How does the cost of politics impact on marginalised groups?

(Above: Commissioner from Nigeria’s Electoral Commission addresses the Cost of Politics regional conference)

Money remains one of the single most important barriers to political participation, but there are other non-financial costs associated with being active in political life that need to be considered too.

We often forget about who is excluded from politics because they can’t afford to run for office, or who is discriminated against when they choose to engage.

The impact the increasing cost of politics has on marginalised groups such as women and disabled people was explored at Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s regional West Africa conference on 31st January and 1st February 2017. The two-day event explored the West African perspective with case studies from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The term ‘mainstream politics’ and how marginalised groups are thought of as fringe perspectives – to be brought in from the peripheries when needed – it was argued limits the expansion of views in political dialogue, often leading to key issues like healthcare, education and support for vulnerable people being ignored.

As Professor Abubakah Momoh, Director General of the Electoral Institute noted at the conference, anyone who does not have the financial resources or capital to insert themselves in the mainstream is effectively marginalised. The distinction between inclusion and participation is therefore crucial. While inclusion is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunities to all, it does not capture the agency of the individuals involved to actively participate and engage.

Women very often have the social capital – the meaningful relationships and networks within their communities – that is mobilised for their male political peers instead of for their own campaigns. In a workshop carried out in Gaborone, Botswana aimed at supporting current and prospective female candidates, I witnessed just how integral women are to the campaigns of their male peers – organising door-to-door leafleting, rallying, networking and campaigning. The question then is not about whether women are capable of contesting and holding political seats, but rather about supporting women to mobilise the skills they do have, and helping them to identify innovative ways to access the necessary financial resources.

(Above: Representatives of people with disabilities address the regional Cost of Politics)

When contesting a seat women or persons with disabilities are often attacked on a personal rather than a political basis suggesting the cost of politics are not only financial. Prospective women politicians often face higher levels of abuse and scrutiny when compared to their male counterparts. This was a point reiterated by a female MP who spoke candidly at the event of how she and her family had been threatened and a close relative kidnapped because of her frank and vocal political views. Women face far higher risks and are often criticised for defying traditional gender roles like looking after the family. This moves the dialogue away from the political capability of candidates to deliver on electoral issues and promises towards personal characteristics.

Persons with Disabilities, in many countries particularly in Africa, still face a lack of understanding and awareness from other citizens about what having a disability actually means. While countries have ratified international conventions and agreements to safeguard equal rights and fight discrimination, this is too often undermined by a failure to translate these into everyday practices, for example, braille versions of government documents; services for the hearing impaired, wheelchair accessible buildings. Until political and public spaces are more accessible it is difficult to meaningfully facilitate political participation amongst these groups.

The social cost of exclusion, marginalisation and the denial of fundamental rights to equal political participation is a real concern prospective candidates face around the world. Westminster Foundation for Democracy hopes our research into the full cycle of political participation and the costs associated at each stage will encourage active participation and engagement by people from all groups in political life. To do this we need to re-focus on the politics and not the personal.

 

By Tobi Ayeni, Programme Officer – Africa

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

From Northern Ireland to DRC: Women and the peace process

(Above: Members of the delegation from DRC in Belfast, Northern Ireland )

All civilians suffer in conflict, but women and children often bear the burden.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Democratic Republic of Congo where citizens have suffered since 1994. Women were exposed to the harsh realities of conflict, but when it came to building a lasting peace agreement were denied a seat at the table.

In January, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy invited a targeted group of women political and civil society activists from DRC to learn important lessons about the role they can play in bringing about lasting resolution to conflict. Outbreaks of violence still occur in some regions even today, but we hope through best practice exchanges with key institutions involved in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland women activists will be encouraged to participate fully in the process.

Empowering women leaders with the knowledge, skills and confidence to facilitate meaningful change through their work was at the heart of WFD’s previous programme. Our support to Dyfcoside, a group composed of 8 women MPs and 12 representatives of women CSOs led to the submission of the first ever non-budget related edict in Province Orientale submitted by women representatives. This demonstrates how MPs and CSO activists can overcome traditional social barriers and work effectively together to advance issues of social justice on behalf of citizens. A model that could apply significantly to bringing lasting peace in DRC.

By facilitating the sharing of lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process, the delegation were encouraged to engage in inclusive dialogue with excluded parties from different communities and exposed to ways in which women build influence the peace process at home and abroad.

