UK democracy assistance: Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017

By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive

This year saw WFD turn 25 (we were established in 1992). As 2017 draws to a close, I would like to recall some of our best results and lessons learnt over the last 12 months.

January: making politics affordable in developing countries

We presented findings and recommendations from WFD research into the cost of politics in Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Senegal and Ukraine.

Recommendations on how to reduce the cost of becoming a legislator and being a political representative were given to members of parliament, electoral commission and parliamentary officials gathered in Abuja.

We are now working on a follow-up paper on the cost of politics in Ghana, in partnership with the Center for Democratic Development (CDD) with support from DFID. This will look at solutions that could be tested in the Ghanaian context and will be published in January.

February: peace in Colombia

We shared lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process with Colombian legislators and civil society to help inform reconciliation efforts following the peace deal between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

The parties of Northern Ireland, along with representatives of the Church, women’s organisations, and the British government presented their experiences to Colombian counterparts in a series of meetings and workshops organised by WFD’s Multi-Party office.

The experience of Northern Ireland and the role parties and parliaments can play in addressing conflict remain highly relevant for WFD going forward, especially with reference to countries such as Myanmar and Venezuela.

March: the role of civil society in East Africa

We convened a conference in Kenya with civil society, parliamentary and governmental organisations to respond to growing threats against the role of civil society in several East African countries, where governments have taken actions to restrict and limit the autonomy and influence of non-governmental organisations.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), participating organisations agreed to coordinate national responses and take action at regional level, in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), to support civil society.

(Photo: Participants discuss the closing civil society space phenomenon at a conference organised by WFD’s research programme in Nairobi in March 2017.)

April: tackling corruption in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

We unveiled the first anti-corruption strategy in the Kurdistan region of Iraq after facilitating engagement between the Integrity Commission of the Kurdistan Region and the equivalent Federal Commission in Baghdad.

Central to the strategy is a commitment to improve the transparency of public institutions, promote an anti-corruption culture and introduce active coordination mechanisms for tracking and investigating corruption within different institutions.

Our future work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will depend on political progress following the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. We continue to monitor developments very closely but we believe that the training we delivered to beneficiaries and the relationships we built can have a lasting and positive impact.

May: building citizens’ trust through open government

In May, WFD co-sponsored the Global Legislative Openness Conference, which is part of the Open Government Partnership. The conference took place in the Ukrainian Rada and was opened by the Lord Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee.

Open and transparent parliaments can contribute immensely to effective democratic governance. WFD supports partner parliaments to become more transparent and build the confidence of their constituents. At the conference, WFD presented the achievements of the Western Balkans Network of Parliamentary Committees, as well as recent work on civil society participation in the budget process in Georgia.

June: protecting women and girls in Arab Countries

Between April and August, Jordan and Lebanon repealed legislation that protected rapists by allowing them to marry their victims and escape prison. Tunisia also passed landmark legislation to promote gender equality. These landmark advances were the subject of long campaigns by WFD’s partner, the Coalition of Arab Women MPs to Combat Violence Against Women, which is supporting parliamentary initiatives in 13 Arab countries.

In June, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition, reported on the process to draft a Convention to Combat Violence Against Women, which earlier this year was formally submitted to Member States of the Arab League. When adopted, the Convention will be the first regional treaty to protect women from violence.

Alongside the Coalition, WFD supports a number of regional networks where effective South-South cooperation takes place. These include networks of activists and political parties such as Tha’era, Women’s Academy for Africa and CEE Gender Network for Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans (all supported by the Labour Party International Democracy Programme funded by WFD) and Rae’dat, which is being supported by the SNP’s WFD-funded programme.

(Photo: Rt. Hon. Francis Maude, former Minister in the Cabinet Office (UK) and former co-chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee opens the Global Legislative Openness Conference with a key-note address on “envisioning a democratic renaissance”.)

July: giving young people a say in how Nigeria is run

In July, the Senate of Nigeria adopted legislation to lower the minimum age for candidates to certain political offices – an important step on the long road toward constitutional reform. This milestone took place as WFD launched its programme to increase political participation and representation of young people in the country.

WFD Nigeria’s Youth Empowerment Programme focuses on cementing consensus around constitutional reform (the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign is run by our local partner YIAGA), supporting Nigerian political parties in creating effective youth wings, and enabling civil society to engage more young people in the democratic process.

