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.

Continue Reading

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)
Continue Reading

The New International Strategy of the Scottish Parliament

Fergus Cochrane

By Fergus Cochrane, Head of Scottish Parliament’s International Relations Office

As a young and evolving parliament, the Scottish Parliament is keen to share its experience with other parliaments across the world and our increased engagement with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) over recent years has contributed to that aim.

The Scottish Parliament’s International Strategy sets out how our international work can support the Parliament’s strategic objectives. We want to maintain our reputation as an open, accessible and participative Parliament, willing to learn from and assist other legislatures whilst supporting the development of our own international relationships.

There are three elements to our Strategy: Policy, Parliaments; and Organisations. The Policy element identifies the issues that are central to us and on which we will seek to develop relationships with, and learn from, other parliaments. Our Strategic Plan ensures that the issues important to us as a Parliament are at the core of our international relations activities. It is these issues which will largely inform why, when and who we seek to work with internationally. However, we have developed strong and meaningful partnerships with other parliaments, through our key partnership with WFD and its parliamentary strengthening programme and look forward to supporting this work in the future. This falls neatly into the ‘Parliaments’ and ‘Organisations’ elements of our Strategy.

A key part of this work has been consolidating relationships with other parliaments in areas where we can offer expert advice such as financial oversight, research support, and strategic planning.
For many of the parliaments we work with, this relationship begins with a visit to Holyrood where delegations are exposed to ‘how we do things here’. As an evolving Parliament, and where there has been a devolution of further powers since 1999, it can be interesting for delegations to see how the Scottish Parliament, as a unicameral parliament, scrutinises the use of these powers. For example, how our committees (and procedures) are responding to the newly devolved tax powers. However, it is also of interest and importance to learn about other parliaments, to hear and learn of their approaches and how they do things.

We have been involved with the Western Balkans network for a few years now although since 2015 that has been focused on the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and its establishment, through the WFD, of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) which will support more effective financial oversight by the Assembly and government accountability.

Colleagues here have partnered with WFD’s Belgrade office on the preparation and implementation of the first 100-day work plan of the PBO, including developing its training academy and modules, supporting the secondment to the Scottish Parliament of the PBO researchers in March 2016 and general support (and friendship), on-the-job coaching and mentorship sessions.

Jordan is another example where we have provided key support and started to build fundamental relationships. David McGill, Assistant Chief Executive at the Scottish Parliament, has provided instrumental support on strategic planning for the House of Representatives in Amman, meeting with the Secretary General and the leadership of the Parliament as well as all the Heads of Departments. He has been able to ascertain and collate the needs and priorities of parliamentary staff to feed into a strategic plan modeled on the Scottish Plan. By conducting comprehensive sessions on our strategic planning experience, the principles behind strategic planning, and the methodologies for implementation and monitoring and evaluation, David has provided comprehensive feedback and mentoring to the House on the final draft of the Strategic Plan that was submitted to the Secretary General for consideration in late September 2016.

David has also collaborated with WFD in similar work with the House of Representatives in Morocco and in March the Scottish Parliament will proudly host both parliaments for joint discussions on this important issue.

In the coming weeks and months, we will work with the WFD and its programmes in Montenegro, Kenya, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka. We look forward to working with the WFD, and its parliamentary partners, in the future, adding value where we can and sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences.

Continue Reading

The real value of regional programmes

Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

In some international development circles, the term “regional programme” carries with it a certain stigma.

“Expensive…too many international flights…no national impact…unsustainable” are just some of the criticisms lodged against regional programmes. Moreover, the tendency among most major donor agencies to devolve decision-making powers to embassy level leads to minimal demand for regional programmes, as what embassy wants to dilute their resources for the sake of other countries?

As a recipient of a global grant from FCO and DFID, WFD is in the privileged position to be able to design and deliver regional programmes that otherwise would be difficult to find funding for from the donor community. This has allowed us to deliver a series of unique programmes in the Western Balkans, Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Africa that are driving significant political reforms in financial oversight, women’s rights, and parliamentary and political party effectiveness.

For over two decades, WFD has been facilitating exchanges between the UK and partner countries in order the share the best of the British experience in political party and parliamentary practice. In recent years, we came to realise that we could enhance our approach by supporting exchanges among our partners through regional programmes and not just between the UK and the rest of the world.

