CEDAW: Ugandan journalists give ‘voice to the voiceless’

Of all the stories she covered reporting on gender issues in Uganda, journalist Abalo Ireme Otto says the one which upset her most involved an eviction. “A woman was thrown out of the house by her husband,” she says. “Her children witnessed the scuffle.”

The press in Uganda frequently come across distressing stories like this. Another journalist recalls: “A woman was raped and she went to the police to report it. But instead a policeman kept her as a wife for some time.” These shocking incidents underline the importance of seeking change.

Reducing violence against women and girls will involve a long-running campaign. But it is one the Ugandan government is committed to, having passed a raft of legislation in 2010 bringing the country into line with the UN’s Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The challenge now is implementation. In particular one issue keeps appearing again and again, reflected by a case study described by journalist Emmy Ojave: “A woman who was denied access to land, together with her children, after her husband’s death.”

Tackling discrimination against women

Land rights for widows are protected by law under CEDAW, but this does not automatically result in justice for bereaved women. In economies heavily dependent on agriculture, land rights are extremely important. So when married women are separated from their spouses, either by divorce or by death, their in-laws often seize control of her possessions and property. In Uganda – as across much of East Africa – these discriminatory practices often clashes with the law.

In order to tackle this and the other issues covered by CEDAW, Westminster Foundation for Democracy supported the Ugandan Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) in its training of journalists in December 2014. “It shall help to sensitize the masses on their rights to gender equality,” as journalist Komakech Geoffrey described the training’s purpose. WFD’s goal has been to improve reporting on CEDAW in a bid to improve understanding of the new laws which enforce it.

Woman Cooking in Uganda - Mark JordahlJournalists spread awareness

Since then many of the journalists have updated WFD about the difference their subsequent reporting has made. “After the training I was able to trace down a survivor of gender-based violence and exposed her plight to the world,” Julius Ocungi says. “The response to her was overwhelming, because she was beloved. She was exposed to humanitarian organisations who helped in treating the citizen.”

Emmy Ojave has a similar example .”I advocated for the rights of a widow who was denied access to her late husband’s land,” she explains. “I wrote about the role of women in bringing about change. They mediated and the woman with children was given a plot of land for cultivation and construction.”

These journalists have contributed to raising awareness about CEDAW and in the process helped establish women’s rights. All those updating WFD say they have much more to offer, too. “I expect to accord more women and young girls the chances of having justice served to them,” Julius Ocongi says. “I feel revamped to do more to help our women out there,” Abalo Ireme Otto adds.

‘A voice for the voiceless’

For these journalists, trained by UPPA with WFD’s support, their work can make a real difference to citizens’ lives. Their role is to be a “voice of the voiceless”, as Komakech Geoffrey puts it. Wilfred Ronny Okot is more specific. His role, he says, is “to inform, educate and empower the public on their roles, responsibilities, contributions and rights”. For Abalo Ireme Otto, her mission is simple: “To stand for the truth in the fight against women discrimination.”

WFD’s 30-month programme supporting CEDAW is approaching its closure, but we aim to offer further support to the Ugandan Parliament in the years to come. In the meantime our work with Ugandan journalists has changed reporting on these issues – and even shaped the views of the reporters themselves. One anonymous journalist confessed to having changed attitudes because of the training. “Culture had a serious effect on my way of reporting,” he admitted, “since some cultural practices promoted discrimination against women. But now it won’t affect me.”

Featured images: Flickr
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BiH: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided city

“My aim is to transfer knowledge to students and to inspire them to think freely and critically,” says Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership: a young, educated woman, politically active and willing to make change happen in her local community.

Educating students in political science is always difficult in societies where inclusive democracy is still in development. Politics is primarily viewed through a male prism, seen by the dominance of men in elected offices. “We are very ambitious and have set a lot of short- and long-term goals for our party,” Irma says. “At the moment our priority is to make sure that Mostar actually holds local elections in October. We are using all political means of pressure available, because without elections it is absurd to speak about democracy and democratic processes.”