The ultimate goal of this programme is best summarised by the words of Kate Osamor MP, chair of the UK House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nigeria. At the launch in Abuja she said: “Nigeria’s success as a prosperous and progressive country depends on enabling young people to get involved in the political system, shaping the agenda and taking decisions about the future of their country. That is what the WFD programme will focus on.”

August: giving a voice to persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone

On 7 March 2018, Sierra Leone will go to the polls to elect the President, Parliament and local councils. This August, working in partnership with Sierra Leone Union on Disability Issues (SLUDI), we launched a new National Agenda for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the electoral and political process.

The agenda is centred on six pro-disability public policy priorities identified by the disability community following inclusive nationwide stakeholder consultations with nearly 1400 persons with disabilities across Sierra Leone’s 14 administrative districts. Seven political parties, four State Commissions, the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, the Ministry of Sports, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the media and other pro-disability organisations also contributed.

As this historic election approaches, our work continues to ensure minorities and vulnerable groups are involved in the campaign by competing parties. Following the election, our work will continue in parliament.

September: a new strategy for WFD, a new partnership for elections

In September, WFD launched a new strategic framework for the next five years during a two-day conference in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Houses of Parliament which reviewed the UK’s role in promoting democratic values globally and marked 25 years since WFD’s establishment.

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – remains central to our mission (we are now delivering parliamentary programmes in over 30 countries worldwide).

In addition, WFD will partner with other institutions with different skills, methodologies, and approaches, working together to find ways our programmes can complement one another and address the challenges of strengthening democracy from different angles.

As a leading member of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), we remain committed to working closely with this network of democracy-support organisations and other European institutions. We will also expand our partnership with institutions from the Commonwealth and around the world, in particular from the global South.

We were therefore delighted to use our 25th anniversary conference to sign a new partnership for electoral assistance in Africa with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
October to December

(Photo: The National Agenda for People with Disabilities was launched in Sierra Leone in August 2017 following a series of consultations with people with disabilities across Sierra Leone.)

In the last three months of 2017, we have:

What’s next for WFD?

In 2018, WFD will begin to implement our new strategy. This will coincide with the negotiations on a new partnership with the EU which, as the PM’s Art.50 letter said, will include our shared democratic values. I have attended half a dozen discussions in the past few months about the future of Britain’s role in the world. My clear conclusion is that Britain’s democratic culture will be a critical asset not just in setting a clear direction for the future of our country but also in securing our global relationships. This is borne out in the daily interactions that I and the rest of the WFD team have with our partners in Britain and around the world.

A review of 2017 cannot end without heartfelt thanks to all of you who support our work. I wish you all a very peaceful and restful Christmas break and a Happy New Year.

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WFD launches new Strategy at 25th Anniversary Conference

On 12 and 13 September, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) launched a new strategy to strengthen democracy across a growing global network at a conference marking 25 years of WFD activity.

The strategy commits the Foundation, sponsored by the UK Government, to expand the remit of its programmes – working across a wider range of institutions, processes, and themes – to help reform-minded actors and institutions in developing countries to transform their own democratic practices.

Democracy UK: Global Values in an Uncertain World

WFD was founded in 1992 in a period of optimism about the prospects for democracy in the post-Soviet world. Twenty-five years later, the challenges to democratic values have evolved and, on the 25th anniversary of WFD, the conference focused on what lessons the world is learning about sustaining democratic change when democratic freedoms are being squeezed.

Almost 200 delegates from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas took part in the event, held in the Foreign Office and in Parliament in London, which was opened by a video message from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and keynote speeches by:

  • Mark Field, Minister of State – Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Liz McInnes, Shadow Minister – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
  • Hanna Hopko, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee – Parliament of Ukraine
(Video: Message from Boris Johnson, Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, opens the WFD conference.)

Panel discussions chaired by Baroness D’Souza, Dame Margaret Hodge and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson heard interventions from Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chair of Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, Aaron Mike Oquaye, Speaker of the Parliament of Ghana, Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Dr Bronwen Manby (London School of Economics), Samson Itodo (Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement), Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Hakim Benchamach, Speaker of the House of Councillors of Morocco, Nikola Dimitrov, Foreign Minister of Macedonia and Alina Rocha Menocal (Overseas Development Institute).