At first, our decision was based on the recognition that the UK’s systems and practices might not be as relevant to our beneficiaries as good practices from their own region, where history, language, political systems, and resources were often more similar than to the UK. However, over the years we have increasingly recognised that as relationships deepen among our partner parties and parliaments, a form of “positive peer pressure” begins to develop, whereby our partners compete to see who can make the most progress on its reform goals.

(Above: From top: Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, Regional meeting on SDGs hosted with GOPAC in Asia, Network of Parliamentary Committees from the Western Balkans)

The UK’s Liberal Democrat Party, through its support to the Africa Liberal Network, was able to secure human rights commitments – including prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – among more than 40 political parties across the continent, a result that would have been impossible working only at the national level. The Labour Party’s Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA), a network of eleven Labour, Socialist, and Social Democratic parties from nine countries, is promoting gender equality, empowerment and political advancement of women in Africa, with more established members supporting newer parties through trust-based relationships and ideological connection. The Conservative Party, Green Party, and Scottish National Party are increasingly investing in this model as well.

Meanwhile, regional parliamentary programmes in the Western Balkans and MENA are bringing together members of parliament (MPs) with mutual interests in financial oversight and combatting violence against women, respectively. In 2015 WFD collaborated with the Serbian Parliament – with technical expertise from the Scottish Parliament – to establish the country’s first parliamentary budget office (PBO), which WFD hoped would inspire other parliaments in the region to consider establishing similar bodies. Soon after, WFD began working with the Montenegrin Parliament to establish a PBO, and WFD is now in similar discussions with the Kosovo Parliament.

WFD has supported the Arab Women MP Coalition Against Violence since its founding in 2014, helping establish chapters across MENA to advocate at both regional and national levels to combat violence against women and girls. With the support of FCO’s Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy, over 250 MPs from 11 Arab Parliaments have provided each other moral and technical support in developing national legislation, with notable improvements made in domestic legislation in Lebanon, and new draft laws on domestic violence in development in Tunisia, Iraq, and Morocco. The Coalition is also working closely with Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU) to develop a regional convention on violence against women and girls; with WFD’s support, the Coalition was recently granted official observer status by the AIPU.

In short, we believe regional programmes can deliver results in ways that other programmes cannot, and that WFD and the UK parties will continue to explore the potential of regional programmes to catalyse widespread political and governance reform.


(Top: The Labour Party supports Tha’era: Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity through it’s WFD funded programme)
Continue Reading

Achieving peace: Lessons shared from Northern Ireland to Colombia

The rejection of the peace deal between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in October 2016 cast doubt on the future of the peace process, but now gives the opportunity for legislators and the parliament to play a central role ensuring any agreement represents all sectors of society.

The experience in Northern Ireland shows that setbacks on the path to peace are expected but divisions can eventually be healed and peace achieved. Through WFD’s Multi-Party Office (MPO), lessons from politicians and other key figures involved in the Northern Ireland peace process were shared with their Colombian counterparts in a series of roundtable discussions which took place in early February.

On 14 February, the first workshop looked at the role that the Church and other community leaders can play in peace-building. During a series of preliminary meetings in early February, Rev. Harold Good, a minister in the Methodist church and former Director of the internationally acclaimed Corrymeela Community Centre of Reconciliation, and Father Michael Kelleher, who encountered the peace-making work of Father Alec Reid who played such a vital role in the Northern Irish peace process through his work as a youth minister in Clonard Monastery, met various key stakeholders involved in the peace process in Colombia.

“Churches have a huge role to play. We need to bring healing. We need to get the people who caused the hurt to engage with the people who were hurt” explained Rev. Harold Good. This theme was explored with over 50 representatives from the Colombian Congress to provide insights into how similar initiatives can work in Colombia.

Inclusion of different groups is key for the success of any peace agreement, especially to ensure effective cooperation between governments and legislatures in achieving a deal that represents justice for all citizens. Drawing on lessons from Northern Ireland, the second session explored the role the British Government played and efforts that were made to integrate and include ex-combatants in the process.

