Women's leadership journeys

A woman holding an umbrella to protect herself from a force, a woman holding up a heart with a thriving society inside, a woman crossing a bridge towards a better future

Women's leadership journeys

Democracies need everyone to be represented in decision-making. We all lose out if women are left out. We need more women’s leadership. WFD programmes and research around the world have demonstrated what stands in the way of women’s leadership and the benefits it brings. We have also learned how we can support it.
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Women’s political leadership and participation is fundamental to democracy

WFD's vision is a world where freedom and democracy thrive. We want to see inclusive and accountable governments serving people fairly and effectively. That world is impossible without women's equal participation. Democracies need everyone to be represented in decision-making.

Women's political leadership is an essential pillar of democracy. Without it, democracy is weaker and we all lose out.

An orange illustration of a woman holding up a purple heart in which there are houses, trees, wind turbines and people

Democracies miss out if they exclude women

Research shows that when women can exercise their leadership fully and authentically, the whole of society benefits. That includes women and girls as well as men and boys. This is because women tend to focus on ‘glue’ issues and policies. Those are the issues and policies that hold society together and help it function. What is more, democracies that exclude women miss out on women’s leadership which is more consultative, inclusive, and compassionate.

We need more women's leadership.
Politics continues to be a hostile environment for women and women are underrepresented across the world. Only 26 per cent of all national parliamentarians are women.  Women’s political exclusion is a both cause and consequence of gender inequality.
That is why WFD’s focuses on supporting women’s leadership around the world. We have learned what works from our research about women’s leadership journeys and from our programmes. This page summarises the highlights of what we know. You can also explore the research in more depth through our resources library.

What do we know about women's political leadership journeys and how we can support them?

An orange illustration of a woman holding a piece of paper in one hand. In the other she protects herself from a force blowing at her, with a face

Before their journeys even begin, women face obstacles

Before they embark on a leadership journey, and from a young age, women are hindered by sexism, and how that intersects with other forms of discrimination such as classism, racism, heteronormativity, and ableism. Not to mention, they face gender-based violence and, specifically, violence against women in politics. Despite this, women are motivated to embark on leadership journeys. This motivation often stems from their experiences, a particular issue, or a sense of duty.

An illustration of two women travelling towards a flag. One carries equipment and is on flat ground. The other doesn't have any equipment and faces a steep and difficult climb through rocks

Women's resources and experiences affect their journey

Women’s personal resources, experiences, and assets also affect their pathways before they get to the starting line – as well as the journey itself. Those with limited networks, contacts, and money find it more difficult than those who already have more. Some women have more than others, but when it comes to personal resources and assets, women in general are at a disadvantage compared to men.

An illustration of a blue woman with a hearing aid carrying a piece of paper crossing water using an orange bridge with lines of text on it. In the distance is an image of a better future with trees and wind turbines

Policies and legislation help ensure women can exercise their formal leadership

Policies and legislation can go some way to helping ensure more women are able to exercise formal leadership. Quotas for proportions of elected positions or party nominations held by women can help, if they are enforced. Better care policies (such as childcare provision) also help, as this allows women the time and space to pursue their journeys. Regulation of campaign financing that is enforced also helps reduce the costs required to run for office. It helps those without contacts and funders to rely on to proceed more easily.

A woman using a wheelchair is making a speech in the centre of a circle. Around her, people join hands and cheer using signs and giant fingers

Networks of support are essential for women leaders

Community support is fundamental to successful political leadership journeys. Supportive family and friends help carry some of the personal and mental burdens of political leadership. Connections with women's rights organisations can also be beneficial. Women find support in professional networks and mentors – with whom they can share skills and experiences. Political parties have a key role to play in putting such arrangements in place.


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We need to see a change in norms and attitudes

Above all, we need to see a change in norms and attitudes to ensure women’s equal political participation and leadership. We need men to be allies in helping us to get there, especially those in power who can lead these changes by example.


Research and programmes