Intro to Women’s Political Participation

20 posts / 0 new
Last post
Intro to Women’s Political Participation

Below are a few questions to begin this conversation thread:

What do we mean when we refer to “women’s political participation”?

What impact on decision-making do women have when they have an equal role in political leadership? What are the benefits beyond politics?

How do we measure impact? Discuss M&E practices. What needs to be measured and what is not currently being measured?

How are representation numbers (quantity) and the quality of representation addressed differently?

In what ways do you see NGO’s moving women’s political participation forward?

Are international conventions and treaties (i.e. CEDAW) helpful in advocacy efforts to increase women's political participation?  If so, what are examples of international standards and conventions being used to increase participation?

Women's Political Partticipation a must to achieve development

Intro to Women’s Political Participation

What do we mean when we refer to “women’s political participation”?

Women’s political participation in my opinion 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.


What impact on decision-making do women have when they have an equal role in political leadership? What are the benefits beyond politics?

 Decision-making becomes beneficial to the entire country when women contribute equally to the process. It means that the decision made will be reflective of the entire country and the implementation process of the decisions will be an achievable one. It is a reflection of collaborative inputs from all members of the community and without discrimination.


How do we measure impact? Discuss M&E practices. What needs to be measured and what is not currently being measured?

In terms of measurement, in my opinion a lot of emphasis is put on the figures, the percentages and less on the other  results that emerged in spite of not been focused on. For example in Nigeria, the number of women who contested for elections in 2007 were not as many as those who contested in 2011 and 2015. But the number of women who won elective seats was higher in 2007, (11%) compared 2011 (6.8%) and 2015 (5.5%) based on the seats won by women at the parliamentary level.  Although sadly the percentages dropped , there is a remarkable progress in the number of women who showed interest and came out to contest for elective seats as this is an indication that unlike before more women are now showing interest in the political process of Nigeria. It is also an indication that gradually the monopoly of the influence of culture-patriarchy on the participation of women in politics is gradually being broken. Therefore while outputs are been used to measure outcomes based on initially set targets, outcomes and evidences not planned should also be adequately recognized.



How are representation numbers (quantity) and the quality of representation addressed differently?

In order to make progress, there is need to combine both the quantity and quality. In the last decade so much discourse have gone into the need to have only qualified and quality women  occupy leadership seats and the need to down play just having all kinds of women occupy leadership seats, under the guise of having more women in position. In essence it is not about the quantity of women but the quality. The Nigerian example has shown that large number of women, quantity and quality are needed to guarantee the space for women’s active participation. From the quantity a large turnout of quality women could be groomed into all the positions available. Having only a few quality women in positions alone may not be an effective strategy.

In what ways do you see NGO’s moving women’s political participation forward?


NGOSs have been a very strong driving force behind the increase in the number of women in the political arena in most countries linking local campaigns to global actions and trends. In several countries they have taken the lead and complemented government’s effort to ensure that women enjoy their political rights form the government. The United Nations through its different conventions to which the various governments sign to have set the minimum  international standards to which all countries must aspire to reach. These instruments include the Beijing Platform for Action, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, Moreso, the various regions have also developed regional instruments to respond to the needs of having gender equality and balance in the regional level. At the national levels also different countries have also taking on legislative and constitutional strategies to ensure that women enjoy equal rights in the political participation of the respective countries. Most countries in the world today that have achieved remarkable achievements in the percentage of women in elective and appointive positions have linked this to one constitutional provision or the other like quota. In this instance, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa are examples.  Quota has been used in some context and described as a mechanism to bridge gaps, it is not without criticism including that it is preferential.  The debate on quota may like going for decades to come the reality is that there is need to correct the very long years of gender discrimination, and relegation of women to the background in all areas not excluding political participation.


increased interest in Nigerian political process

Mufiliat, interesting point you make about women showing increased interest in the political process in Nigeria.  Why is that? Are there specific changes in the system or politics that have increased this interest?  Too often, women are reluctant to be engaged - because they don't believe they can compete, that they are qualified or they are turned off by the money and corruption associated with politics? 