(Above: Rev. Harold Good and Father Michael Kelleher meet with key groups involved in the Colombian peace process ahead of the workshops with Congress this week)

Monica McWilliams, signatory to the Good Friday Agreement and a delegate to the multi-party peace negotiations from 1996-1998 for the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, a political party which she co-founded, explained how crucial effective power-sharing was to securing a deal in Northern Ireland. This approach to governance was painful for some communities in Northern Ireland but “a peace agreement means sharing power – especially with your enemies” she said.

“The concept of changing your enemy into your opponent was very important” Michael Culbert, formerly of the IRA and representing Coiste Na n-Iarchimí, the national organisation of the Republican ex-prisoner network throughout Ireland, explained. Following the peace agreement in Northern Ireland the number of Sinn Fein representatives in the legislature grew to almost half.

Chris Maccabe, shared his wealth of experience from a range of roles in the UK Government’s Northern Ireland Office. Chris noted the significant constitutional and legislative changes that were needed to deliver a successful peace agreement. “The British Government”, he explained, “recognised the need to get as many people round the negotiating table as possible” and by holding elections in which the top ten parties could be part of the negotiations an inclusive process was ensured.

The final session of the week looked at implementation of peace agreements and how each stakeholder, whether ex-combatant, civil society representative or politician, can contribute to ensuring a long-lasting peace.

“So many people gave so much to us – that’s why we’re here today” said Monica in the final session where she reflected on the role President Clinton played enabling Gerry Adams to attend the peace talks in the US, or President Mandela’s inspirational visit and offer of support. “You won’t take all our ideas but you might find some useful” she added.

As the experience in Northern Ireland demonstrates bringing together divided communities will encounter challenges, but ensuring you learn from the experience is key. This is what WFD, through the Multi-Party Office, is trying to achieve with the Congress of Colombia. “In Northern Ireland we had many setbacks on the road to peace” explained Rev. Harold Good “but we learned from each of them – just as you have in Colombia. It’s a powerful example for the world to learn from”.

(Top: Key stakeholders from Northern Ireland participate in round-table discussions with the Colombian Congress, Middle: First workshop on 14 February explored the vital role of the church and community leaders in peace-building with Colombian Congress)
Continue Reading

Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017

Anthony Smith, WFD CEO, signs MOU with Speaker of the Hluttaw in Burma

Anthony Smith, CMG

This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD).

In this time, the Foundation has worked to support democracy in over 70 countries, sharing experiences and forging strong partnerships around the world.

We owe our existence to the vision of a group of British parliamentarians that saw how important it was to invest time and energy in sharing Britain’s democratic experience – good and bad – with countries emerging from the Soviet Union. Democracies in those early partner countries have been transformed and many are now helping other countries take the same journey. Britain’s democracy has also evolved, with four vibrant parliaments sharing that same vision – that we are stronger when we share our experiences and work to support democratic institutions around the world.

WFD’s approach is simple. We draw on the rich diversity of Britain’s democracy – political parties of every size, parliamentarians that have helped Britain remain stable and prosperous through economic expansion, recession and austerity, external and internal conflict, and officials that have provided expert guidance – including through intense constitutional debate – without getting in the way of political leadership.

The two years since our present strategy was published have seen WFD expand geographically and diversify our work. We now have offices in 25 countries and programmes in many more, which means more opportunities for “South-South” learning as well. The variety of the work is fantastic. A number of our partners have started on historic transitions – Burma, Sri Lanka, and Venezuela spring to mind. Some of our partners – for example Tunisia – have had their first democratic transition of power while a second generation of citizens in others such as Ghana have enjoyed peaceful transitions.

Wherever we work, we always tailor our work to local demands. That means ensuring that we understand the local context, but it also means combining political party and parliamentary programmes in new ways, addressing behaviours and political culture, not just the formal rules and structures. WFD has also launched two new lines of work. First, we have begun to provide and train UK election observers for international election missions and, second, our research programme is both looking back at lessons from our previous work and looking forward at issues that will affect our future work.

We want to build on that progress in 2017, in three main ways:

We will work with new partners and in new countries. There is a strong demand for this in every region and, while we cannot respond to every request, we do think there is scope for further expansion. We have seen a lot of interest in regional networks among political parties and parliaments. Respect for and interest in Britain’s democracy and our approach – sharing experiences not pushing any specific model – is global.