“The visit to Belfast was very beneficial as we were able to see women first hand who have taken charge when experiencing their own difficulties” Nasha Mulangala who has held various roles in civil society said. Meeting with women who initiated dialogue in Northern Ireland resonated with members of the delegation. Nasha added “I believe they can provide us with the tools to help lobby for our own cause and organise ourselves back home, both in Kinshasa and in the provinces.”

(Above: Participants at WFD organised workshop in Province Orientale, DRC, 2014)

Reflecting on the time in Northern Ireland, Eve Bazaiba, Secretary-General for opposition party Movement for Liberation of the Congo explained that “seeing how they get the community together is very important.” She added that “the conflict in Congo is very different because it was mostly political conflict but the consequences and the way of dealing with it are the same.”

As a post-conflict democracy that has received wide acclaim for its ability to successfully negotiate peace terms after more than three decades of sectarian violence, the Northern Ireland Assembly is an important case and reference point for modern peacebuilding efforts.

Monique Kapuwa Kande, member of Alliance of Christian Democrats (ACHRED), also participated in the visit explained that this experience “helps to guide [women in DRC] and show them the path that would help them see the direction they need to go on” she added that “by taking us to places like Belfast we were able to see things outside of the box and that there are opportunities available.”

To date, peace-building in Northern Ireland has utilised a range of actors working with various target groups at all levels of society to address the causes and dynamics of conflict through reconciliation and reconstruction, state-building and political and social transformation.

Sustainability of any peace-agreement is crucial and the Northern Ireland model points to this. Ms Kapuwa Kande noted in DRC “we get bogged down in the conflict and can’t really see anything that is beyond the immediate but this visit has given us ideas for a long-term approach.”

In the future, WFD wants to engage grassroots activists in DRC to engage communities in solutions that can lead to sustainable peace. Women often bring a different perspective to negotiations that men are missing. “By helping women and educating women you are helping the community, it has that cascading effect” Lucie Basonea Isude, member of New Alliance of Democrats (NAD) explained, “The presence of women in these political discussions is necessary.”

Continue Reading

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

Improving capacity of journalists to report on CEDAW

(Above: Cutting season is about to start in Sebei, Eastern Uganda. An article on the topic was celebrated at WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW)

“By talking about these issues, it feeds the community with knowledge” says Joyce Chemitai, Bureau Chief at Daily Monitor Publications in Uganda. “I realised we were not doing anything on gender related issues, so [the WFD sponsored training] triggered me to get into gender reporting.”

From land rights to domestic violence, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) should ensure women are protected against a range of issues that impact on their lives. Journalism in Uganda tackles many different topics, but coverage of violations of CEDAW is lacking. Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s work supporting the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) training of journalists is laying the ground work for changes to traditional attitudes regarding women. Journalism can be instrumental in increasing recognition of existing international and domestic legislation in place to protect women from discrimination. Our work encouraging journalists to report on issues related to gender has contributed to increased levels of awareness within communities about the challenges women face.

“Traditionally in our communities we think many of the wrongs that happen are good, it has happened because it should happen, like violence against women” Joyce said. But through her writing about gender based violence Joyce is contributing to changing that perception.

One of the major challenges journalists face is accessing information for their reports. “I have done a few pieces and even currently I am doing a project on men” Joyce explained. “I realised out of my interactions with the communities that many men neglected their families. The women are the ones carrying everything at home. If you go to the police, to NGOs who take complaints on women’s issues the major complaint is negligence. Men go drink, they come back and beat up the women” she continued.

Through the support provided by WFD, Joyce was educated about CEDAW, how it can protect women and how to monitor when the convention is violated – techniques that Joyce is putting into practice to get the information she needs for her current piece. “I am in touch with the police to compile for me [the figures], so I ask them to give me a report of CEDAW related cases, of child abuse, of violence against women” she said, as well as contacting the federation of female lawyers and NGOs like ActionAid to get statistics on domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. Monitoring violations and reporting on them increases knowledge within the community and holds law enforcement to account, although not without challenges.  “Sometimes even police are compromised, you go to them and you want information, but they tell you “No, we are still investigating, this is not happening”.”

(Above: Joyce, far right, participates in WFD refresher workshop on implementation of CEDAW alongside district councillors )

That’s why cooperation is key. By supporting several journalists in the Sebei region of Uganda increased coordination and sharing of information was facilitated through the programme. Joyce noted the value of continued coordination with journalists from the training and she tries to encourage ones who did not participate to spread knowledge on issues related to CEDAW like gender based violence or female genital mutilation. “When there is an issue [to report on] I always call someone and I am like “Why don’t you take this up? There is this issue that is happening” Joyce said.

