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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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.

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The real value of regional programmes

Devin O’Shaughnessy, Director of Programmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Supporting political party reform in Kosovo

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Kosovo parliament)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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