We will renew established partnerships and build new ones. World-class British organisations such as the BBC, the British Council, the National Audit Office and think tanks like Chatham House, Wilton Park and Overseas Development Institute can provide critically important lessons on a range of issues that affect the quality of political and civic life in our partner countries. We would like to work as closely with them as we already do with others such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

We will increase our impact on some key policy issues. At the top of the list is women’s political empowerment where we want to ensure that all of our programmes consider their impact on women. Tolerance and dialogue are also a top priority – parties and parliaments can help build shared rules of the game and tackle conflict within society. And anti-corruption remains critically important.

Challenges to democracy-strengthening

Whatever the eventual shape of WFD’s programmes, 2017 will be an important year for any organisation that is working to support democracy. The political turbulence of 2016 was in at least some cases an indication that existing democratic leadership and institutions were not serving their citizens well. At its heart, democracy is the best way of preventing the abuse of power by political leaders. But if democracy is seen to be failing citizens, then there is a greater risk of autocracy gaining ground, at least in the short term.

That creates two challenges. The first is of political leadership, whether exercised by Presidents and Prime Ministers, parliamentary Speakers, Committee Chairs, judges, editors or heads of civil society organisations. Their behaviour will determine the atmosphere in which democratic institutions can work to tackle the real problems – security, the economy, social inclusion – that our societies face. Political competition is important, but so is respect for minority opinions and for their right to express them.

The second is a challenge of effectiveness. Institutions need to work well enough to maintain public confidence in them, so it is important to tackle the nuts and bolts of institutions as well as their strategic roles. For example, if a parliament cannot carry out its core role properly, or even publish records of its proceedings on time, then it will lose credibility and dent the perception of the democratic system.

For both these reasons, WFD will continue working to support both political leadership and institutional effectiveness in our partner countries. We value your contributions and hope that together we can strengthen democracy in the year ahead.


(Photo: Anthony Smith, WFD’s CEO, signs MOU with Speaker of the Hluttaw in Burma)
Continue Reading

Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes: Thinking and working politically

At relatively little cost parliamentary strengthening plays a crucial role in the sustainability of international development activity, Lord Malcom Bruce, former Chair of the International Development Committee, commented in his opening remarks as Chair of the ‘Adaptive practice, sustainable outcomes’ session on Wednesday at Canada House.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with DAI Europe brought together practitioners in the democracy strengthening field to discuss the benefits of an adaptive approach to programming.

What do we mean by thinking and working politically?

The journey the parliamentary strengthening community had come on was highlighted; noting how attitudes to development sat uneasily next to politics and had always focused on economic improvement rather than political change. Development is always inherently political and that is why political economy analysis is an important tool that can help deliver sustainable change. Political institutions are critical to development, because when functioning properly they ensure that vital services are delivered to citizens.

How do we approach adaptive design?

Clarity and confidence are two concepts that need to be emphasised at the design phase of parliamentary support programmes. A robust framework is often needed to implement programmes that can be adapted to changing circumstances without parting from the intended high level outcomes of the organisation. This is linked to building confidence in an organisation among beneficiaries, but also among donors and ensuring that they understand the organisation’s commitment to learn from past lessons. Both clarity and confidence are essential before adaptive methods can be adopted.

You could begin by asking three essential questions: Who are we going to work with? What are you going to do? And how are you going to work? For programmes to succeed, it is important to understand the issues that are blocking reform and engage with those who care about such issues. Working with partners and beneficiaries to identify those gaps is essential. For an adaptive methodology to work in the parliamentary strengthening field transparency with partners about these changes is extremely important.

Capturing successes and failures: Is it time to rethink our frameworks?

Monitoring and Evaluation should play a greater role throughout the programme cycle. Learning whilst implementation is underway allows programmes to refine and improve activities based on the changing context of the environment and based on what is working well or not. Allowing space for honest discussions about how programmes can develop is essential if truly adaptive programming can be achieved. Acknowledgement by donors and implementers that parliamentary strengthening programmes by their nature do not deliver a “quick win” is fundamental for creative programming to flourish.