it is tough and challenging

Advocacy and campaigns by civil society organisations and support by the development partners especially since Nigeria’s s return to democracy in 1999 after long years of Military administrations have awaken Nigerian women’s interest in the political process. In the last elections (April 2015) and the 2 before, (2007 and 2011) women constituted more than half of the voters. There has also been a steady increase in the number of women who showed interest to contest for elective positions as well as those who emerged as candidates. They are however challenged by money politics as you rightly mentioned. Most of the women who show interest in contesting for elective positions do not have the match in financial resources with the men. This is a major problem. In the last elections women’s groups at different times raised public awareness on the need to reduce the concentration on money politics and instead focus on qualifications of candidates to perform excellently well in the offices.  Although Nigerian women are strategizing to overcome this challenge and others like patriarchy, it is tough and challenging.

actual and equal involvement of women in the governance

MFijabi, I fully agree that actual and equal involvement of women in the governance is one of the key elements to focus on while advancing women in decision making. As more women take part in politics and are active in civil society, their numbers are increasing. However, equality has not been achieved. I have found that the lack of public support and self confidence has been one of many factors that impact these decisions. I believe that targeted campaigns, such as through newspaper articles and TV/radio discussions, in support of women in decision-making have contributed to the public discourse about the benefits of equal involvement of women in political processes.

Women's pol participation/impact on decision making/role of NGOs

Women’s political participation is more than just women serving in office. It is women’s leadership and engagement in decision making processes in their homes, communities and, ultimately, entire countries. When we speak about women’s political participation, we should have in mind that advocating for better schools and/or roads in a community is already political participation, only starting with small “p” not capital “P” yet. However, this is a step that leads to capital “P”, - women representing their constituency and running for office.
Numerous studies reveal that an increase in the number of women in public office results in better governance practices, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, bigger economic benefit, and increased cooperation across party lines and more sustainable conflict resolution. Yet one of the most prevalent barriers to women’s political participation is the lack of confidence, political party and public support to take the next step in their political career and run for public office. Today, according to IPU there are a bit more than 22% of women represented in elected office.
NGOs, like the International Republican Institute (IRI) are focusing their efforts to move women’s political participation forward through ensuring that all its programming is gender sensitive. IRI is a not for profit and non-partisan organization which encourages democracy in places where it is absent. Helps democracy become more effective where it is in danger. And shares best practices from where democracy is flourishing. With more than 30 years of experience, IRI also established two targeted initiatives specifically focusing on women’s empowerment – Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) and Arab Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI).
First, Women’s Democracy Network (WDN), is a global program, focusing on increasing women’s political empowerment, their leadership and representation in public office. Today, the Network connects members across region and continents from more than 60 countries around the word. WDN members who are experienced practitioners serve as mentors and a resource to aspiring women leaders. One of the unique aspects of WDN is its multi-partisan and multi-religious nature, where women coalesce under one umbrella to advance women’s empowerment in their own countries regardless of their political, cultural, religious and professional affiliations.
Second, the Arab Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) focuses on building political skills for women throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). AWLI trains countless numbers of emerging women leaders throughout the MENA region and discusses relevant policy topics and current issues facing women in the region. AWLI prides itself on teaching the skills needed to be effective leaders, creating relationships across boarders and cultivating new and innovative ideas for Arab women to not only enter, but also increasingly lead in the public and political arena throughout the region.
I believe that what works best to achieve women’s engagement in politics is raising their awareness of opportunities, building confidence and skills. What is important to advance this is the support of the public for advancing women in decision making.

What was a single most impactful approach to increasing women’s political participation in your experience?

 Nice reading your inputs.

 Nice reading your inputs. Ilike the idea of the AWLI. I have also benefitted from AWLI but in this case it is the African Women's leadership Insitute an initiative of Akina Mama wa Africa. I do hope that there will be some connecting point in the future of all the AWLI's globally. But really i would like you to throw more like on the connection between this interventions and the grassroots?

Best wishes,



Mfijabi, I am sure we both agree about the importance and the impact grassroots have on the political process in a country. I have seen it in my lifetime during the 1990s when Lithuania, where I was born and raised, regained independence from the Soviets after 50 years of occupation. Then, women played a major role along with the men standing hand in had against the tanks roaming the streets, providing first aid to the wounded, supplying food to those who stood outside in winter cold with warm tea and food. In the Middle East and North Africa, women activists in Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Saudi Arabia continue to push the boundaries imposed on them oftentimes risking their lives. As my colleagues noted in their blog on Democracy Speaks, "In Saudi Arabia, two women, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were arrested in November 2014 for defying their country’s ban on women drivers. Although released in February 2015, it is believed that their detention was the result of their open opposition to the driving ban posted on their Twitter accounts. With local elections slated to occur this year in Saudi, and women allowed to vote and run as candidates for the first time ever, Saudi women’s rights activists are making brave and bold moves to remove restrictions on women in the country." in neither of the above cases women were trained to specifically do what they did. However, if you specifically target women at the grassroots, they not even able to mobilize but bring impactful results. I hope I touched on what you were looking to discuss.