Her hometown, Mostar, in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), is a symbol for the country’s divisions. It has not had local elections since 2008. A lack of political will prevented elections in 2012 and now, four years later, the city’s government has only a ‘technical mandate’. In BiH as a whole, the prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved. Barriers prevent women from participating on an equal basis with their male counterparts. This is the difficult reality in cities that are more homogenous than Mostar. Women like Irma Baralija who want to be politically active face a difficult task as a result.

Irma is one of a number of women who have decided to assume direct responsibility for delivering results. She sees “working on motivating and increasing the number of women in politics” as one of the goals of her own political engagement. “In that sense, every step forward is significant and certainly has an impact on how I engage in the political life in the future,” she says.

irma speaksAlongside her job in an international school in Mostar and her engagement in local politics, Irma was also a speaker at an event WFD organised at the University of Mostar on what it means to be a woman politician in BiH today. Irma’s story is one of true commitment to working for positive change in BiH. She completed her doctorate in Spain, where she lived during that time, and had the opportunity to continue to teach there. Yet, realising the importance of contributing to the development of her own homeland, Irma returned and immediately got engaged in the community in various ways.

It’s not just Irma who is benefiting from WFD’s work. Our integrated programme, which works with both local representative bodies and political parties, is helping students through a series of university discussions which educate women on what it means to be a politician in BiH through personal experience. Interest from local women who want to make a difference is the motivating factor in making the idea of equality a reality. It sends a clear message that the goal of getting more women in politics should continue with a greater focus on the younger generation.

Stories like Irma’s should be an inspiration to women in BiH – especially at a time when young people are increasingly seeking prosperity abroad, instead of trying to make a change in their own country. WFD engagement with women politicians like Irma Baralija offers her an opportunity to showcase her experience and share it with a wider audience. This contributes first and foremost to changing the perception of students who attended the university discussion. But it also contributes to a broader group of students as well, through chats and reports afterwards. Active discussion with over a dozen female and male students who asked questions and made comments shows their interest in the topic is already there. Facilitating public discourse around this issue is very likely going to have an effect on their further engagement and interest for politics. This is especially true for the women in attendance, as the programme is trying to counter the negative trend of women leaving political activism following their university studies.

irma speaks 2Students mostly asked about female representation within the political parties and how this is achieved – whether through direct bodies such as woman’s groups or informal associations of those who advocate for gender equality within the parties. Direct answers from women who have experienced this process provides valuable information on how to achieve gender equality while being an active member of a political party.

“The representation of women in politics is very low, especially at the local level where I am engaged and where it is most directly connected to the citizens of our communities,” Irma adds. “Despite much investment, the situation has not yet improved; this is particularly true in the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton. I believe that lectures, meetings and open discussions with young female students, like the one WFD organised at the University in Mostar, can motivate some of those students to get politically engaged in the future. The same should happen at Mostar’s Bosniak University on the other side of the river.”

Irma Baralija is adamant on one fact: Mostar, in order to function properly within BiH, does not need any more “ethnocracy”, which has been the main modus operandi of the local government. Instead, it needs more inclusive democracy – and WFD’s programme is helping her and others achieve just that.

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Uganda is in transition – to a stronger democracy

After an election campaign unlike any of its predecessors, it’s clear Uganda is changing.

Its citizens want a more effective, inclusive governance – and organisations like Westminster Foundation for Democracy can help them achieve this.

Most observers expected that Yoweri Museveni would be returned to power to begin a fifth presidential term. Cynics might suggest this – and the accompanying controversies surrounding polling day and its aftermath – means nothing but business as usual. But as the campaign which preceded it showed, Uganda’s democracy is steadily developing.

For the first time, Uganda’s elections were dominated by three genuine contenders jostling for position. They were vying for support from young voters who are just as interested in what Uganda will look like in 2046 as they are in 2016. In a country where the average age is 15, and amid the rapid growth of internet usage, mobile phones and social media, the style of campaigning felt very different.

