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The vision of the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy is to contribute to the development of well functioning political parties and multiparty systems in a democratic culture, in support of the aspirations for freedom and human development of citizens in developing countries.



ABOUT THE COVER PHOTO Women actively participate in a sweep campaign before local elections in Bihar state of India. Organized by UN Women’s partner, The Hunger Project, the campaigns motivate other women to fearlessly stand for elections despite the risk of violence or oppositions. These campaigns also educate them about rules and procedures to file candidatures. (Photo: UN Women/Ashutosh Negi) WOMEN IN POLITICS DANISH INSTITUTE FOR PARTIES AND DEMOCRACY PAGE 3

DIVERSITY AND EQUALITY MATTERS! Searching for ideas and practices that can inspire change

This background document is not about the statistics on women in politics, because we already know the situation too well. As stated in the Millennium Development Goals Report 2011 from the United Nations: “Despite growing numbers of women parliamentarians, the target of equal participation of women and men in politics is still far off.” Progress is clearly slow, indeed frustratingly slow. Only 26 countries worldwide have managed to achieve the 30 per cent target for women in decision-making positions set by the Beijing Platform adopted in 1995. Globally we have still not been able to climb above 20 per cent. When we dig deeper into the different dimensions like top leadership positions in parties and cabinets at national level, ministerial posts, or heads of municipal councils, the picture just gets even more depressing. So despite some progress, the reality we live in continues to be one of discrimination against women, in law as well as in practice, resulting in both equality and diversity suffering. Denmark is doing better than most countries in this area. As suggested in the last article of the background document, maybe the secret is that sustainable equal status development has been rooted in a combination of top-down and bottom-up politics. The state pushed equality through legislation, but making it a living and vibrant reality required the hard and persistent work of various civil society organisations, as well as strong individuals. In a sense this is not a new recognition, but rather a general recipe for change or development. But it is nevertheless important to remember when we search for ideas and practices that can inspire change. Both sides are important; each side needs the other. This is different from stating that every country should now copy what Denmark has done. We know that this is not possible. While recognising that principles of diversity and equality are important dimensions of a democratic culture, we must accept and understand that they have to be managed and practiced in different cultural, religious, social and political settings. The Christiansborg Seminar is therefore not driven by a search for the ‘one-size-fitsall’ magic bullet, but rather for ideas and experiences from our global village, which can inspire all of us in our different localities.


Of course this search will also build on all the wealth of knowledge others have already accumulated. The journey we have travelled so far indicates that many different areas need to be dealt with in a strategic manner to ensure progress: Equal constitutional rights for women and men need to be included; different electoral systems can offer different avenues; the use of quotas or reserved seats for women can be considered; the role of party rules for recruitment procedures should not be underestimated; capacity development to strengthen skills and resources of women is needed; and reform of the rules and internal procedures within parliament may also be helpful. Changes in institutional structures and regulations are often possible in the shortterm. But history tells us – including the successful Danish history – that egalitarian attitudes towards women and men, improvements in human development, and societal modernisation are long-term undertakings. After all, it took Denmark around 150 years to reach the present 40 per cent level of women parliamentarians and see the first woman become Prime Minister! Maybe other countries can reach this level more quickly. At the end of the Christiansborg Seminar 2012, we hope to be able to adopt a statement on principles, ideas and practices that can inspire our work on support for women in politics. This will of course not be a legal document, but rather a commitment by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy to follow these principles when we engage with our partners, both in the area of party-to-party partnerships and in the area of multi-party partnerships. At the general level this is already codified in our strategy for 2011-2013 “Political Parties in a Democratic Culture”, but we hope that the ideas and practices presented in the seminar will make it possible for us to deliver more effectively than is the case today. We believe that this is important and necessary as an end in itself. But it is also important and necessary because the empowerment of young women in politics, women engaging in politics at the local level, as well as women in politics in countries undergoing some form of transition contribute to the overall strengthening of democracy.

Bjørn Førde, Director



CONTENTS 9 23 37 45 57






ABOUT THE PHOTO A woman in traditional dress peaks out from behind a Bolivian flag while listening to Bolivian Presidential Candidate Evo Morales speak at a rally December 13, 2005 in the capital La Paz (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images).