Political participation and peacebuilding

Vey interesting to read everyones posts. I agree with much of what has been said regarding the importance of reognising and supporting both small "p" and big "P" political engagement. In the last 5-10 years there has been a clear increase in focus on women's formal political particiaption - most notably through efforts to engage more women as national electoral candidates and as parliamentarians. That said, there still needs to be considerably more support for local level political engagement.

One additional point i thought was useful to make is to recognise that women's political participation is often particularly diminished in conflict settings. Despite UN Res1325 on women, peace and security, when the time comes for political negotiations around peace agreements and new constitutional settlements, women are very often excluded or their voices are given very limited weight/visibility. It is important that such opportunities are better leveraged to build in women's political participatopn from the ground up as countries start to rebuild after conflict. Rwanda is a great example of this appraoch - but a rare one.

Participation and peacebuilding

Thanks everyone for your contributions. Regarding the point on UNSCR 1325 and subsequent Reolutions which comprise the international Women, Peace and Security framework outlining measures to be taken to ensure that women are involved fully an meaningfully in conflict resolution and peacebuilding, as Charmaine aptly points out, opportunities to ensure women's full and equal participation must be ensured and fulfilled at all levels, including at community / local levels. 

An important point here is that many women are already active during and after conflict in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. However this crucial role is not sufficiently recognised by those leading and supporting formal peace processes, which often take place in national and international-level fora, and women active at the local level are often not able to participate fully and meaningfully in these highly politicised processes. 

As Womankind outlined in our recent briefing** focusing on the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, 'it is at the local level that many of the decisions that affect women's lives are made, and women's political and public participation at the local level is an important end and aim in itself. "Bottom up" approaches which build on women's roles in local peacebuilding are crucial'. 

In this context, I'm interested to hear if any of the other participants in this conversation around the following question: In your view, what are the key steps needed to ensure that the voices, experiences and priorities of women at the community/local level are fully taken into account in the political processes related to conflict resolution and peacebuilding? 

Grassroot mobilizing

Hi Abigail,

In response to the question you raised, one major step to ensure that the voices of women count is to institute a process for networking and  coordination of grassroot efforts and initiatives on Conflict Resolution and Peace Building. This will ensure exchange of information from local to global and global to local. interestingly women in the grassroot also complain of being left out in the discussions around peace emphasising that they are already playing a key role and should be properly engaged.

Question from UNDP GEPA on Twitter...

How do you see women's participation and leadership in politics connected to gender equality in public administration?



Womens political participation & public admin

There are a couple of issues i would like to raise in response to the UNDP-GEPA question. In fact, it is increasingly common to see larger numbers of women in senior leadership positions in the public service, but this has to traslate into larger numbers of women in political roles. Notably at least in part this makes sense, bc public servants are supposed to act impartially, as bureucrats, rather than politically. That said, one would think that senior public service management could be a good springboard into politics bc it presunably exposes woen to high level policy-making processes and public consutation

In my experience, there are a couple of interlocking factors which i thikn hold back women making the transition from public admin to politics: 

  • Very commonly, there are electoral regulations which require that candidates for political offce must not to be public servants. in reality, this usually requires RESIGNATION from the public service rather than a leave of asence For women who have oftetimes slogged for years to get into senior management positions, the idea of taking thk of resiging their position - only to likely lose in an election (baseed on historically low numbers of successful women candidates) - and to then have to reapply for their oold job and very likely ot get it and have to start climbing the management ladder again, the risks of running simpl outweighs the benefits. Note in this regard, eections advisors should be made more gender sensitive to ensure that such reglations are not put in place to the detriment of women candidates.
  • Even where women only have to take a leave of absence from the public service to run in an election, the length of a campaign can make this prhibitive I rcallin Marshal Islands one year the campaign was declared early and ran for 3 months. At least one candidate dropped out (and who knows how many simply didnt bother to run) because she couldnt afford to be off work that long - and most likely only more wealthy women could afford to run in any case. .
women in politics

Women's political participation is very important for justice and equality in any community. It does not only involve free voting and having a say in political and social issues; it is also getting the support and the courage to run for office herself. Breaking taboos especially in stereotyping communities is very important. Most developed countries that consider themselves working hard on ending gender gap still need more in terms of empowering women in the political field. We see political parties with very few figures on the top level and much more seems to be needed.

