UK political parties host international summit on Violence Against Women in Politics

On 19-20 March, UK political parties – Conservatives, DUP, Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Plaid Cymru and SNP – in partnership with WFD, will convene legislators and activists from 20 countries for a two-day conference in London to identify practical means to address violence against women in politics.

Over 50 speakers including party leaders, ministers and experts from UN Women, Amnesty International, the National Democratic Institute and CARE International will discuss new measures to combat violence and intimidation against politically-active women.

About the conference

More women than ever before are participating in politics worldwide. Higher numbers of women are being elected to public office and, in many countries, more women are attending political events, engaging with government bodies and registering as voters.

However, as women’s political activity has grown, so has the frequency and degree of violent responses to their presence in politics. Globally, politically-active women – voters, candidates, local councillors, members of parliament, bloggers and activists – regularly find themselves on the receiving end of acts or threats of violence.

Leading activists in politics, civil society and academia will meet to identify practical means to address the growing incidence of violence against women in politics. The conversation will be led by practitioners – women who have chosen to become active in politics and public life who know and understand the breadth and the impact of violent responses to their activism.

Importantly, this cross-party conference of political and community leaders has been initiated by the UK political parties, who have chosen to work together on this issue and involve their international partners. Unlike many political discussions that start with disagreement and discord, this conference opens with consensus: violence against women in politics must end.

The conference will produce and publish a set of recommendations and actions to be taken by relevant bodies to address violence against women in politics, and will agree a set of steps to advance these.

The programme

The conference will take place at Carlton House in London over two days and will see the launch of a WFD Research report on violence against women in politics.

Day 1 – Monday, 19 March features sessions on:

  • Parliament’s role and responsibilities in addressing violence against politically active women
  • Violence against women during elections
  • The cost of politics
  • Online abuse of politically active women
  • There will also be an evening networking reception

Day 2 – Tuesday, 20 March features sessions on:

  • How women in party youth wings are affected
  • The civil society perspective on VAW in politics
  • The role of political parties in tackling violence against politically active women
  • Recommended actions for political parties and parliaments to protect women’s right to participate in politics and government free from violence

The provisional agenda is available for download.

For more information please email the conference organisers.

WFD’s support for women’s political leadership

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is a public body sponsored by the UK Government responsible for supporting the establishment of effective multi-party democracy in developing countries. WFD’s work is based on values – that all people are equal and that the protection of their human and democratic rights is essential for fair, safe and prosperous societies.

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Engaging parliaments in Asia on reviewing legislative impact

(Above: WFD’s Dina Melhem and Franklin DeVrieze with Members of Parliament in Burma)

Franklin DeVrieze, Senior Governance Advisor

One of parliaments’ key roles is to make laws which meet the needs of a country’s citizens.

Beyond the primary function of adopting legislation, parliaments should be able to evaluate whether legislation does achieve its intended outcome.

Earlier this year, Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) started working with partnering parliaments across South-Eastern Asia to help develop their ability to review how a new law has worked in practice since it came into force.

In January, we organised a first series of workshops on ‘post-legislative scrutiny’ in the Burmese parliament. Our primary aim was to review contemporary approaches to assessing the efficacy of legislation. We also wanted to define which practices are most relevant to Burma and support the development of a Burma-specific approach.

Experts from the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Indonesia shared their experiences in overseeing the implementation of laws. It emerged how the Indonesian parliament is leading on post-legislative scrutiny within Asia. This provided a basis for peer-to-peer exchanges with the Burmese parliament. During our initial workshops, the Secretariat leadership of the Burmese parliament showed strong interest in post-legislative scrutiny and saw opportunities for greater adoption. It was noted how it could help make parliamentary committees more active and functional. It could also maximise use of the Secretariat’s existing structures and resources.