To achieve the reality of programmes that respond to changing needs commitment is needed from practitioners and donors alike to change their practices. WFD, DAI Europe and the range of practitioners participating in the roundtable are committed to explaining why working in this difficult political space provides real value to development, but also why it needs to be flexible and adaptable to succeed.

Continue Reading

Supporting political party reform in Kosovo

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Kosovo parliament)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

How Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s tragic murder united women of Tha’era

(Above: Members of Tha’era participate in best practice exchange with UK Labour Party)

“I felt if the sun would never shine again,” a member of Tha’era, the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity, says, recalling her emotions when she heard that Shaimaa al-Sabbagh had been shot dead by a police officer in Cairo in January 2015. “I cried and felt that all is lost… Shaimaa was a dear friend and I felt that all the work she did would go down the drain. It was one of the darkest days of my life.” Out of this tragedy came a search for justice – and the realisation that international networks of the kind supported by the Labour Party through its Westminster Foundation for Democracy work really can make a difference.

Shaimaa, a member of Tha’era and Egypt’s Socialist People’s Alliance Party, was 31 years old when she died. At the time her son Bilal was five years old. Marking the anniversary of the Tahrir Square events of 2011, Shaimaa and colleagues were marching peacefully to lay roses at a memorial to those killed in the uprising when police opened fire on them with birdshot. Shaimaa was hit in the neck and bled to death on the pavement. An image of her captured by an Egyptian photographer was seen across the world, and became an iconic symbol of the events of that day, when ten other demonstrators also died.

Immediately, women involved in Tha’era took action. They contacted one another and drafted a letter to the Egyptian President, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General asking for a “transparent public investigation concerning her death”. They also contacted organisations in Europe, the UK and the USA to ask them to put pressure on the Egyptian government to take action. They used the Tha’era Facebook page to keep one another informed of what was happening. Tha’era members organised demonstrations in support of Shaimaa in member countries and posted pictures of them.

Tha’era’s response was “unexpected” and “surprising”, says Mariam, the Tha’era member interviewed for this case study, whose name has been changed because she wishes to remain anonymous. “Shaimaa was very enthusiastic about Tha’era, but many of us did not understand the purpose of Tha’era and just thought of it like another foreign formation. We did not understand that the response could work or do anything.”

Yet it did make a difference. In February the President referred to Shaimaa as a martyr and “the daughter of Egypt” and asked the Interior Minister to “uncover the truth” behind her death. “It was like a miracle when Sisi was talking about Shaimaa and accepting to launch an investigation,” Mariam says. The investigation which subsequently took place resulted in the conviction and sentencing of a police officer for her death. “It gave us back hope and the strength to follow in Shaimaa’s steps and keep her fight against social injustice and human rights alive. It gave us back a trust in international solidarity and the West.”

(Above: Tha’era Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity visit Fabian Society)

After the Arab Spring

The ‘Arab Spring’ that blossomed in 2011 brought great hope of steps towards democracy, freedom and the rule of law in the MENA region.

In the upheaval of the Arab Spring that blossomed in 2011, which brought great hope of steps towards democracy, freedom and the rule of law in the MENA region, women were often involved at the forefront of new populist movements. Ironically, though, the changes they achieved often had the effect of threatening or undermining their status. In areas where upheavals have been substantial or prolonged, women’s safety has frequently been compromised, with Egypt sometimes now cited as the most dangerous Arab country for women. In some countries war has had a devastating effect on women’s rights, whilst in others (for instance, Libya) women’s rights activists have been specifically targeted for attack and even assassination.

“Unrest and a fluid situation plagues the countries and societies where Tha’era is situated,” Mariam explains. “Tha’era enabled social democratic women to network across borders to achieve major results within the short period since Tha’era has been formed., Lots has been done on the levels of internal structure, international solidarity, capacity building and name recognition.”

In Morocco, for example, the network has supported its members in reforming the law relating to rape. In Lebanon, following a lobbying effort from 11 Tha’era members from around the region, Mariam says the Progressive Socialist Party’s Secretary-General was compelled to pledged to set up a mechanism to increase the presence of women in electoral lists in cooperation and coordination with the woman organization in the party. “These, among other actions, could not have been achieved without the strong network constructed by Tha’era.”

