Ten ways WFD improved citizens’ lives in 2015/16

Democracy-strengthening programmes make a real difference to citizens’ lives.

Here are some examples of Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s results from the last 12 months.

Helping ecotourism in Jordan

alquds jordan training 2013Increasing the involvement of young people in politics is a key challenge in maintaining Jordan’s democratic progress.

Forest fires in Jordan’s beautiful wooded north-western region more than halved in 2015, thanks to an initiative led by a youth leader whose training was funded by WFD.

More here: Saving Ajloun’s forests – the ‘lungs of Jordan’

Suleiman Al-Qudah’s ‘My Forest’ initiative mobilised local citizens, faith groups and environmentalists to improve public knowledge about the disadvantages of deliberately setting fires in order to obtain firewood.

“If I hadn’t taken the training,” Suleiman says, “I wouldn’t have had the motivation or the ability to try and start an initiative dealing with the forest fires. I got to learn about my rights and duties. I was given a framework for my thoughts and identity.”

One beneficiary, a local campaigner called Roqaya Al-Orood, was inspired to begin an initiative cleaning up 6,000 square metres of damaged forest land and, subsequently, a separate project cleaning the east bank of the Jordan River.

Helping widows in Morocco

Morocco women - flickr - mhobl

Photo: mhobr

Unsustainable fuel subsidies in countries around the world increase carbon emissions and divert precious resources away from other social and economic investments. But Morocco bucked the trend and successfully dropped fuel subsidies in 2015.

This policy improvement was only possible because of the political consensus achieved through the work of the new Public Accounts Committee (PAC), established with WFD’s support, which made subsidies the subject of its first report.

“My government was not able to do it because they were fearful of unpopularity, but Morocco was able to make the change because the parliament provided a platform for discussion,” says Dr Berroho, an MP and PAC member.

Some of the money saved was diverted elsewhere – to a new fund providing financial support for widows whose children are still in school.

“The funds providing direct support to women widows in Morocco will certainly have a positive impact on those who did not have any financial support before,” says Khadija Rebbeh, National Coordinator of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc.

Campaigning for justice in Egypt

Egypt police - Flickr - James BuckPhoto: James Buck

Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an activist belonging to Egypt’s Socialist Popular Alliance party, was shot dead during peaceful protests in Cairo on January 24th 2015.

The search for accountability and justice in the aftermath of her shocking death could have been frustrated had it not been for the efforts of the Arab Women’s Network for Parity and Solidarity (Tha’era), supported by the UK Labour Party’s WFD-funded programme.

Tha’era built on the relationships it had established in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring to build solidarity behind its demand that the Egyptian President ensured a “transparent public investigation concerning her death”.

Its campaigning on Facebook, organising of demonstrations in member countries and lobbying of international organisations ultimately led to the successful prosecution of the responsible policeman.

A Tunisian member of the Network said: “The mobilisation of Tha’era members at the time of Shaimaa’s murder and their capacity to alert international public opinion was a beautiful example of regional solidarity.”

Helping schoolchildren in Iraq

iraqi schoolgirl - flickr - DVIDSHUB

Photo: Flickr

Like other legislatures in the region, the Iraqi Council of Representatives has recognised the need to improve its contribution to policy debates in the country. One way of doing that is to use civil society organisations to support policy development.

The think-tank Dar Al-Khebrah Organisation (DKO), established with WFD’s support, has provided the impetus needed to achieve a major wave of investment in Iraqi education.

Dr Ehsan of DKO had proposed raising the cash to pay for 10,000 new schools by amending the Stamp Fees Act to charge an additional 1,000 Iraqi dinars on all official government transactions.

After submitting his idea to the Ministry of Education, its minister instructed that the policy proposal be examined by an internal policy committee. This is now under consideration and it is hoped the measure will shortly be approved.

Once this takes place it will be debated by the Council of Representatives. Its Education Committee chair has already indicated he will fight for the bill until it is enacted into law.