(Above: Asia regional conference in 2016 on implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, which provide a prime opportunity to raise the question of ‘post-legislative scrutiny’ in the Asian context)

Importantly, the workshops revealed that law implementation is a complex matter as it depends on the mobilisation of different state mechanisms, funds and actors. It does not happen automatically and several incidents can affect its course: changes in facts on the ground, diversion of resources (e.g. defunding), deflection of goals, resistance from state and private stakeholders and changes to rules in related policy areas. Often there are risks that laws are voted but not applied, that ‘secondary legislation’ is not adopted or that there is no information on the actual effects of the law.

As parliaments across Asia start to pay more attention to law implementation and begin to create specific procedures to oversee it, we identified four main benefits:

  1. It strengthens democratic governance: legislation adopted by parliament should be implemented and applied in accordance to the principles of legality and legal certainty.
  2. It allows to identify potential adverse effects of new legislation, for example on fundamental rights, and to act to prevent them.
  3. It enables the consistent appraisal of the how laws respond to the issues they intend to regulate.
  4. It enables the legislator to learn from experience both in terms of what works and what does not, how effective implementation is in meeting objectives, with an eye to making better legislation in future and reducing the need for corrective action.

Taking into consideration current activities in several legislatures, WFD is in the process of finalising a comparative study which describes in further detail the process and rationale of ‘post-legislative scrutiny’, presents relevant facts and trends in selected countries, and identifies opportunities relevant for the parliamentary strengthening programming of the Foundation. The draft comparative study will be discussed at a seminar with academics and practitioners in April 2017 and made available to country offices as well.

Should a parliament which benefits from WFD programme support want to analyse its role in overseeing legislative implementation, practical questions would arise: what form it should take, what priority should it have, and when should it be used. Therefore, we are also creating a methodological tool to enable parliaments and WFD country offices partner up in this important area.

Should a parliament consider that it has the intention to engage on post legislative scrutiny but limited resources, WFD might suggest developing a pilot by which a parliament examines the implementation of a limited set of laws (two to three) over a limited period of time (e.g. two years). After this, the pilot project can be evaluated and lessons learned identified for more generalised uptake. Our advice to partners is that any new approach to conducting post-legislative scrutiny work in a parliament is open for the public to see its relevance and potentially participate in the evaluation of legislation and policies as in the experience of the UK Parliament. The comparative study will highlight a couple of relevant examples of public inclusion in post-legislative scrutiny, including in the UK.

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Reforming the Provincial Assembly of Punjab’s rules of procedure

(Photo: Usman)

“My dream has come true,” says Ayesha Javed, a Member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP). “I started the process of reforming the rules alone in 2013 but continuous pushing and immense support from WFD has enabled me to get the Reforms Bill passed in 2016.”

Pakistan’s decentralisation process is of critical importance to strengthening democracy in the country. To make this work, each of the Regional Assemblies needs to be able to operate in a professional way and build the confidence of their citizens.

That is why transforming the rules of procedure for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab (PAP) – the members of which represent 100 million citizens – was an enormous achievement for Ms Javed.

She participated in many sessions organised by WFD on rules of procedure, effective committee system and best UK parliamentary practices which encouraged her to propose amendments to the changes.

The changes – including the adoption of an annual calendar for the first time, which will allow MPAs to better prepare for debates and a balance between their parliamentary and constituency commitments – will benefit all the Assembly’s MPAs, and therefore all its citizens.

The need to review the rules of procedure had first been identified during WFD’s 2012-15 programme, but it was recognised that this was a matter for the PAP itself to determine. So WFD instead supported the newly-elected MPAs and provided orientation workshops on the rules of procedure, which galvanised MPAs to review the rules.

Ms Javed had already identified the need to review the rules as she had been frustrated by them in her first term during 2008-13. They didn’t equip her with the powers she needed to fulfil her duties. So she submitted a Private Member’s Bill to amend them and secured a petition with her colleagues, signed by 188 members.

As a member of the ruling party, this caused significant controversy. But MPAs were eventually persuaded that increasing the effectiveness of the legislature is not a hostile action against the executive.