Supporting Tha’era’s development as an international network

The process of building the network began in January 2012 by the women’s organisations of social democratic parties in four MENA countries – Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. The name ‘Tha’era’ was agreed upon both because of its meaning (a rebel woman) and because it would work linguistically across the region.

Having agreed on the network’s vision and mission, and formulating an Action Plan, the next step was a Train the Trainers (TOT) manual so that there was a framework in place early on to spread the knowledge and skills gained. A series of training sessions took place at both the national and regional level, so that the network could take hold. “The overall objective is to support women in social democratic parties to reach parity out of a belief that women’s rights cannot be achieved except through if women reach leadership positions in parties and governments,” Mariam says.

Throughout this process, Tha’era received assistance from the UK Labour Party and WFD. “They provided guidance and shadowing which are two crucial factors in the formation of networks,” Mariam says. “Tha’era is today a network that stands on its own feet drawing its strength from the fact that its members are veteran activists in parties; though it is important to stress the importance of funding during the start-up phase.”

The TOT Manual has become a key achievement of the network, as it lays out in clear detail the modules for use in training grassroots members of the various political parties. It was put together in English and translated into Arabic, and will remain as a resource for women in parties in which such resources are sometimes few and far between. Women attending Tha’era meetings have been able to exchange experience and expertise about the various challenges facing them, and the group’s Facebook page has done much to continue this conversation.

Mariam adds: “Tha’era is a good example of how donor organisations can fund projects that emanate from the needs of the beneficiaries and in parallel shadow the project in order to fill in the gaps coming from lack of experience. The Labour Party’s support takes roots in mutual trust, hearing your beneficiary, and providing the needed professional assistance.”

Over 100 women have now been trained by Tha’era using the Manual. Some of these women will themselves go on to train others, giving the training a range and reach it would not otherwise have. This training is particularly relevant for women away from capital cities who may be new to politics or to public activity, so that training in areas such as public speaking or campaign strategy is particularly valuable. As a consequence, women in communities that have traditionally been difficult for parties to reach have been able to access political skills and information. This training would almost certainly not have happened had Tha’era not existed, but it is essential if women in the region are to develop further as political activists and leaders.

The sustainability of the network has allowed the women involved to learn about one another’s activism and adapt what they learn to their own circumstances. The availability of the Facebook page has also facilitated this. The sharing of posts has disseminated women’s success across a wide area, and has been a major contributor to the forming of the ‘solidarity chain’ referred to in Tha’era’s mission. These connections were able to facilitate meetings between Tha’era members and women ambassadors of four European countries in Egypt.

“Exchange of experience and knowledge is very important and Tha’era offers an open space where women from the region can strategize together and launch joint campaigns,” Mariam says. “International solidarity has proved to be effective in assisting women facing governmental pressure and discrimination, Tha’era has the network needed to reach likeminded institutions and parties around the world. On the capacity-building level, and for fundraising purpose, Tha’era empowers the joining of forces that is cost-effective and amplifies impact.”

What next for Tha’era?

Tha’era has brought together a group of very capable and committed women – and enabled them to work proactively on an original, useful and targeted project. What does the future hold? “Consolidation and more consolidation,” Mariam says, “in order to provide a wider open space for social democratic women across the region, increase international solidarity, and try to build the capacity of women activists.”

The network can now face the future on a sustainable footing, has shown itself resilient to challenges, and aims to continue being a leading voice for women’s equality and political participation in such an important region of the world. It’s important for a network like Tha’era to exist, Mariam says, “because it can change things and support young women activist become stronger, it empowers us”.

The tragic story of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s death has shown this importance. Asked what Tha’era’s response to the events of January 24 2015 ultimately achieved, Mariam put it simply: “Justice for Shaimaa.”

Continue Reading

Theories of change: What do they mean for democracy assistance?

(Above: example theory of change – International Institute for Environment and Development)

WFD’s Director of Research and Evaluation, Graeme Ramshaw, reflects on this year’s evaluation conference circuit and how to better integrate theories of change into democracy assistance work.

It’s conference season for evaluators. This means a lot of time spent travelling but also a lot of time spent thinking about monitoring and evaluation concepts and methods. In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about theories of change and what they mean for democracy assistance.