The results of two days of engagement on the themes of democracy and development include:

  • The launch of a new Strategic Framework 2017-2022 which will guide the development of WFD and expand our range of work to cover electoral assistance and enhanced partnership work with civil society (building on parliamentary and political party support).
  • The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between WFD and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), which will help strengthen electoral processes in Africa.
  • Renewed partnerships with long-standing and new partners including the UK Government (FCO and DFID), the UK parliaments, the Parliaments of Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, the Government of Macedonia, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), BBC Media Action and others.
(Photo: Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries, Wafa Bani Mustafa MP from Jordan addresses the WFD conference on 12 September.)

WFD’s New Strategic Framework 2017-2022

WFD’s traditional focus – supporting more effective political parties and parliaments – will remain a central part of the Foundation’s mission. Following nearly three years of expansion, WFD is now delivering parliamentary programmes in over thirty countries across Africa, Europe, MENA, Asia, and Latin America, and political party programmes in dozens more.

Recognising parliaments and political parties are only part of the picture and institutional strengthening is critical but rarely sufficient to transform political systems. Lasting change requires a wide range of actors to overcome significant obstacles – political, institutional, technical, logistical, and financial – to achieve their goals.

As part of WFD’s new strategy, the Foundation intends to engage more directly with civil society and electoral and other independent institutions. WFD will help them strengthen their skills and partner with other institutions to achieve greater transparency and accountability, more credible and inclusive elections, improved policy making, citizen participation and empowerment, more inclusive representation.

Elections

In a side event during the conference, WFD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) to expand its electoral assistance programme. The new partnership established a formal commitment to collaborate through information-sharing and development of key projects concerning Africa.

Recognising elections in Africa have made significant progress towards inclusiveness and trust, WFD and EISA agree there are still many challenges to overcome. The partnership will look at:

  • Providing immediate post-election support to implement the recommendations of regional and international observer missions;
  • Developing the skills of local citizen observers and support for parties to develop their capacity to effectively monitor the electoral process,
  • Building the ability to conduct parallel tabulation of results to increase accountability.
(Photo: Chair of the WFD Board of Governors, Sir Henry Bellingham, Chief Executive, Anthony Smith and Executive Director of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Denis Kadima sign the Memorandum of Understanding.)

The Future of Democracy Support

With over 40 democracy assistance and development organisations in attendance, the second day of conference discussed the future of democracy support and provided feedback on the new WFD strategy.

Organised around six different themes (accountability and transparency, youth participation and leadership, security and stability, women’s political empowerment, political parties and elections), a ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ invited experts to highlight key challenges and ideas within these themes and the impact on broader democracy assistance.

Presentations were given on:

  • Political Parties – by Kate Osamor, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking on behalf of all UK political parties working with WFD.
  • Security and Stability – by Antonella Valmorbida, Secretary General of European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA) and Chair of the European Partnership for Democracy Board.
  • Women’s Political Empowerment – by Wafa Bani Mustafa MP, Chair of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women
  • Youth Participation and Leadership – by Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement (YIAGA)
  • Accountability and Transparency – by James Deane, Director of Policy and Learning, BBC Media Action
  • Elections – by Denis Kadima, Executive Director of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)

From promoting a ‘universal’ notion of democracy, to integrating IT professionals into electoral support, the complete list of challenges, actions and ideas will inform the implementation of WFD’s Strategic Framework and provide a starting point for increased strengthening of effective, multi-party democracy around the world.

Conference proceedings

(Photo: Delegates discuss outcomes from the ‘democracy marketplace of ideas’ in a parliamentary committee style session.)
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Contributing to the development of democracy across the globe

Patrick Grady MP

The development of inclusive democracy worldwide is a monumental task.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy staff and partners, as well as my fellow parliamentarians and governors, do an incredible job working to promote effective parliaments and multi-party politics in countries transitioning to democracy.

Taking on the role of SNP Governor for WFD is an unexpected, and somewhat bittersweet, opportunity. I’m following my SNP colleague, and former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Tasmina, and Alex Salmond, sat as Governors for the SNP as it became the third largest party in the House of Commons in 2015. They oversaw a significant scaling-up of our work within the Foundation and deserve our thanks for their efforts over the last couple of years.

As WFD nears a quarter of a century, we all have a renewed opportunity to ensure we do all we can to provide international partners with the expertise in developing parliaments, political party structures and civil society organisation – the vital institutions of a functioning democracy. I’m looking forward to supporting the continuing growth and development of our WFD funded SNP programmes, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, Kurdistan and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, contributing to the increasing integrated work of WFD parties, and collaboration with likeminded organisations and stakeholders such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Much of my professional career has been spent in development, with stints in the charitable and public sectors, most recently as Advocacy Manager for the Glasgow based Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF). Through this time, I was aware of and impressed by the activities undertaken by WFD and I have greatly enjoyed working with colleagues from the organisation since my election as Member of Parliament for Glasgow North in 2015.