Pursuing justice for torture victims in Georgia

IMG_2817Torture victims seeking justice in Georgia will be the ultimate beneficiaries of WFD’s work linking up civil society organisations with MPs in the Georgian Parliament.

Its Human Rights Committee is working more closely with civil society thanks to events organised by WFD which have helped both assess relevant legislation and revise the Parliament’s scrutiny of human rights issues.

More here: Meet the Georgian MPs determined to achieve change

“One of the main challenges our state faces and our organisation works on,” Vakhtang Kanashvili of the Centre on the Protection of Civil and Political Rights told us in December 2015, “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.

More women candidates in Bosnia and Herzegovina

DSC_0097Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prescribed 40% quota for women’s representation in the government has not yet been achieved.

Ahead of local elections in October 2016 across Bosnia and Herzegovina, WFD is collaborating with the UK parties and working with local digital and social media to encourage more women candidates to stand.

More here: Bringing inclusive democracy to a divided society

Among the participants in local discussion events is Irma Baralija, a Professor in Mostar and member of Naša Stranka’s leadership.

“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,” she says.

Both Labour and the Conservative Party have contributed to this integrated programme, building on their longstanding sister-party relationships.

Building the capability of new Kyrgyz MPs

kyrg1November 2015 saw a group of new MPs beginning their work in Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh by attending induction sessions provided by WFD.

“I may have some confusion now because I’m a new person here, but I found the induction training extremely interesting,” new MP Evgeniya Strokova says. “I’m very excited to use the knowledge I got, and I’ll definitely do so in my work as an MP.”

More here: Inducting new MPs in Kyrgyzstan

The new intake faces intense pressure to improve the Parliament’s performance, as there is a bar on any further constitutional amendments until 2020 – giving it a clear window of opportunity to establish a multiparty system.

Participants received presentations and briefings on the functions and powers of Parliament, how Parliament interacts with the institutions of Government and how they, as new MPs, can represent their constituents more effectively.

“If the parliament is proactive, there’s a chance for us to get out of the economic crisis and for the country to become more stable,” former Speaker Zainidin Kurmanov told MPs. WFD is helping make this possible.

Strengthening the Punjab Assembly

Punjab AssemblyPakistan’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 28 million citizens – was an enormous achievement for Ayesha Javed, a Member of the PAP.

“My dream has come true,” she says. “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.”

Ms Javed received training from WFD which encouraged her to propose amendments to the changes.

The changes – including the adoption of an annual calendar which will allow MPAs to prepare for debates for the first time – will benefit all the Assembly’s MPAs, and therefore all its citizens.

Enforcing women’s rights in Uganda

women's parliamentUganda has passed the legislation it needs to end sexual harassment, domestic violence and other forms of gender inequality.

But implementation has not proved straightforward, prompting WFD to organise Uganda’s first ever Women’s Parliament of MPs, campaigners and local politicians.

More here: ‘This Parliament empowered me’

Participants shared inspiring stories of their experiences in protecting women. “I hope to share a lot with women about the different testimonies,” Betty Bwamika, an attendee from the Mpigi district, said. “It’s important that women can express themselves – you can fight for your rights.”

The Women’s Parliament is set to yield further results in the months to come as its work of citizen engagement reaches more people. For example, two women who attended the event have subsequently lobbied a multinational operating near their home village to pay for more primary school places.

Helping LGBTI citizens across Africa

africa lesbians

Photo: Flickr

The Africa Liberal Network, supported by WFD, has helped advance political representation for Africa’s LGBTI citizens since 2014.

The adoption of its Marrakesh Declaration on Human Rights by 44 member parties from 30 countries was a significant moment because it included clauses which recognized sexual orientation and commit to equal rights for all.

The ALN has promoted this view by providing support for election planning, political communication, branding, canvassing and working on the ground-up elements.

“In Botswana, for example, this was quite revolutionary in the sense that the liberal opposition now poses a serious challenge to the ruling party,” ALN programme coordinator Luke Akal says. “This is a first for Botswana and was in large part because of the work the ALN did with our parties and partners.”

More here: Africa Liberal Network party focus

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