The main changes resulting from the reforms point to a system which enables the MPAs and Secretariat staff to be more professional in undertaking their duties. It includes participatory legislative and accountability processes; the inclusion of the concept of ‘zero hour’ for matters of urgent importance; and the introduction of a parliamentary calendar, before which MPs were unable to prepare for debates effectively.

The results of this reform will benefit the Secretariat as well as MPs. Hafiz Shafiq Adil, a Special Secretary in the PAP, had played an important role. “I was not a formal member of the committee and was only coordinating – but when discussions were taking place, I dared to present a recommendation about combining various clauses if there is no amendment,” he remembers. The Chair and Law Minister responded by asking Mr Adil further about the idea. He responded: “I learned about it while observing Northern Ireland Assembly proceedings during a study visit organised by WFD.” Mr Adil is delighted that his proposal was ultimately included in the reforms. “I am happy with the achievement that my suggestion was approved by the committee – I contributed through what I learned,” he later added.

The reforms are helping the PAP conduct better oversight and engage civil society more, helping encourage democratic participation and inclusivity. Although these changes may seem an academic exercise with little relevance to the population, they are in fact key for a democratic institution. For example, if there is no parliamentary calendar, how can you expect your elected representative to prepare on issues that concern you and need to be raised? The changes allow Ms Javed and her colleagues to do their jobs more effectively. No wonder she is so happy that her “dream has come true”.

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Parliaments in context: a parliament’s relationship with democratic trends

The launch of WFD’s new partnership with openDemocracy aims to tackle the question of how do parliaments shape democracy (and democracies shape parliaments)? We want to encourage a conversation about what works best for parliamentary strengthening.

WFD’s Parliamentary Adviser, Victoria Hasson, has been reflecting on her experience conducting context analysis of parliaments and how their interaction with citizens can shape their rules of procedure.

“The nature and direction of this interaction is not static and at a given moment broader democratic trends inform an institution’s internal procedures” she argued in her article for openDemocracy.

You can read Victoria’s full article on the importance on context analysis here.

As she stressed:

“It is not easy trying to figure out how best to institutionalise public will and opinion, moreover figuring out how best to ensure this is translated into laws or other state instruments that give effect to that opinion. Until the rules of the game have been established, and until a set of repeated practices have emerged as a valued set of ‘standing orders’, this iterative outside-in interaction must and does take place.”

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Human rights in Macedonia: Linking up CSOs with Parliament

WFD is launching a new partnership in Macedonia – connecting civil society with parliament to improve human rights in the country.

By Ivana Petkukjeska

We’ll link up with the School of Journalism and Public Relations in the 12 months to December 2017 to facilitate a dialogue on human rights policy. The project will build on the experience of our work in Georgia, as well as our previous cooperation with the Parliament of Macedonia, to bring together civil society organisations (CSOs) with decision-makers in Skopje.

The problem CSOs in Macedonia face is that their work doesn’t usually result in significant legislative changes. While there are organisations in the country that are really focused and sincere when it comes to improving the laws concerning the target group they support, they often lack capacity to conduct research- and evidence-based advocacy. Those who do conduct their own research often find they lack the ability to make their case publicly because their findings are just data on paper. This lack of both research and advocacy skills reduces their impact on the legislative process, undermining their chances of achieving a positive change.

On the other side is the Government. It has a Strategy and Action Plan for cooperation with civil society, but the extent of implementation remains limited. There is a need for improvement. CSOs find it almost impossible to reach the MPs they need to communicate with to advocate for specific legislative changes.

Photo: Andres Musta

WFD has been supporting the development of the Macedonian Parliament since 2008 through various programmes. Since then we’ve established solid relations and cooperation with the Parliamentary Committees and members of different political parties. Now, our aim is to use our access to the Parliament to help CSOs. We’ll connect them with the MPs and relevant Parliamentary Committees to try to achieve legislative changes which will contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation in Macedonia.