Some of the most memorable moments from my career in development come from my time spent living in Malawi where I taught at St Peter’s Secondary School in the northern capital, Mzuzu. I was touched by the warmth of the welcome I received from the community in which I lived and I feel both lucky and proud to have retained close friendships with many of those I met. It has been a pleasure to welcome some of those – including teachers, pupils, priests and even a Bishop – on reciprocal visits to Scotland and the rest of the UK. The connections between Malawi and Scotland, in particular, go deep and demonstrate the importance of developing people-to-people relationships to complement those between institutions. I am very pleased that Malawi is now considered a priority country for WFD this year.

During the last Parliament, I was SNP International Development Spokesperson and was pleased to lead our case for the sector. I look forward to bringing this experience to bear as a Governor of WFD and am confident that my successor as SNP International Development Spokesperson, Chris Law MP, will continue to make the case for funding work in international development to ensure that we can alleviate poverty and, more broadly, meet the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Patrick Grady is MP for Glasgow North, SNP Chief Whip in the House of Commons and a Governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, having been SNP International Development Spokesperson in the last Parliament.

 

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Human rights, the rule of law and global challenges to democracy

By Thomas Hughes, Independent Governor

Democracy worldwide is seemingly under increasing threat, with restrictions and repression on the rise. Well established democracies appear to be eroding their institutions and standards from within, whilst emergent democracies are failing to deliver accountability, broad participation and power-sharing. Leaders of faux-democracies have learnt how to rule with a ‘velvet fist’ to maintain an outwardly palatable veneer whilst suppressing internal opposition. Leaders of established democracies seem increasingly ready to jeopardise long-standing norms for short-term political gain.

If we cast our minds back only 20 years, the post-cold war period of 1990 to 1995 saw an explosion in democratisation, with over 120 nominally democratic countries by the turn of the century. Given this surge, the realisation that much of this progress has not been deep-rooted makes the regression more explainable. Although not an ‘end of history’ fatalist, I nevertheless believe the cards remain stacked in the favour of democracy in the long-term. Where democracy exists, it’s systems and institutions fail because individuals or groups manipulate and abuse them without accountability or recourse.

My reason for becoming an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is that it’s work to strengthen democratic institutions and political parties is crucial for reversing this downward trend. Alongside this, I believe the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law must also be central, with a focus on three areas. Firstly, closing the human rights implementation gap between international standards and national action; secondly emboldening national civil society and media; and thirdly strengthening judiciaries and legal communities.

Human rights, multilateralism and the closing implementation gap

A number of global and regional intergovernmental institutions play important roles in setting and monitoring state compliance with human rights. Among these is the United Nations Human Rights Council. When the Council was created a decade ago it was designed to be more relevant, credible and impartial than its predecessor. The Council has achieved important successes, but there is growing polarisation, as well as clear attempts by states to block or evade human rights scrutiny. The Vienna Declaration, unanimously adopted more than two decades ago, confirmed “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.” However, there remains an implementation gap between international agreements and national actions. As such, all states need to seriously pursue implementation of international human rights commitments domestically and must clearly and consistently hold one another to account for doing so.

Emboldening national civil society and media

A robust and protected civic space forms the cornerstone of accountable and responsive democratic governance. As seen by the growing prowess of civic campaigns and the colour revolutions of the past decades, civil society is growing in strength. However, according to the Carnegie Endowment, over the past three years more than 60 countries have passed or drafted laws that curtail the activity of non-governmental and civil society organisations, whilst 96 countries have taken steps to inhibit NGOs from operating at full capacity. This is being done with a ‘viral-like’ spread of new copycat laws targeting areas like finance, registration, protest, censorship and ‘anti-propaganda’ and independent media. To counter this, the rights to information, expression, protest and participation must be rigorously defended.

Strengthening judiciaries and legal communities

Legal communities and the judiciary remain a bulwark against the misuse of power. Recent examples include the East African Court of Justice, a relatively new court based in Arusha, upholding the rights of journalists in Burundi to protect the identities of their sources, and finding the country’s criminal defamation law as inconsistent with international law. In another example, in April the High Court in Kenya ruled that Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act, used to arrest and charge a number of social media users, was unconstitutional. As such, the judiciary is a cornerstone for the defence of human rights and democracy and must be respected and defended as such.