“Now the local radios here also call the police or local government officers who are directly responsible for a case” Joyce explained “when you talk about it on media the community will realise it is a bad thing.” It’s not just Joyce and fellow journalists who have benefitted from WFD’s support. Increased reporting on CEDAW and women’s rights is helping to transform damaging traditional attitudes in rural Uganda that impact negatively on women and girls. “There is a feedback session that helps community members to also get involved in case there are any problems, so they can help to report it, they can help to take that person to hospital. It builds confidence among the victims, or just community members who now understand” Joyce said.

And the more members of the community who understand the damaging impact discrimination against women and girls has on the individuals involved, the community they come from and Uganda as a whole, the more likely that CEDAW and the accompanying domestic legislation will stand a chance of being implemented effectively and women’s interests truly represented.

Joyce’s story demonstrates how important values are in a democratic system. Freedom of expression through an actively engaged press that is not afraid to report on controversial topics can play a fundamental role holding the government and parliament to account. Asking questions about traditional norms and reporting on abhorrent cases of gender based violence ensures this important issue stays on the political agenda.

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

Gender as a lens for democratic progress – openDemocracy guest week

(Above: In July 2015 WFD supported the first ever Women’s Parliament in Kampala)

This month Westminster Foundation for Democracy explored how gender works as a lens for democratic progress, in our second week guest-editing openDemocracy’s front page.

WFD’s research team chose this topic because, put simply, women matter. Leaving women out of key decision-making bodies risks alienating over half of the population from policy outcomes that have a significant impact on their lives.

Representation of all groups – including women – in institutions like parties, parliaments and civil society is essential to ensure the interests of all citizens are represented.

The benefits of women in politics – an argument won?

The perception that women’s claim for representation has been resolved with the increased number of female politicians in the UK parliament and the appointment of the second female Prime Minister is false, according to Professor Sarah Childs, Director of the Gender Research Centre at the University of Bristol in her article ‘The ‘problem’ of women in politics has not gone away’.

In the UK 70% of all MPs are men which means they are over-represented relative to their percentage in the population. But Professor Childs hopes that the newly established Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion will take the necessary steps to change this statistic and ensure women’s representation is addressed in line with the IPU Good Parliament Report.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, echoed this sentiment in her article that suggested even in 2016 women can’t afford to be complacent over the idea that the increased participation of women in politics is a good thing. “I take it for granted that it’s generally accepted as morally right for 52% of the population to be represented” she wrote.
Pointing to the double standards often placed on the shoulder of women leaders, Smethers’ article raised an important issue that women who want to be active in politics feel globally. Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, Chair of the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process in Myanmar, said: “If men want to participate in politics no-one questions his [political ability]. But if a woman wants to participate in politics, people – including women – question that women and demand proof [of her knowledge and ability].”

Barriers to women’s participation

Birgitta Jonsdottir, Pirate Party MP for seven years and prominent figure in Iceland’s political revitalisation, spoke to openDemocracy’s Phil England to discuss n Icelandic politics’ transformation in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. Since then Iceland has come top of the World Economic Forum index on gender parity for the past seven years. Are the two linked? Birgitta advocates that women must play a role in shaping their own futures. “I have had the same opportunities as a man because I don’t genderise myself when I’m following my dreams and passions. I understand that the language about women in politics is sometimes quite depressing…. But at the same time I don’t care what people say about my style of being active in politics” she said.

This contrasts significantly with the hand African women and girls are dealt where traditional norms and stereotypes regarding a woman’s role prevail.

Eliza Anyangwe, freelance writer and founder of The Nzinga Effect – an organisation that seeks to change the narrative about Africa by changing the narrative about African women -thinks “the logic that just having women in politics will itself serve to challenge patriarchy and negative social norms is flawed.” Despite having three female leaders across the African continent there has been little improvement in the economic, social and cultural parity of women, she argued. Connecting political representation to these arenas is key to changing the narrative.

UN Women’s contribution gave a practical example of what can be done to support women candidates to overcome the barriers they face. By providing advocacy and leadership training alongside campaign and management skills, the UN women programme in China trained young women ahead of the local elections, giving the confidence and encouragement women needed to get involved in political life. Participant Liao Bin from Hunan province in China said: “Chinese women are as capable to govern and lead as men, and must be given equal opportunities to do so.”

 

 

Our openDemocracy editorial partnership seeks to contribute to public knowledge about effective democracy-strengthening by leading a discussion about what approaches work best, including addressing the representation of women. If you would like to contribute to the debate, contact alex.stevenson@wfd.org

Continue Reading

Case study: Protecting Punjab women from domestic violence

“Domestic violence is a big issue in the Punjab, but there hasn’t been a law on it until now,” says Mrs Mumtaz Mughal, Resident Director of the Aurat  Foundation. “So when women go to the police station they are told to go back to their home and accept the violence.”