It’s clear that the Parliament will play an increasingly important role in connecting citizens with politicians. This really matters because democracy is as much about what happens between elections as it is on the days when votes are actually cast.

Parties united on gender rights

Take gender rights, an issue WFD is focused on strengthening in Uganda. The country has made great strides towards strengthening women’s rights in its first decade of multiparty politics. New laws passed in recent years targeting the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reflect the Government’s determination to improve the lives of Ugandan women.

The problem is that implementing CEDAW has proved challenging, particularly in the north and east. These were, after all, areas devastated by the Lord’s Resistance Army for nearly two decades. WFD believes we can help connect civil society organisations with local and national parliamentarians to accelerate the process of positive change in all parts of Uganda.

Our EU-funded programme is working to enhance civil engagement and political dialogue on the implementation of legislation supporting CEDAW, with the ultimate goal of reducing the levels of violence suffered by women and girls. Our 30-month programme, which started in May 2014, covers Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts in the east, and Gulu and Nwoya in the north. CSOs, local councils and Parliament are participating in activities which help them scrutinise CEDAW legislation more effectively.

Our combination of training events and workshops for CSOs, journalists, district council staff and parliamentary researchers are showing real progress. Our main partners, Gulu Women’s Economic Development and REACH, report that citizens are more aware of their rights because of our combined work. Better public discourse on human rights and democracy is essential, which is why we’re so pleased to have organised the first ever Women’s Parliament in Uganda in June 2015.

“This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader,” Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, said of the June 2015 event. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believed they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change were being encouraged by WFD.

An opportunity for Uganda’s Parliament

Events like the Woman’s Parliament matter because they bring together politicians with civil society stakeholders. Party politics will always play a big role in these exchanges, but our focus is on supporting Uganda’s institutions achieve better outcomes for its citizens. In the five years which follow these elections, WFD has a lot more to contribute.

The great positive we’ve found in our current programme on gender inequality is that politicians of all parties are committed to tracking the implementation of existing laws and policies.

This presents a big opportunity for the Parliament, which can be strengthened as an institution by improving its post-legislative scrutiny function. Better accountability and oversight of broader human rights issues, the justice system and the sound management of public finances are obvious next steps.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment will remain a central focus of our operations in Uganda. But we hope that the positive changes adopted in this area can spread good governance across all areas of public policy, and trickle down to local government officials and civil society too. WFD can use its strong relationships with the Speaker, UWOPA and key international stakeholders to work to strengthen the newly-elected Parliament across all these areas.

WFD’s relationships

That means partnering with both national and international organisations like WFD which want to work in Uganda for the long-term. We’re committed to remaining in the country and continuing the work we’ve started after our current programme ends in December 2016.

Whether it’s strengthening local and national parliaments’ policy oversight, holding the government to account, strengthening representation, or encouraging more citizen participation in fostering change, our work contributes towards our overall vision: a Uganda where inclusive and effective democratic governance makes a real difference towards citizens’ lives across the country.

Our approach applies whoever emerges on top in these elections. What matters is that Uganda is changing – and WFD stands ready to work with Uganda’s politicians, civil society and citizens to help them shape their country’s future.

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Women’s caucuses and committees: What do they offer?

“The Parliamentary Labour party is a men’s club.” That was Baroness Corston’s response when talking to the chief whip about establishing a Labour Women’s Parliamentary Group in 1992. Over two decades later, women caucuses and committees are becoming more and more important in parliaments around the world.

The impact they can have – and the challenges they face – were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting of the Westminster Community of Practice. At the first discussion since the launch in September, representatives from the UK parliamentary practitioner community met to consider the effectiveness of formally structured groups in parliaments and how they can achieve gender sensitive policy and legislation.

There was consensus across the panel that female parliamentary bodies are an effective tool for putting issues that impact on women’s lives on the agenda.

Such groups, Professor Sarah Childs from the University of Bristol argued, can provide “a different way of doing politics” and “by design have great potential”.