Whilst these are challenging times, the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law are essential for the creation and defence of healthy vibrant democracies.

 

(Top: Photo credit: Studio Incendo – Citizens in Hong Kong protest against proposed electoral reforms, in what became known as the “umbrella movement”

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Democracy and the role of impartial media

By Sue Inglish, Independent Governor

It is a great privilege to be asked to become an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I have been a broadcast journalist for most of my career covering elections at home and abroad and my experience has shown me that wherever you are in the world, a thriving democracy needs free, independent and impartial media.

As a producer for Channel 4 News in 1986 I was in the Philippines covering an election which pitted the corrupt and violent regime of President Ferdinand Marcos against the widow of one of his political opponents.

Benigno Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila airport as he returned to his country from exile. Cory Aquino, a woman of tiny stature and huge courage, dressed in her trademark yellow, campaigned fearlessly and drew huge crowds at her rallies.

For the international media flocking to Manila it was a great story and the eyes of the world were on the Philippines. The local media too, particularly radio, played a key role in the election.

As we filmed voters at the polling stations on election day, reports came in from election observers around the country of intimidation and blatant electoral violations by Marcos’s supporters. Despite Mrs Aquino’s undoubted popularity, Marcos was declared the winner. It seemed that dictatorship had trumped democracy and the will of the people had been ignored. But thousands took to the streets in a display of People Power. With the world’s media broadcasting every move in the drama, the US government abandoned its support for the regime, Cory Aquino was sworn in as president and Marcos and his wife, Imelda fled the country. One of the most telling images was of the crowds flocking to the presidential palace, staring in amazement at Imelda Marcos’s collection of thousands of pairs of shoes, a testament to 20 years of greed and corruption.

“For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate”

I left the country with a certificate proclaiming me, along with hundreds of other foreign journalists, a “hero of the Philippine People’s Revolution”. The course of democracy there has not been easy in the intervening years but in 1986, there was no doubt that the Philippine people were the real heroes.

Twenty years later as head of the BBC’s political programmes, I was responsible for political, parliamentary and election coverage. The BBC’s role is to provide all its audiences on television, radio and online with impartial, accurate and comprehensive news and information.

Impartiality in all its news coverage, particularly political journalism, is at the heart of the BBC’s values. Viewers expect the BBC and other broadcasters to examine robustly the policies of the political parties helping them to understand the complex issues of our time. Audience research carried out during the current general election, shows that the BBC is still the most trusted source of news and information.

In 2010 during the UK General Election campaign, for the first time, the leaders of the three largest political parties agreed to take part in three live televised debates. The programmes were watched by a total of 22 million people and were particularly popular among younger viewers and people who usually do not watch traditional political output. Viewers said they were better informed about the key issues as a result.

For a democracy to function properly, it needs a well-informed electorate. In an era of social media and so-called fake news, now more than ever, people need trusted sources of news and information.

I am looking forward to bringing my experience as a journalist to the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in strengthening democracies around the world.

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By Anthony Smith, Chief Executive

UK general election

April brought us the news of a snap general election here in the UK on 8 June. As the leading organisation providing insight into the UK democratic experience this is a great opportunity for our friends and partners to witness our electoral process in action.

The timing of the election means new dates for our anniversary conference: Democracy UK – Global Values in an Uncertain World, which will now take place on 12-13 September in the Foreign Office and Parliament here in London.

Jordan acts to protect women

This month we have also learnt how WFD efforts in the Middle East on ending discriminatory laws have led the government of Jordan to propose amendments to Article 308 of the penal code which protects perpetrators of rape from punishment if they marry the victim.

We are very pleased to observe this development and will redouble efforts to support reform of similar laws across the region in partnership with the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries for Combating Violence Against Women.

With support from the Coalition, MPs in Iraq have already put forward proposals to amend sexual violence laws in the country. WFD will continue to support initiatives to protect and empower women throughout the region.

New case studies from WFD programmes published

Today, we publish case studies from our programmes in Iraq, Kenya, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. This is a small sample from the 70 programmes we have implemented in over 40 countries over the course of 2016-2017. We will unveil further results in the coming months and during the Democracy UK conference in September.