With over 9,000 reported cases in Punjab province every year, civil society organisations had been unsuccessfully campaigning for legislation covering domestic violence for a decade. “At the provincial level there was a lack of political will on women-related legislation,” Summaya Yousaf of women’s rights group Bedari explains. “We didn’t have the knowledge or the capacity to understand the Assembly and conduct really effective lobbying.”

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) was able to assist by giving women’s rights groups access to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab for the first time. Instead of focusing on the Assembly’s small women’s caucus, civil society organisations were given the opportunity to engage with its male parliamentarians, allowing groups like the Aurat Foundation to lobby more effectively for specific, targeted legislation. Standing committees were engaged, particularly the Assembly’s social welfare and gender mainstreaming committees. Relationships were also brokered with the Assembly’s secretariat, including the Speaker’s office and legislation branch.

“We thank the Westminster Foundation,” Mrs Mughal says. “They provided a full avenue to build linkages to the secretariat, changing the civil society approach to build a close link to the Assembly and change our engagement strategy.”

Together the CSOs, with technical assistance from WFD, put forwards a draft bill. At this stage the relationships cultivated by the Aurat Foundation and its allies became critical. Some MPAs examining the bill closely in standing committee were concerned that a provision which allowed uniformed police officers to enter the homes of at-risk women could breach privacy. Mrs Mughal was invited by the committee to give expert advice– a rare event, as external experts are not usually consulted at this stage of the legislative process in Punjab.

Mrs Mughal argued that women’s security was paramount. “We guided our members that this is not the issue of privacy because the state is responsible for the scrutiny and safety of any human being,” she recalls. “We asked them that a woman protection officer – not uniformed – can have the authority to go to the home.” This amendment was accepted and formed part of the bill, which eventually passed into law on 29 February 2016.

This was a big moment for all the civil society organisations who had campaigned for the law for so many years. “Legislation is the first step towards a just society,” Ms Yousaf says. “The law itself is a long-term process, but it makes clear that if you hit or slap or control your wife or your daughter or your sister then you will be punished.”

Mrs Mughal recalls sitting in the Speaker’s Office with other CSO members and WFD’s Country Representative as the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 became law. It covers a range of offences, from stalking and cybercrime to emotional, economic and psychological abuse, and provides for the implementation of residence, protection and monetary court orders to protect women. “I was very happy and we were able to celebrate a big achievement,” Mrs Mughal says. “We were thankful – but also aware there are still a number of challenges for us.”

Securing budgetary allocations for the construction of Violence Against Women Centres across Punjab’s 36 districts is set to be particularly challenging; each costs more than 400 million rupees (£2.9 million). State funding has already been released for one district in South Punjab, which will act as a pilot scheme as part of the Act’s phased implementation. But as the Aurat Foundation and other organisations continue to campaign on behalf of women facing domestic violence, they will use the relationships they have established with politicians in the province’s Assembly.

“We need to be selective in the issues we put forwards to the Assembly,” Ms Yousaf says. “We’ve learned we cannot find the solution to issues in isolation: sometimes we need the support of Assembly members, and sometimes they need our support to be briefed on issues. We complement each other’s work.” The Domestic Violence Act is a result of that engagement – civil society and Assembly members brought together by WFD. As this continues it will lead to “good governance”, Ms Yousaf says.

That is WFD’s aim in Pakistan, a country on the path to an inclusive democracy after 2013 saw the first ever transition of power between civilian governments at the federal level. By working to create effective provincial assemblies that apply checks and balance on the federal state, Pakistan can build strong parliamentary systems which benefit all citizens. WFD seeks to support this by helping the provincial assemblies generate better policy and represent groups of citizens – including women – more effectively.

In the meantime, vulnerable women’s lives are set to benefit from this engagement. As the focus turns to implementation of the new law, Mrs Mughal hopes progress can be made quickly so that those facing abuse “can live in a violence-free environment in her home”.

Continue Reading

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

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

Excluding 50% of the population

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

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

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

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

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

Party systems or unfair coverage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next steps: A commitment for change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Declaration for Equality: Fair play elections 2016

Deklaracija Za Jednakost: Fer Plej Izbori 2016

Javnost u Našem Dvorištu (Public In my Backyard)

Javnost u Našem Dvorištuhttp (Cirilica)

Continue Reading