Why women? It is not only about gender equality but socially speaking, women are able to focus on issues that can be missed or put aside by traditional politics. When women get involved, more issues start getting pinpointed and solved. Involving women in politics means better education and equal investment on the socialand educational level. The cultural acceptance of women breaking the glass ceiling creates a further understanding and improves her decision making skills in her national and international presence.

M&E are done periodically through the generation gap report on the international level; however it is not enough for the states or countries themselves. More surveys that male connection tp people's lives and interests seem to be of more importance to keep on alerts and motivate for better performance. Spreading the voting percentage and running for office or women percentage sitting on boards of entrepreneurships, firms or organization through different media and social media tools are highly encouraging for women.

Being from the Middle East, I can say that NGOs are enabling women to step forward in their social and political participation. In USPEaK, the organization I founded 6 years ago in Lebanon, we involved women in 60 to 75 % of all our projects (conflict resolution, media and social media trainings, leadership, advocacy and campaigning besides others). Women's participation in social issues especially when it leads to advocacies and lobbying raises the women's confidence and reinforces her skills and determination. USPEaK was able to have around 27 women potential candidates from North East Lebanon as a result and as a part of a project with the Arab Women Leadership Institute. For a country that has 3.25% of women in the parliament and zero women on the board of political parties, we consider that NGOs are the only way that are ionvolving women in political participation and building their skills.


In referring to Women's Political Participation...

When we think about women’s political participation, I think it’s important to take a holistic approach: women need to have equal access to every part of the electoral process. I think it’s also important to mention that only working with individual women won’t break down the challenges women face in institutions like political parties and parliaments, and it won’t help change people’s perceptions of women’s political leadership. For example, NDI works with political institutions, such as parties and parliaments, to help them provide an enabling environment for women. Think basic things like making sure parliament buildings have women’s restrooms to more complex ideas like making sure political party internal rules include sections on gender equality. In addition, I think it’s critical that cultural norms and practices exist that enable women to participate equally, including the perception that women and men are equally capable and deserving of political leadership.  NDI believes that all types of democracy and governance programming --- whether or not it specifically focuses on women’s political participation --- should take gender considerations into account. What this means is that we have to make sure programs benefit women and men equally, work towards achieving gender equality, and don’t perpetuate existing gender discrimination. In addition to focusing on the individual, institutional and environmental barriers that inhibit women’s participation in public life, this also means working with male allies and understanding male perceptions of women’s participation in politics. What do you think? How would you address the social norms and cultural attitudes that impact women’s ability to participate in politics? Do you think male attitudes about household divisions of labor are important to address and how would you go about doing so?

Political Parties

Political parties are essential vehicles that could enable women’s participation in the political system. They play a central role in generating and fielding potential women candidates. Political parties in post-conflict settings emerge as the main gatekeepers – or barriers – to women’s formal political participation and policy influence. When patriarchy prevails in both the structure and the culture of political parties, this adds to the challenges women face in engaging in formal politics or occupying positions of influence. Political parties in, post-conflict settings, seem especially likely to be highly personalised around male leaders (in some cases ex-combatants) and do business through informal networks and in informal spaces to which women do not have access. In systems that use party lists to appoint candidates, where the political future of candidates depends on the party leadership and not on voters, parties control the selection of women candidates, and the promotion of women into decision-making roles in the party and government, and the policy agenda. Thus, the wider political economy (such as the logic of patrimonialism and patronage politics), the particular features of the electoral system and the implications of this on internal politics and incentive structures and power relations in political parties are important in defining the challenges and opportunities for women to gain entry to political parties – and at what level.

Since political parties often tend to be more open to nominating women as candidates for local elections, women may find it easier to start at this level and use it as a stepping stone to national office.