The reports detail how, over the last 12 months we have:

Democracy UK conference (London 12-13 September)

This recent work illustrates the type of investment that WFD makes in strengthening democracies around the world. The payback on these investments can be slow but is critical in building stable democratic institutions in our partner countries.  The contribution from UK parliaments, political parties and others is invaluable.

These themes will be central to WFD’s two-day conference where policy-makers, academics and partners will debate how we can sustain democratic culture and practice at a time when democratic freedoms are being squeezed around the world.

The conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and I hope will be a fitting way to mark the International Day of Democracy on 15 September, with contributions from government, opposition and analysts, as well as former and current Governors and friends of WFD.

We are currently in the process of sending out revised invitation letters and agenda. If you would like more details about our conference, please email events@wfd.org

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

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

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

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

Raising awareness: What are women’s rights?

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

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

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

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

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

United for change: Working as the women’s caucus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working together for a brighter future

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

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

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

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

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

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From presence to influence: Beyond International Women’s Day

(Above: Shannon O’Connell has joined the Westminster Foundation for Democracy as Senior Policy Advisor – Gender and Politics. With over twenty years’ experience in the field of politics, governance, and international development, Shannon has particular experience in women’s political empowerment and gender mainstreaming.)

In the 1990s, I worked in the House of Representatives in the United States. I purposely sought a position with the staff of a Member of Congress who was considered one of the most progressive of the 435 representatives. Among other important issues, his voting record included consistent support for initiatives to protect and advance the interests of women and girls.

One day, a group of school girls from the Congressman’s constituency came to visit. They were given a tour of the Capitol, told a bit about the functions and history of the legislative branch and then ushered back to our office to meet the Congressman. They asked questions about how the House worked, and then one of the girls asked the Congressman, “Do you think I could ever be a Member of Congress?”

Immediately, without taking a breath, the Congressman replied, “No. I’m the Congressman from this district. This is my job.”

The girl was about twelve years old. By law, she could not even run for the House of Representatives for another thirteen years. Yet even then, in an unguarded moment, a very senior, experienced, well-established and (theoretically) progressive Congressman saw her as a threat.

During that time, I also dated a guy who was a strong proponent of Valentine’s Day. It’s not that he was particularly romantic (he wasn’t), but he felt it was a useful reminder that, once a year at least, you should say or do something endearing for your partner.

(Above: Shannon participates in a WFD organised round-table for marginalised groups in Uganda)

How are these two meandering memories linked? Oddly, they’re linked by International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day in many ways serves as one of these kinds of reminders. Once a year, we stop and remember to say laudatory and important things about women and girls, and about the state of their well-being in the world. But if this is where our focus and our agency stops, what we are offering is of little more value than the Congressman’s voting record.

In recent years, the conversation about women’s participation has focused on the numbers – getting more women into elected and appointed offices and into executive positions. Globally, the news in this regard is good. The number of women in national legislatures stood at 23% in 2016, up from 17% ten years earlier. Affirmative action efforts in Uganda, for example, have raised the number of women in parliament to 34%; Rwanda leads the world at 61%.

This is the quantitative side of moving towards more equal and inclusive decision-making. It is a start. It is the Valentine’s Day equivalent of women’s participation – a nice gesture that injects a bit of energy and strengthens the connection, and without which the relationship would not be particularly vibrant.

But the real romance is not about quantity, it is about quality – the quality of women’s participation. This means not just increasing the presence of women, but also increasing the influence of women.

Worldwide, political systems are stumbling. Problems range from general voter discontent and disengagement to genuine instability and chaos. The call for change, for reform, for stronger more engaged systems that deliver real benefits for voters, is loud.

Democratic activists are responding to this call and part of the answer, unequivocally, is about supporting women’s leadership and injecting their influence into these systems – not just as window dressing, but as a core component of the architectural restructuring that needs to happen. Women (and other groups who tend to live outside decision-making frameworks) are part of an opportunity to do things differently, and do them better. We know there are multiple benefits to more inclusive decision-making systems and that these are not just limited to the well-being of women and girls. All of society gains.

This is not a silver bullet that will solve all our democratic woes, but figuring out how we not just let women in but also let women lead means we are asking the right questions – the ones that will get us all on the path to stronger systems of government that will deliver for all citizens.

This International Women’s Day, ask yourself and the organisations that you influence what you can do to help women be part of doing things better.

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Women’s political participation in Sierra Leone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

(Photo: Top: Participants at the end of the two-day summit in Freetown, Sierra Leone)
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