The initiatives for changes to the law will be completely demand-led. We’ll open a call for policy initiatives dealing with human rights and democratization issues. CSOs will be invited to identify issues which will directly benefit certain communities or groups of citizens. By offering research and advocacy trainings, as well as access to decision-makers, the action will strengthen CSOs by capacity building and increasing their integrity with the local communities.

It’s an approach we’ve been pursuing in Georgia for some time. After two years, our initiatives are showing great signs of progress. Just take a look at the event which took place on Monday December 7, the latest in a series of opportunities for local CSOs to highlight pressing issues about torture, property law and children’s rights, and you’ll see the difference WFD’s work can make.

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‘You can’t ignore human rights’: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

This week, Georgian civil society organisations (CSOs) have been sharing with the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee the harrowing stories they’ve encountered through their work.

MPs will take these grim examples to the Government in Tbilisi – with the help of Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the UK embassy in Georgia.

“Currently no-one cares for him – neither parents, nor the State,” says Maia Gedevanishvili of the Apparatus of Public Defender of Georgia. She’s talking about an 18-year-old who came to her for help. “There’s no state policy regarding young people who aren’t under the care of the state anymore,” she explained. “He is not ready for fully independent life. He doesn’t have a proper education, or job, or home. It is essentially important to help this category of young people prepare for adult life.”

Mrs Gedevanishvili was given the opportunity to raise this case to MPs thanks to WFD’s programme with the Georgian Human Rights Committee. We’re aiming to increase the committee’s oversight; the Government is implementing its Human Rights Action Plan, which needs scrutiny.

On December 7, committee members visited homes for parentless children in Rustavi and Kojori. They were seeking to check the living conditions are consistent with the children’s rights. But they also heard from a range of organisations – including the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights.

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” its spokesperson Vakhtang Kanashvili said, “is the conduct of the comprehensive investigation of facts concerning crimes of torture that occurred before 2012.” The Centre is calling for a firmer criminal policy and amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in order to comply with international standards. “The next step must be the correct qualification of facts concerning crime of torture and the persons who perpetrated that crime must not be granted any kind of legal privilege, including plea bargaining,” Mr Kanashvili added. These are significant changes, but the MPs who are being lobbied believe they can help achieve them.

The committee’s chair, Eka Beselia, who was a lawyer advocating on human rights issues before her election to parliament, keenly feels the importance of her work. “I strongly believe that you can’t make a difference by ignoring human rights standards,” she says. “Any reform which doesn’t take human rights standards into account is doomed to failure.”

Mrs Beselia believes this engagement reflects the strength of feeling in her country. “The Georgian people very much know what human rights issues are, because they feel it. They’ve been through inappropriate treatment, they were themselves in many cases the victims of violations of human rights.” The language of the petitions and claims received by the committee reflects this, she adds. “They feel that human rights should be engrained in this country. They don’t trust the country, which is why they apply to the committee.”

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Among those participating in the December 7 field visit was the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, who highlighted the case of a businessman who was forced to give up his home to the state. “He was forced to sign a deed of gift,” Archil Kaikatsishvili explained. “He lost the property he gained through years of hard work. After the change of government he addressed our organisation and asked for legal assistance; despite our efforts, it was not possible for his violated rights to be restored.” Parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the Public Prosecutor will ensure the prosecution’s responses to the most burning questions will be answered.

These cases reflect the difficulties of dealing with a bleak legacy of human rights in Georgia – and the hope that a better future is now possible.

After the change of government in 2012, the country adopted the Human Rights Action Plan. Responsibility for oversight of its implementation has fallen to the new committee. It has received thousands of petitions concerning human rights violations since then. And it has an ongoing brief to hold the executive to account over its decisions on reforms to the judiciary, prison system and prosecutor’s office.

There is a broader context to the committee’s work, too. Georgia is seeking membership of the European Union and has signed an Association Agreement which helps it prepare its candidacy. So it’s important to the Government that it addresses ongoing human rights issues, which remain an enduring challenge. WFD is also bringing together the committee with CSOs to discuss legislation springing from the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.