Kenyan MP Hon. Sanjeev Kaur Birdi, a member of the Kenya Women’s Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA), highlighted their work in influencing recent bills on marriage and reproductive health.

Baroness Corston explained that “issues only women raise politically” were the motivation for starting the parliamentary Labour party women’s organisation. She pointed to the first ever childcare strategy adopted by the UK government in 1997 as a result of lobbying from the women’s group and the increased number of women in parliament that year.

WFD’s Anthony Smith flagged our regional women’s programme tackling legislation across the Middle East and North Africa. This programme is trying to raise awareness of discrimination towards women. Achieving this means engaging all members of society to debate issues that impact all citizens.

Getting the support of male parliamentarians was also seen as essential when advocating for women’s groups and caucuses. Hon. Birdi referenced a dinner event KEWOPA held in which they invited male parliamentarians to be their “dates” to the event where the bill would be discussed. The support this act of engagement earned for the bill reiterated the importance of a united front. Baroness Corston, too, referred to how she measured the success of the Labour party parliamentary women’s group by the amount of times they were asked for advice from the mostly-male frontbench. They became the go-to organisation for policy concerns on gender and women’s issues.

The work Baroness Corston and other female MPs did to create an outlet for the voice of women in the House of Commons was inspirational. Hon. Birdi expressed the pride she felt in sharing the panel with women who have provided precedent for change in countries around the world. Joining the Kenyan parliament could be a daunting experience for women, she said, but added that women now in Kenya “are where they are because of the previous generation of women MPs”.

She spoke of the absurd discrimination some encountered, including bans on taking handbags into parliament and wearing trousers. Parallels were drawn between Mrs Birdi’s experience and that of Baroness Corston, who joined the UK parliament in 1992 when there were only 37 female Labour MPs. Despite the huge strides taken by the Labour party women’s group since then, including the introduction of all-female shortlists for party selection, an effective mechanism for scrutinising legislation was still lacking – until this year.

This summer marked the establishment of the Women and Equalities Select Committee. Its chair, Maria Miller, was present at the event. Her committee “filled the obvious gap on scrutiny and accountability mechanisms” that the informal groups like the parliamentary Labour party women’s group did not have. These groups, Professor Childs argued, often lack the needed resources and level of engagement from members. The select committee was established as a response to the recommendation from the all-party parliamentary group on women’s issues that more “responsive, inclusive, equal” consideration of legislation that impacts on women was urgently needed.

This positive step in the UK mirrors the approach WFD takes in countries where it has programmes that encourage women to be more active in politics. Anthony Smith highlighted the importance of fostering leadership, increasing effective participation and debating legislation – a prime function of the UK institutions that are working toward gender equality in the UK. It is political parties that have the ability to strengthen these processes and get more women active in politics. All panellists and members of the audience pointed to the crucial role political parties play as the gatekeepers to selection.

The level of engagement on such important issues at the event on Tuesday was a wonderful demonstration of the willingness of Westminster institutions and academics to partner and share expertise. It was an extremely positive meeting of the Community of Practice, which was established at its inaugural meeting in September. The wealth of experience and expertise across UK institutions is something that the Westminster Community of Practice will continue to gather together to highlight and inform the most important parts of our work – and the event on Tuesday night was a prime example of that.

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Speak up and speak out: Our message to women this International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Every day across the world, women experience discrimination purely because of their gender.

It might not be instantly recognisable. Discrimination can take discrete forms – unequal wages, lack of women in leadership roles at top FTSE 100 companies. But it exists, and can often take a violent turn.

As the world marks International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, take a look at how three of our programmes are finding practical ways to help achieve further change…

Empowering women in Uganda

In July this year WFD coordinated Uganda’s first Women’s Parliament – a major part of our EU-funded programme in the country. Tackling violent behaviour towards women is at the heart of what we are doing, and this programme aims to ensure the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is actually implemented. To do this WFD wants to encourage a greater dialogue between women, civil society and politicians to ensure that issues which matter to women are dealt with at the national level.

