hope that a better future is now possible.

After the change of government in 2012, the country adopted the Human Rights Action Plan. Responsibility for oversight of its implementation has fallen to the new committee. It has received thousands of petitions concerning human rights violations since then. And it has an ongoing brief to hold the executive to account over its decisions on reforms to the judiciary, prison system and prosecutor’s office.

There is a broader context to the committee’s work, too. Georgia is seeking membership of the European Union and has signed an Association Agreement which helps it prepare its candidacy. So it’s important to the Government that it addresses ongoing human rights issues, which remain an enduring challenge. WFD is also bringing together the committee with CSOs to discuss legislation springing from the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.

Tamar Lukava of the Human Rights Centre highlighted an example of this: the findings of his organisation’s monitoring work in prisons. Among the continuing violations, he noted, was the practice of “the search of women by making them naked in order that they be confined or transferred to institutions”. Mr Lukava said he believes the Human Rights Committee will be able to work on the elimination of this problem.

Dialogue with European partners is an important part of the process. So the committee’s visit to London in early December to meet with civil society organisations, parliamentarians and government officials was helpful. “We might adopt some of the nuances we’ve learned from this trip,” Mrs Beselia says.

The biggest impact WFD has is the access it offers CSOs to this group of MPs. Much of our work around the world is focused on using our links with parliaments to help improve their effectiveness, and it’s CSOs as much as MPs who are the key beneficiaries. They certainly expressed their gratitude in Rustavi and Kojori.

georgia mps“The organisations involved were given the possibility to get a better understanding of the government’s Action Plan on Human Rights and the flaws of implementation,” Tamar Mudladze of Children Of Georgia said. “The project in question facilitates the mobilization process of organisations working in this sphere. It makes the cooperation between different sectors deeper and it facilitates coordinated actions in order the identified flaws to be eliminated. We would welcome that the project be continued in the future.”

WFD continues to implement its ongoing programme with the committee. A visit to minority groups in the southern part of Georgia, further presentations from CSOs of their findings and a conference on torture and inhumane treatment will all help MPs prepare their recommendations for the Government.

There is real optimism across Georgia about the impact the committee can have. “The outcome from this kind of cooperation is rapid and tangible,” says Elenne Pileeva of the ‘Article 42 of the Constitution’ organisation. “The Government increasingly tries to implement these recommendations – because it is responsible towards the Parliament.”

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Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan: ‘I’m excited to use the knowledge I got’

It doesn’t matter which parliament you’ve been elected to – starting out as a new MP is always a disorienting experience. The induction training in Kyrgyzstan has helped a remarkably young intake get to grips with their important new roles.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is committed to helping Kyrgyzstan as it steadily develops its democracy. Our analysis of the state of multi-party politics, presented at a Bishkek event in September, showed that the evolution of the factions system remains a work in progress. After the election of the Sixth Convocation of the Parliament this autumn, there’s a real opportunity for some big steps forward.

A developing parliament, though, is all about the people inside it – and it’s clear the new arrivals are committed to making a difference. “For me as a pedagogue, and a person who always doubts and questions things, it is important to find the truth and act sincerely and correctly,” Evgeniya Strokova MP of the SDPK faction tells us. “So I’m looking forward to deliver good results of my work and feel excited about that.”

Above: Evgeniya Strokova MP of the SDPK faction

She and the other MPs who participated in the November 20-22 induction event removed themselves from their offices to a neutral venue where they could escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday politics. They received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, will fit in.

“The training is timely, because for new MPs it is important to perform in the Parliament in the right way,” the Bir Bol faction’s Lunara Mamytova MP tells us. Whatever their faction, all the new arrivals find themselves grappling with a very complex institution. Understanding the roles and functions of parliament, legislative processes, outreach work with the electorate, and mechanisms of cooperation with civil society: there’s certainly a lot for new MPs to get on with.

“Before being inducted it was really difficult for me as a new MP to understand the structure and work of the Parliament, regulations,” Aisulu Mamasheva MP of Ata Meken says. “We needed this training in order to perform well and I think we are prepared now to start to function as a qualified parliament.”

Above: Aisulu Mamasheva MP of Ata Meken faction

One experienced Kyrgyzstan politician, ProfessorZainidin Kurmanov, a former Speaker, says the 120-member Jogorku Kengesh is now at the stage of its development where experienced and dynamic specialists are essential. Induction trainings like this, he suggested, are becoming an established tradition. “We were developing quite fast over the last few years, and we need to keep that going,” he explains. “We cannot wait until people change and become mature. It would be great if the Sixth Convocation of the Parliament played an active role in changing people’s lives. If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable.”

Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kengesh has changed a lot since it first met in 1991, but Prof. Kurmanov now believes the pace of change should be accelerated. “We need to move towards revolutionary changes, not evolutionary – we simply have no time for that and it would be even worse for us,” he adds. “The Parliament should lead the country towards positive changes and achieve our stated goals.”

WFD believes that supporting the secretariats of the factions, which face considerable challenges in fulfilling their roles and functions in a parliamentary system, is critical to this. Our analysis found there isn’t a strong link between a party’s manifesto and its behaviour in coalitions. Parliament continues to bear many hallmarks of a presidential majoritarian system as well as its Soviet legacy. The opposition in parliament, moreover, lacks the capacity it needs to provide really forceful scrutiny of the well-resourced majority coalition’s activities.

The new MPs at the induction event have a strong appetite for more assistance. “I would recommend you and other donor organisations facilitate meetings with factions and committees so that we can build up new dialogues and develop tools for effective work,” MP Emil Toktoshov of the Ata Meken faction, who says he “learned a lot” at the induction, urges. Aisulu Mamasheva, also of Ata Meken, adds: “Even more, I would rather ask you to conduct other trainings that could be interesting and useful for MPs. For example, it would be interesting for us to know how parliaments operate in other countries. I also understood that we need some instruments to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of factions’ work. We need to raise the capacity of secretariats. We are in the process of adaptation now, so we need such trainings, qualified staff in secretariats to become efficient as quick as we can.”

WFD’s programme in Kyrgyzstan aims to meet this demand. In the coming months and years, we will work with the secretariats of the factions to help boost their effectiveness. The new convocation offers exciting possibilities for WFD – and the new MPs who will be shaping it.

“I may have some confusions now,” Evgeniya Strokova adds, “because I’m a new person here, but I found the induction training extremely interesting. I’m very excited to use the knowledge I got, and I’ll definitely do so in my work as an MP.”

Above: MP Emil Toktoshov of the Ata Meken faction
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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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WFD and National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia launch new Parliamentary Budget Office

Serbian MPs’ ability to scrutinise public spending will be boosted from today by the launch of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO).

The new body is the result of a longstanding collaboration between the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia (NARS) and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) on parliamentary strengthening work across the Western Balkans region.

Today marks the start of the PBO’s development as an Office providing analysis for MPs on Serbia’s economy, the Government’s Budget’s proposals, and other legislation which deals with fiscal issues. After an initial capacity-building period working together with partners from the Scottish Parliament, responsibility for the PBO will be transferred from WFD to the NARS.

Deputy Speaker of the NARS and Chairman of the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending, Mr Veroljub Arsic, said:

“Starting today, the National Assembly and the Committee for Finance, State Budget and Control of Public Spending have another tool in conducting financial scrutiny – the Parliamentary budget office. The National Assembly has great expectations from this Office, because it should secure help and support for MPs during the budget process, especially the process of reporting and finalising the budget.”

The Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, said:

“The robust scrutiny of public finances is a key function of any parliament and it is a measure of the success of our Financial Scrutiny Unit that it is being used as a model by the National Assembly of Serbia. I am pleased to see this positive outcome from the Scottish Parliament’s work with the National Assembly and I hope that our two Parliaments will continue to cooperate in the years to come.”

WFD has worked closely with the Serbian Parliament in the past, first through a two-year programme in 2011-13 and then through the Network of Parliamentary Committees which has strengthened cooperation across the Western Balkans.

Now WFD’s staff will be based in the Serbian Parliament itself as they seek to achieve the establishment of the PBO, develop a more robust system of financial oversight, and increase capacity of the NARS’s staff and committees.

“This Office will provide MPs with practical assistance which will directly help their scrutiny of financial matters,” WFD Chief Executive Anthony Smith said.

“Its development is a great example of what we can achieve by working in partnership with parliaments and sharing democratic experience from across the UK.”
Notes to editors

1. The PBO will initially employ 5 researchers.

2. WFD has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Serbian Parliament which ensures the PBO will become an integral part of the NARS over the course of WFD’s 2.5-year programme.