Tamar Lukava of the Human Rights Centre highlighted an example of this: the findings of his organisation’s monitoring work in prisons. Among the continuing violations, he noted, was the practice of “the search of women by making them naked in order that they be confined or transferred to institutions”. Mr Lukava said he believes the Human Rights Committee will be able to work on the elimination of this problem.

Dialogue with European partners is an important part of the process. So the committee’s visit to London in early December to meet with civil society organisations, parliamentarians and government officials was helpful. “We might adopt some of the nuances we’ve learned from this trip,” Mrs Beselia says.

The biggest impact WFD has is the access it offers CSOs to this group of MPs. Much of our work around the world is focused on using our links with parliaments to help improve their effectiveness, and it’s CSOs as much as MPs who are the key beneficiaries. They certainly expressed their gratitude in Rustavi and Kojori.

georgia mps“The organisations involved were given the possibility to get a better understanding of the government’s Action Plan on Human Rights and the flaws of implementation,” Tamar Mudladze of Children Of Georgia said. “The project in question facilitates the mobilization process of organisations working in this sphere. It makes the cooperation between different sectors deeper and it facilitates coordinated actions in order the identified flaws to be eliminated. We would welcome that the project be continued in the future.”

WFD continues to implement its ongoing programme with the committee. A visit to minority groups in the southern part of Georgia, further presentations from CSOs of their findings and a conference on torture and inhumane treatment will all help MPs prepare their recommendations for the Government.

There is real optimism across Georgia about the impact the committee can have. “The outcome from this kind of cooperation is rapid and tangible,” says Elenne Pileeva of the ‘Article 42 of the Constitution’ organisation. “The Government increasingly tries to implement these recommendations – because it is responsible towards the Parliament.”

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Social media in East Africa: Connecting citizens with lawmakers

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other popular social media sites are steadily gathering growing audiences in East Africa.

That poses a big challenge to parliaments in the region – and an opportunity, too…

WFD’s currently working with the East African Community in Arusha, Tanzania, to boost the communications and outreach capacity of the East African Legislative Assembly. A regional intergovernmental organisation, EAC is comprised of the five member states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – a combined population of more than 138 million people.

EALA 1EALA plays a critical role within the EAC structure. Much like the European Parliament, its role is to draft and scrutinize legislation which advances the community’s goals of establishing a common market, monetary union and political federation. The Assembly’s made up of 45 MPs – nine for each member state – which meets in the chamber, pictured here.

EALA 2WFD’s been working at EALA since 2010. We’ve supported the production, dissemination and monitoring of EALA’s strategic plan for the 3rd Assembly 2013-18. We’ve assisted four of the Assembly’s six standing committees, strengthening the knowledge and skills of their members. And we’ve engaged with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), which has mobilised civil society organisations to consult with EALA. Our office is based in the EALA wing of the EAC building – pictured here in the shade on the left.

EALA 3Across the five member state countries there are lots of audiences which EALA needs to communicate with – from universities, schools, business groups and civil society organisations to national assemblies and citizens. The challenge for EALA, as with other regional parliaments, is finding ways to give citizens greater access to its processes – first by growing awareness of EALA, and then by helping them participate more in its work.

EALA 4WFD’s head of communications, Alex Stevenson, headed to Arusha to develop a social media strategy for EALA. He’s pictured here with EALA’s comms team of Bobi Odiko and Lawrence Munezero. Their intention is to use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to connect EALA’s work with the active debates and discussions already taking place in East Africa on social media.

EALA 5It’ll be a big moment when a social media user’s comment is fed into EALA and actually influences its legislation. That will be a key milestone, not just for EALA but for the whole East African Community and the region as a whole.

EALA 6As the strategy is implemented it’s hoped that the growing use of social media across East Africa will be harnessed to strengthen public sentiment and awareness about EALA – and its ability to change people’s lives. That is an outcome for which the EAC’s founding fathers – Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Apollo Milton Obote of Uganda and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya – would surely all be proud.

EALA 7

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