This idea has been around for a while now, but I’m not sure anyone outside the evaluation community fully understands its purpose or the potential benefits the theory of change approach brings to development programming. Most seem to use the concept merely as a means of converting their rigid logframes into more compelling diagrams, with arrows connecting various coloured shapes to illustrate dynamism and change. But I think this misses the point.

For me, the theory of change approach is meant to dig into the assumption column—ever present in the standard logframe format but often ignored or misused. At WFD we are certainly guilty of rarely explaining how we expect change to occur at the different stages of our logic model. Others in the democracy assistance community may believe their explanations are more robust, but I think as a whole we haven’t thought enough about how democratic institutions develop and change.

But, before we go any further, we need to make a couple of big assumptions about the nature of the work we do and the impact this has on our theory of change. At the top, we have to assume that institutions like parliaments and political parties matter for democratic development and democratic outcomes. We have to believe that the structure and function of these institutions make a difference in how citizens experience democracy. And at the bottom, we have to assume that parliamentary process and political party development can be learned through a variety of tools or methods, with individual or group learning acting as a sufficient catalyst for institutional change of some kind.

These are big assumptions, but they are supported to a certain degree by our own democratic experience. We have to start from somewhere, because it only gets more complicated when we discuss outcomes. For instance, do we really know how institutions like parliaments and political parties change? And if we do, do we know what role we as outside actors play in catalysing or facilitating that change and how that affects the outcome of that change?

I don’t think we really do. This doesn’t mean there are no theories; there are many. Traditional approaches to parliamentary and political party development are largely based on the premise that structure matters in determining performance of institutions. The theory is that if you create the right form, function will follow. Many still subscribe to this theory, but it has proved problematic in practice. How many parliamentary research centres have been created that generate no research? How many committees created or ‘strengthened’ still don’t perform any meaningful function?

Critics of this approach point to the inherent difficulties in simply transferring structures from one context ‘where it works’ to another without any understanding of why it had worked previously. Indeed, a new generation of parliamentary and political party assistance trumpets the innovation of incorporating incentives into their approach. They argue that institutions are not monolithic but composed of individuals whose incentive structures must be re-shaped to enable change to occur.

While certainly more nuanced than the traditional structural approach, it remains no less prescriptive. We are still imposing ‘best practice’ on them; we’re just smoothing our path to implementation by getting local support first. This is more effective in the short-term, certainly; but if the incentive structures did not facilitate a certain structural set-up prior to our engagement, how long will it survive after we’ve left, if we don’t also address the culture and norms of the institution itself?

Indeed, reliance on political economy analysis (PEA) as the tool for informing programme design only reinforces this trend in my view. In many applications I’ve witnessed, the PEA isn’t used to suggest how we can develop a specific model for a particular context to produce our intended outcome. Rather, it’s used to determine the best method for inducing an institution to accept a predetermined solution. The question wrongly being asked is: who do we need to convince?

The Problem-Driven Flexible Approach tries to mitigate this by avoiding prescription and engaging beneficiaries in identifying locally-rooted solutions to the problems that surface. This idea has a lot of potential for democracy assistance, as we really don’t know what combination of individual, organisational, structural, or contextual factors actually influence the performance of any given parliament or political party. We can identify deficiencies easily, but our solutions based on UK experience or otherwise may not be universally applicable. Being honest about what we don’t know is probably a better approach than assuming we intrinsically understand how institutions like parliament and political parties develop and change for the better.

Our partnership with the University of Oxford is looking at these gaps in our knowledge, using our unique position at the nexus of research and practice to think more deeply about the institutional change theories that underpin democracy assistance programmes. We want to get a better understanding of the conditions under which different theories are more or less successful at explaining why parliaments or parties developed the way they did. This means digging deeper into the theoretical bases for a variety of international democracy assistance programmes and the changes they aim to achieve.

We at WFD articulated a new theory of change last year, and it’s significantly better than anything we had before. But we don’t want to stop there. We want our next strategic review, planned for 2018, to have more and better evidence on which to base our programming decisions. This will give us confidence that while everything we do won’t necessarily work, we will at least have a sound basis from which to learn from our failures, as well as our successes.

Continue Reading