3. Ms Gojkovic used a visit to Westminster in November 2014 to announce plans for the PBO following meetings with the House of Lords’ Lord Speaker and the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer.
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4. The establishment of a PBO builds on previous work that WFD has done with the Network of Parliamentary Committees (NPC) which is comprised of 25 parliamentary committees on economy, finance and European integration from across the Western Balkans.

5. The Financial Scrutiny Unit (FSU) is part of the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre and provides independent analysis and support to Scottish Parliament committees and individual Members on budgetary trends and issues, including independent costings of specific spending proposals, as well as research on all areas of the economy and public finances as they affect the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. Scrutiny of Scottish Government spending is a core part of the role of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). Its remit covers:

• supporting MSPs in undertaking effective budget scrutiny;
• producing financial costings and analysis; and
• providing economic information and analysis.

The FSU produces briefings on a range of areas such as the economy, finance, local government, and the business environment (see: Scottish Parliament website).

6. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) helps strengthen parliaments and political parties in developing countries and countries in transition to democracy. Its programmes aim to build policy capacity so that public policy processes are open, consultative and evidence-based, strengthen accountability so that parliaments and political parties hold other government institutions and actors to account and are accountable themselves to their constituents and stakeholders, improve representation so that parliaments and political parties represent their constituencies effectively and are representative of the interests and needs of their citizens as a whole, and increase citizen participation so that citizens, particularly women, youth and other marginalised groups, have greater access to and a more active role in parliamentary and political processes.

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What does it mean to be a woman politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

What does it mean to be a woman politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

That was the question being discussed at the University of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina by a panel of four experienced women engaged in politics and public life.

The 21 October event was organised by Westminster Foundation for Democracy as part of our Promoting Women In Politics programme.

This was a chance for students of the University of Mostar, as well as the general public, to get informed about what the current political climate looks like when it comes to gender equality within institutions and all levels of government in the country.

The discussion addressed topics that concern women in politics – their obstacles as women and how to overcome them, as well as the advantages and how to use them in order to achieve political goals. How can women achieve adequate political promotion with voters and within political parties? What’s the best way of striking a balance between public life and private life? The panel also spoke on current problems of women and their representation in government, especially in the executive and legislative branch, as well as potential solutions to these problems.

Borka Herceg-Lukenda (HDZ 1990) argued they must use all mechanisms to which they are entitled inside their political organizations in order to assert themselves and be of equal importance to their male colleagues. She highlighted the importance of quotas, saying: “If there were no electoral quotas, we would not be present anywhere.” Even with all the obstacles that women face in BiH politics, they have to be the initiators of ideas and solutions, she suggested.

One solution which many support across the world is the introduction of quotas for women. But where this isn’t already the case women need to be prepared to seek change. Amra Babic (Municipal Prefect of the Visoko Municipality, pictured speaking above) spoke about her experience on the local and entity level of government, as well as briefly speaking about different factors that made her campaign in 2012 for Municipal Mayor successful. She highlighted the need to fight political battles inside the political parties – and how they are often more difficult than the external battles.

Irma Baralija (Naša stranka Mostar, pictured speaking above), as the youngest woman on the panel, spoke on how young women can enter politics be a positive factor within their community and political organization. She joined her colleagues in recognizing that political parties hold the main key for the promotion of women in politics. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar) mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented.

The university discussion was concluded by emphasizing that politics is not a man’s job; the equal representation of women, it was agreed, is crucial for achieving a proper and functional democracy. The panel also reiterated the importance of discussions such as this one for raising the awareness of women themselves of their capabilities and opportunities in BiH politics – and that examples of successful women are not rare.

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Targeting Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Zlatan Hajlovac

Gender equality was central to the sustainable development framework discussed last month in New York. It’s an issue at the heart of WFD’s activities, too, as our work in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows.

The destruction and ethnic tensions which accompanied the bloody conflict of 1992-95 continue to have a significant impact on the way politics is conducted in the country. But 20 years of peace have resulted in some progress. Landmarks like the meeting of the 40% quota for female candidates at the 2014 elections highlight just how far Bosnia and Herzegovina advanced on the road toward inclusive democracy.

However, there is still a long way to go. Despite the introduction of quotas only one woman, alongside 17 male candidates, ran for the Presidency. There is a greater focus on local, rather than national politics, which has had a significant impact on the level of representation of women in decision-making positions.