What is so shocking about the situation for women and girls in Uganda isn’t just the harrowing experience of violence and discrimination but the feeling that there is nowhere to turn, that this is normal, that they deserve this treatment. One of the wonderful outcomes of the Women’s Parliament is how it empowered women to speak out and raise issues of importance to them. Beatrice Chelangat, director of local NGO Gender REACH, highlighted how ground is being covered and progress is slowly being made: “People are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.”

Our programme’s main goal is to ensure that women in Uganda understand how CEDAW can help them eliminate violence from their own lives and communities.

Uniting women across MENA

Our support for the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence unites women from across ten nations to press for reforms to legislation that impacts on women and girls.

Take the most recent Coalition meeting that took place in early November. Its main goal was to create a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim. The coalition meetings provide a space in which women can share experiences of how discriminatory laws have been defeated in other Arab nations and find a way forward to tackle the issues with their respective parliaments. That is what Gilberte-Zouaine MP took from the latest meeting. She said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab countries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

It’s felt that this regional approach can gather momentum in favour of women’s rights across a region with an existing difficult context for women to work and live in.

The first step in this process is to raise awareness of the forms and consequences of violence. The more women know about their rights and how to access them, the easier it will be for them to take a stand. Secondly, having discussions on these issues across the region provides examples of best practice in how to deal with what is often perceived as a controversial issue amongst traditional elites. Finally, WFD has encouraged the development of Violence against Women Laws in four of the ten countries the Coalition operates in (Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon).

Together, these three steps will help provide solid progress for women who want to access justice. But getting the legislation through parliament is only the beginning. Changing cultural attitudes that discriminate against women is a long process, but we are confident the Coalition’s work will contribute toward this end.

Promoting women in politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Improving representation is one of WFD’s four outcomes, and it’s this which our programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina is focused on. Its emphasis is on providing practical help to get women into politics. By actively engaging with the media and civil society to ensure women are represented and listened to ahead of the 2016 local elections, the team hopes to yield some impressive results.

This autumn we’ve seen a series of local discussions bringing together local women councillors to discuss issues of importance ahead of the 2016 elections, like this event at the University of Mostar. A common theme which has emerged from these discussions is the critical role played by political parties. Alisa Hajdarevic (SDA Mostar), for example, mentioned the need to ensure women participate in the internal structures of the political parties to ensure they are equally represented. This is something that is surely felt here in the UK too – it was big news this year when the shadow Cabinet split roles 50/50 between men and women.

The debate over the relative merits of setting quotas for women will run and run. A quota is not a gateway to equality, which is why the work the Bosnia team is doing is so important. By using a range of different activities including training courses, public debates and media training they are providing women with the important skills they need to make a dent in the political landscape.

 

Change can be achieved, and in a relatively short period of time. Look at the UK: as recently as the 1990s it was legal to rape your partner if you were married. No longer. Women across the world trying to eliminate abhorrent laws which condone violence should believe that progress is possible. One hundred and eighty nine states have ratified CEDAW; the sustainable development goals put gender equality high on the agenda; and at WFD the focus is now on implementation and getting women represented in institutions that shape fundamental decisions. Now, more than ever, there is international momentum towards improving women’s rights.

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Coalition of Women Arab MPs combat violence against women

On 5-6 November, WFD supported the Coalition of Arab Women MPs’ seminar on combating violence against women.

The event was hosted by the Lebanese Parliament, the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Chair of the Lebanese Parliament’s Women’s Committee, MP Gilberte Zouain.

MP Gilberte, who has been a strong supporter of the coalition and spoke strongly of the need for change, said: “We aspire throughout this conference to benefit from the experience of Arab coutnries who have been pioneers in this domain and to re-establish Lebanon’s commitment to tackling violence against women.”