  • Laws may offer parties incentives such as more free broadcast time or additional public funding if they include certain numbers of women among their candidates. New laws are often introduced in post-conflict countries, providing an ideal opportunity to incorporate these and other provisions aimed at ensuring equal political participation for women.
  • Political parties sensitisation on equal access for women candidates

Entry Points for Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties


[1]Assessment of the evidence of links between gender equality, peacebuilding and statebuilding Literature review


Political parties

Nika, I fully agree with you that political parties are the gatekeepers or barriers to women's political participation. Here, I would especially emphasize the internal party gender sensitivity which essentially means that all the organizational and procedural elements of the party, like the by-laws, require the inclusion of both genders in the decision making processes. I would also argue that another tool of no less value is self-assessment, like a gender audit, which would provide the political parties themselves and the wider public with information about the status of women in political parties.

Women in local politics

I wanted to bring up the importance of women's political participation at the local level. When we reflect on women's political participation, we must encompass a more broader definition than just women serving in the national office. I argue that local participation aspect should be included within the definition of women’s political empowerment. Today, this data has not been captured properly.

Why the focus on the local level? Women’s role at the local level is critical.

First, I believe that at the local level, supply and demand sides of politics are more interconnected. When women become more active locally by mobilizing others to hold local representatives accountable (supply side), they become more visible within their communities and their name recognition grows. When political opportunities occur, demand from the local community for these women to represent them increases as well. Thus, chances for their political participation grow.

Second, almost universally, there are higher numbers of seats to be contested for at the local level. Thus, it can be assumed that there are more opportunities and for bigger number of women to be elected.

And finally, as the responsibilities of the local government are rather broad, women at the local level have the potential to influence a large number of important decisions.

Final Thoughts on our Conversation

It has been great to be a part of this week’s discussion.

The National Democratic Institute’s Gender, Women and Democracy Director Sandra Pepera joined the conversation from Kampala, Uganda, where she participated in the first workshop for NDI’s regional women’s caucus program with women parliamentarians from Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda.  This NDI program brings together four national caucuses from these countries, all of which are at different stages of development and organization but face similar challenges and capacity limitations. Some of those challenges include developing political alliances behind policy agendas, and, in the case of two caucuses, women parliamentarians face conflict and threats to their lives. This is just one way NDI supports women’s political participation within governance.  

And before we close, we want to direct you to some resources that NDI has developed  that may be of interest/of use to those in the field:

1)      In one thread, Charmaine Rodrigues already mentioned the guidebook that we created with UNDP, “Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A guidebook to promote women's political participation” which is a compilation of lessons learned and strategies we developed through 20 case studies of targeted interventions that NDI conducted for UNDP in 2009-2010.  

Additionally, and with support from UNDP, NDI plans to develop a companion document to this manual on minimum standards for women’s participation in political parties in Africa.

2)      For those looking for training materials and resources to develop and carry out effective programs to bring more women in government and politics, we encourage you to look at Democracy and the Challenge of Change.

3)     Our two most recent publications, Women,Technology and Democracy Survey and  Women in Local Executive Office may also be of interest.

I want to leave you with our thinking on areas that NDI believes need to be developed further and will be focusing on:

As we mentioned during the general conversation, NDI recently commissioned The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) to develop a Green Paper on Gender, Urbanization and Democratic Governance, which is forthcoming in June. We hope that continuing to address gender within the context of urbanization and democratic governance can help create sustainable and democratic cities for the future.

We will be continuing to study violence against women in elections and plan to embark on a broader initiative focusing on violence against women in politics in the near future. Additionally, we plan to do more work on empowering women and women’s groups during major political transitions, such as peace and reconciliation processes.

Last, we are increasingly focusing on masculinities and thinking about ways we might involve men in our gender equality work.  

It has been a pleasure engaging with all of you this past week!


New resource from the OSCE region

I would like to share this recent - May 2016 - resource that provides some good examples and ideas for potential adaptations: Compendium of Good Practices for Advancing Women's Political Participation in the OSCE Region

The chapters include the following areas of women's political participation:
  • Current trends in women’s roles in society in the OSCE region
  • Women's participation in political parties
  • women's participation in elections
  • Women’s participation in local politics
  • Women’s participation in parliaments
  • Conclusions & recommendations