Empowering Women in Political Participation and Leadership

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, May 25, 2015 to Friday, May 29, 2015
Conversation type: 

Summary available

At the local and community level all the way to the highest levels of government, women are often underrepresented in leadership positions, left without a voice in decision-making and ignored as an electorate. Women hold only 22 percent of national parliamentary positions globally. This means that women are underrepresented in all facets of the political process often due to social-cultural barriers, the absence of training and resources for women’s political organizing, standards of living and precarious economic challenges.

Through the conversation Empowering Women in Political Participation and Leadership, New Tactics in Human Rights has sought to uncover the tools, tactics and resources used by individuals and organizations to empower women to overcome the obstacles preventing them from political equity and equality.

The obstacles to the political participation of women listed by the participants to the conversation were the lack of public/social support and political party support, entrenched traditional views, lack of confidence, lack of financial means, lack of capacity building opportunities, lack of access to technology, gender discrimination, division according to ethnic lines, violence, and intimidation.

Tactical Examples Shared to overcome the obstacles

Conversation threads:

Women’s Political Participation

Women’s political participation is the actual and equal involvement of women in the governance of the communities they belong to whether via elective, appointive or merited positions. It means the recognition and value attached to the contribution of all including women in the governance system of any community/country. Decision-making becomes beneficial to the entire country when it reflects the collaborative inputs from all members of the community without discrimination.

It is important to have both quantity and quality in the women taking part in governance. Studies have revealed that increased women’s participation has resulted in a bigger economic benefit, increased cooperation across party lines and more sustainable conflict resolution. It is important to raise women’s engagement in politics by raising their awareness of opportunities available, building confidence and skills. Targeting women at the grassroot level has brought about impactful results as can be seen in Saudi Arabia where women are allowed for the first time to run as candidates in the local elections.

NGOs have been a very strong driving force behind the increase in the number of women in the political arena by linking local campaigns to global actions and trends. The United Nations through its various conventions which governments have adopted  have set the minimum  international standards such as the Beijing Platform for Action, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and Moreso, including regional instruments for gender equality.

Political parties are essential vehicles that could enable women’s participation in the political system.

Obstacles to Women’s Political Participation

The obvious obstacles are traditional and cultural barriers that are entrenched and social norms and attitudes against women as leaders and decision makers. It is important for women to have the necessary social and family support to overcome this. It is important to highlight the benefits of having women in decision making and to have local role models to help build local capacity. To engender political parties, it is useful to have mandatory quotas such as 30% minimum women in leadership structures and having women’s wings within political parties.

Another major threat for women is violence and intimidation. This can be prevented by having electoral codes of conduct and assistance from non-governmental organizations such as International Republican Institute (IRI) on good practices adopted to local conditions.

Another obstacle facing women are economic barriers. This can be mitigated by enlisting the assistance of women in business and obtaining in kind resources similar to project Womankind and WiLDAF-Ghana  provided other in-kind support to female candidates in the local District Assembly elections. Campaign financing restrictions and measures to curb corruption should be imposed.

Another obstacle faced by women is the lack of access to information and communication technologies (ICT) which also been used to attack women. Positively, ICT can be used to raise awareness of women’s political activism and to organize campaigns for advocacy such as HarassMap in Egypt.

Political Parties and Electoral Systems

Women in parties have to be specific with party leaders with behaviors and practices that exclude them from decision-making. In the US, change in the internal rules for the Democratic Party convention and structures over 30 years ago have paved the way for more women’s participation.  It is important to have fundraising such as Emily’s List (www.emilyslist.org) specifically for women candidates to enable them to focus on campaigning. UNDP and NDI had produced a publication entitled "Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A guidebook to promote women's political participation" (http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/womens-empowerment/empower-women-political-parties/) to guide women and political parties on the issues to consider throughout the electoral cycle.  

Women need to support each other by having strong caucuses to further their interests. Mandatory quotas for women have been successful in increasing women’s participation in elections such as in Spain where researchers found that Spain's mandatory quota (requiring parties to ensure 40% of their candidates for local elections were women) had measurable positive effects for parties.

Training and Empowerment

International and local women's organizations play a substantial role in increasing women's participation in politics such as IRI's Women's Democracy Network (WDN)’s Women’s Political Education Forums (WPEF) has been used to increase women's political engagement. Conducting training such as developing media skills, designing campaigns and building knowledge of key national and local policy issues along with long term mentoring has assisted in building women’s confidence to take on leadership roles beginning at grassroots levels.


Compendium of Good Practices for Advancing Women's Political Participation in the OSCE Region (new resource released May 2016)

Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A guidebook to promote women's political participation



Entry Points for Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties


Democracy and the Challenge of Change

Women,Technology and Democracy Survey

Women in Local Executive Office



Gender Parity: A Case for Fair Voting and Party Rules








QuotaProject website


© 2007 Sean Hawkey, Courtesy of Photoshare

Conversation Leaders

francescabinda's picture
Francesca Binda
Binda Consulting International Ltd.
MFijabi's picture
Mufuliat Fijabi
EDI for Gender Justice (EDIGJ)
Charmaine Rodrigues's picture
Charmaine Rodrigues
eveberyte's picture
Erika Veberyte
International Republican Institute
Caroline Hubbard's picture
Caroline Hubbard
National Democratic Institute
Abigail_Womankind's picture
Abigail Hunt
Womankind Worldwide
Sandra Pepera's picture
Sandra Pepera
National Democratic Institute
Catherine K's picture
Catherine Klirodotakou
Womankind Worldwide
Nika Saeedi's picture
Nika saeedi
Rawan Yaghi's picture
Rawan Yaghi
Discussion topic Replies Last postsort ascending
Hot topic Intro to Women’s Political Participation 19
by npearson
Thu, 05/12/2016 - 12:34pm
Hot topic Obstacles to Political Participation 25
by Natasha
Sun, 11/03/2019 - 2:40am
Hot topic Political Parties and Electoral Systems 19
by npearson
Wed, 07/01/2015 - 1:52pm
Hot topic Training and Empowerment 16
by eveberyte
Fri, 05/29/2015 - 10:26am