The seminar brought Lebanese MPs together with public institutions and women MPs from nine other Arab countries, creating a space to discuss the revision of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code – which allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying the victim.  The seminar highlighted the need for Parliament to act on this issue and showed the unity of Arab Women MPs in fighting such legislation. It’s a problem which exists in many other Arab countries’ penal codes: notably, Morocco and Egypt have amended the equivalent provisions in their penal codes.

The meetings were chaired by MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan, who highlighted the important role of the coalition and their colleagues. She said: “We as parliamentarians are required to eliminate all types of legislative discrimination.”

All coalition members agreed on the need to empower victims through legislation; that there is no honour in violence against women; and that we need practical recommendations that lead to the abolition or amendment of legislation regarding rape marriage.

The delegation was hosted for lunch by Ms Randa Berri, Vice President of the National Commission for Lebanese Women.

(Pictured above: Ms Randa Berri, Vice president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women and MP Wafaa Bani Mustafa of Jordan)

The coalition meeting hosted a number of key speakers, including Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and Director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University; and Abdelfattah Jamil from Jordan, who stressed the important role that men can play in advocacy and awareness-raising. The women commended the men in the room for their support.

Mr Nourredine Bouchkouj, Secretary General of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, said: “On behalf of the Arab federation of parliamentarians I wish you all of the success in your deliberation so that we can get full equality for women for the good of our nations.”

(Pictured above: Dr Fadia Kiwan, Professor and director at the Institute of Political Science at St Joseph University)

WFD’s Dina Melhem highlighted individual cases that have pushed attention towards the issue but highlighted that we don’t truly know how many girls and women are living at home with their rapists, because they are forced to live in silence.

(Pictured above, Coalition meeting)

Hasna Marsit from Tunisia followed this by saying that where the law does protect them, women should be encouraged and supported to report their plight. The coalition can contribute to this change by building awareness of the issue and to provide a counter-narrative that empowers the victim, something they will be working on over the coming months. The Coalition will meet in January to mark the Arab day to combat violence against women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Targeting Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Zlatan Hajlovac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Promoting women’s and girls’ rights in Uganda: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Ending sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality in Uganda isn’t easy. But by helping local leaders and civil society organisations bring women together through the country’s first ever Women’s Parliament, Westminster Foundation for Democracy is helping gather momentum behind the campaign for real change.

In recent years, Uganda has taken some big steps to implement the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It’s passed a raft of legislation in recent years to that end. But as we’ve heard, implementation is proving difficult.

“Most women have been blocked by culture,” Olive Gidugu, a union activist based in the Sironko District, told us. Their education is neglected during childhood because “in our culture, girls are prepared to be housewives”, she explained. Illiteracy in adult life is coupled with a culture that demands, in Olive’s words, that “if a man comes to you, you can’t deny them”.


Nearly 200 women participated in the first ever Women’s Parliament in Kampala

We’ve heard real-life experiences of a whole range of problems: unfairness to women in the a corrupt legal system, denial of access to and control of resources, limited participation in decision-making, and many others. Looking back at the two three-hour plenary sessions of the first Women’s Parliament, Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said she was “touched” by the story she heard of the teacher who had to give up her job because of sexual harassment. Milly Molly Omach of Oyam district recalled the story of a woman who left her alcoholic husband. “He was very drunk and hanged himself. The day after, the in-laws blamed her. The culture here always blames the women. The women who want to help her don’t know what to do as they are not aware of their rights.”

The consequences of these attitudes are far-reaching, as the statistics show. Sixty-eight per cent of married women aged 15-49 in Uganda have experienced domestic violence. In the Eastern region, 85% were found to be aware of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010, but there awere reports of people avoiding arrest despite continuing the practice. Property ownership is also problematic: Furthermore, 90% reported that the clan leadership dominates decision-making over property ownership – so when land is distributed to sons after a death in the family, for example, the views of mothers and daughters are largely ignored.