With the formal adoption by world leaders of the sustainable development goals at the United Nations summit, we have to ask: what is WFD doing to address the gender imbalance present in the electoral process in Bosnia and Herzegovina? How are we working towards implementation of Sustainable Development Goal Number Five: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all girls’?

Our ‘Promoting women in politics in BiH’ project aims to tackle the problem that women are significantly underrepresented in different governmental bodies on all levels. The WFD Bosnia and Herzegovina team are supporting a range of different activities including training courses and public debates involving women politicians from local councils. These will feature discussion of concrete issues affecting their local communities. We’re also running activities which boost confidence in women’s ability to effectively participate in politics. Following a public discussion in the Visoko municipality earlier in September this year, the participants told us that the public discussion was a great opportunity for women elected in the municipal bodies to speak directly to citizens concerning their political activity without the interruption of their male colleagues.

We work with the media to ensure balanced media representation of women politician’s campaigns during the pre-election period. Moreover, through our party-to-party work, WFD is working directly with the main political parties in the country to make sure they are implementing their commitments toward gender equality. The overall aim of the WFD project is to ensure an increased representation of women in the decision-making process in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a result we cannot assess until the 2016 local elections take place.

In the meantime we continue or work to help achieve positive results for the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including shaping the future of their country. It is an apt time to consider the reflections offormer MP Besima Boric on the important impact women had in the post-conflict situation when engaging in politics:

“Women were the first who had a normal conversation with two MP’s who were on the other side of the war. In ’96 and ’97, this was a big deal: women talked and worked together  – women from two entities.”

The impact women can have in politics should be felt more broadly, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but globally. The SDGs call for “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life” – and we hope we’re contributing to ensuring that in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Having an equal proportion of women and men in politics and in governmental bodies is critical in order to achieve an inclusive democracy. To achieve this goal, the programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has developed the free publication “Politics in Our Backyard”.

This gives basic and detailed information on the local level of self-government including the authority of local self-government, the description of duties and rights of elected officials as well as other useful information for potential candidates and the general public.

The publication was handed out to visitors, participants and speakers on all public events under the organization of WFD, as well as to all local offices of the OSCE in Bosnia and Herzegovina including Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Brcko and Banja Luka. It was also distributed to participants of events in the organization of Inicijativa 50% – an initiative for equal gender representation of councillors in the 2016 local election. The electronic version of the publication was distributed to political parties working with WFD in the programme and was published on official websites and the social network profiles of SDP, SDA and Naša stranka. The publication was also promoted by Mreža Mira (Network for Peace) and non-governmental organizations such as the Boris Divkovic Foundation and Youth Initiative for Human Rights. This approach resulted in a substantial reach of the publication to many people all across the country who are interested in the local government system and its status within the governmental system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We’re also providing campaign training for potential women candidates and sharing sister party expertise from the UK with engaging sessions that took place earlier this year. During those training sessions we trained 20 bloggers and 40 potential candidates for the 2016 local election who appreciated the user-friendly format of the training and experience from the UK councillors, as well as gaining knowledge on general information concerning the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina and tips on how to have a more successful political campaign.

These practical steps to empower women in politics engage multiple political parties, the various legislative tiers, universities and the media. By broadening the range of policy issues addressed by women in politics and better capturing the relevance and value of their work through media, their role in politics can be more widely promoted and gender stereotypes challenged.

Here at WFD we’re committed to helping women become more active in parliaments and political parties across the globe, because we believe this fundamentally contributes to more legitimate and inclusive democracy. Many of our programmes globally encourage greater gender cohesion, including the inspiring work our colleagues have been doing in the Ugandan parliament and within the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women.

The next phase of project activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina will include public debates in local communities on topics that will help connect with the local community. We want to increase the dialogue between women councillors and potential candidates and the community which they represent to the arena of women in politics. These debates will involve elected women from municipal councils, representatives of women’s organisations, NGOs that focus on human rights and potential candidates for the upcoming local elections in 2016.  We want to encourage any interested individuals to come along and participate in an active discussion about what women politicians can do to shape local politics.

And now is a good time to do so, for 2016’s local elections are not very far away.  WFD will launch an advocacy initiative with the major media outlets in the country, aiming to secure their commitment to feature women and men candidates equally and fairly in their coverage. We’re already engaging with political analysts and bloggers to ensure their work covers women candidates and their issues in an inclusive manner in the campaigns to come. As the global development community turns its attention to how to make progress on the new SDGs, WFD’s programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina has already got its work underway.

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