Left to right: Ms Rosette Sayson Meya (EU); Hon. Jovah Kamateka (chairperson, human rights committee); Hon. Safia Juuku Nalule (national representative for women with disabilities)

Changing this means bringing people together. And that is what happened on 7 July 2015, when over 150 women from across Uganda gathered in Kampala for the Women’s Parliament. The project, a bid to create an all-inclusive platform for dialogue on gender issues, is part of WFD’s EU-funded 30-month programme to protect and promote the rights of women and girls in Uganda’s northern and eastern regions.

It aims, as WFD’s programme manager Dorine Lakot puts it, to “increase the political discourse on women’s rights and issues”. Her goal was to make the Parliament “a vehicle for sharing good practice on local implementation of legislation with all other regions in Uganda, and to also feed into future policy issues and legislative amendments”.


Dorine Lakot (second from right, front row) with Women’s Parliament participants

As the Women’s Parliament progressed some striking stories emerged. Betty Bwamika praised a speaker who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army when she was nine. “She was able to stand and talk in front of everyone – it’s [speaking out like this is] very important for her to get hope for her children.” Another contributor explained she had become pregnant while in school, but her parents had put her back in school after she gave birth. “That’s inspiring and rare,” one attendee said. Asio Rose Mary, a member of Malaba Town Council, spoke of her own efforts to expose a fraudster who had stolen millions from the government. “I was pregnant and scared to lead this investigation… I escaped some strong threats against me,” she said. “I resisted and won the case for the government, but it was hard.”


Outside the Parliament building in Kampala

It’s hoped that by raising these issues in a single forum, their prominence in the debate across Uganda will spread.   “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika said afterwards. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.” It’s not just a handful of delegates who can follow her lead, either. Around 200 stakeholders including legislators, development partners, journalists, academics and representatives of regional parliaments and central government, among others, gathered at the Women’s Parliament in July to hear these stories. They heard calls for more “sensitization” to the issues. They heard calls for women to gain more financial independence and for more girls to stay at school; currently just one in three girls manage to complete four years of secondary education. And they heard warnings about the dangers of women leaving Uganda’s poorer districts for work, only to find themselves trafficked to China or elsewhere.


Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, presided over the session

Increasing the political debate around women’s and girls’ rights  is a key goal of the civil society groups whose work WFD’s programme is supporting – particularly the Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) organisation and the Gender Reproductive, Educative and Community Health (Gender REACH) organisations. The Women’s Parliament also supports the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association, a parliamentary caucus of women MPs. WFD is working closely with its staff to help it become a critical generator of political debate, oversight and scrutiny.

These organisations are steadily growing in confidence. “Where we have been implementing through WFD/EU funding,” explains Beatrice Chelangat, director of Gender REACH, “people are more aware of female genital mutilation and sexual- and gender-based violence. They know it is a crime. Before people thought a woman is killed, that is it. They did not know some laws can protect them and it is a crime to abuse a woman.” The gradual spread of understanding about the UN CEDAW convention is being facilitated by the activity of the Women’s Parliament and WFD’s broader programme in Uganda.


A young contributor makes her point during the plenary session

Attention is now shifting to the Ugandan Parliament, which campaigners hope will accept the recommendations of the Women’s Parliament. An important message from the July event is that more activity is needed at the It is seeking more activity at the regional level, where capacity-building, coaching and mentoring efforts will be most effective – especially when that work takes place in cooperation with local civil society groups like GWED-G in Gulu. Its executive director, Pamela Angwech, says: “We’ve taught local leaders to empower them to become more active on this matter.” Gulu is quickly moving up the regional rankings as a result of implementing the Domestic Violence Act 2010.

Gulu’s  success shows why many of those at the Women’s Parliament are now seeking support for their cause at lower levels of governance. “We are fighting problems at the grassroots,” Asio Rose Mary declares. “This Parliament empowered me to speak up and defend my position as a leader.” Overturning deep-set cultural attitudes will not come easily, but local leaders like Asio believe they can be challenged and, ultimately, overturned. It’s at the local level where change will take place – but it’s in Kampala, at events like the Women’s Parliament, where the instigators of that change are being encouraged.

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