YOUNG WOMEN IN POLITICS From household level to national politics BY MARYSE HELBERT, AUSTRALIA

The aim of this background paper is to offer recommendations as to how to increase the participation of young women in politics through party assistance, based on an analysis of positive and negative experiences from around the world. They will show how these experiences attempt to answer the triple challenge that political parties are facing in engaging more young women in politics. Indeed, there is an overall decline in political participation and engagement among voters and members in political parties generally. Additionally, women overall have experienced difficulty in fully participating in politics due to structural constraints. And lastly, research shows that young people tend to be more interested in informal political action rather than formal political participation. Getting more young women into politics can only be achieved if action is being taken from the household level right through to national politics.


Maryse Helbert has been an advocate for, and researcher on, women’s participation in politics and decision-making for over a decade. After completing a Master’s thesis on the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the French and Finnish political systems in encouraging and increasing women’s political participation, she became actively involved in the movement to institute the so-called ‘Parity Law’ in France (1999-2000). She has since broadened her research to include women’s involvement in decision-making processes related to development, specifically in the context of resource exploitation and climate change, where evidence shows that women are being sidelined. ABOUT THE PHOTO

Excited supporters of the Peace, Unity and Development Party (KULMIYE) during an election rally in the city of Hargeisa, Somaliland. (Photo by Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures).


INTRODUCTION Defining young women is the first task. Typically, being young falls within the ages of 0 and 30. However, when talking about the right to vote, it is generally at the age of 18 that young people attain that right. A third pertinent point may be put forward when talking about an interest in politics. While it is from 18 years of age that most countries allow the right to vote, politics can be a subject of interest for those who have yet to reach the legal voting age. In the current political scene, political parties play a central role in the governance of modern democracies as they are the bridge between civil society and government. As such, any decline in their voluntary base can be seen as a source of weakening the weight of civil society in the democratic debate. So the recruit of members is in some ways a way to promote a healthy democracy. Additionally, if political parties are bridges between citizens and the state, the more diverse the citizens are within political parties, the more strength the democracy has. To be diverse, political parties need to reach out to young women. If political parties are the gatekeepers to women’s advancement to power, and as the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child recognises the right of children and young people to be involved in decision-making (1989), this is a strong case for political parties to reach out and promote more young women to be actively involved in politics. This paper will first review the triple challenge that political parties have to grasp in order to get more young women into politics; positive and negative experiences will highlight how political parties answer the triple challenge; and lastly, recommendations will be made.

We know that the guys have their own networks, even in equal societies, there are associations that have existed for hundreds of years and they still do not let us women in. We need to have our own networks supporting each other.” ASTRID THORS MP OF THE PARLIAMENT OF FINLAND AND FORMER MINISTER OF IMMIGRATION AND EUROPEAN AFFAIRS

AN OVERALL DECLINE OF ELECTORAL PARTICIPATION AND PARTY PARTICIPATION International literature on political participation shows that there is an overall decline in electoral participation and also in the participation in political parties. Overall, since the mid-1980s, there is a notable decline in voter turnout except in countries that enjoy some form of compulsory voting. Five of the top seven countries with the highest voter turnout – Australia, Nauru, Singapore, Belgium, and Liechtenstein – enforce compulsory voting laws. The voter turnout decline runs parallel with the membership of political parties. Whiteley sees in the decline the increasingly closer relationship between political parties and the state. This, in turn, has converted active members into ‘unpaid state bureaucrats’ due to increased regulation and control. The increasingly close relationship between political parties and the state means that there is ‘little incentive to recruit or retain members for financial reasons’ as po-


litical parties ‘rely on the state to fund their activities’.1 In other words, it could be said that while there is an overall decline in political engagement, there is also an overall lack of interest in engaging new, active members in political parties.

THE CHALLENGE OF GETTING MORE WOMEN INTO POLITICS The challenge of the overall decline of membership numbers is reinforced by the historical challenges women have had in getting a fair share of the political scene. Young women may be facing the same daunting challenges. Any move in getting more young women into political parties will need to have an understanding of these challenges. Only since the beginning of the 20th century did women start to have the right to vote. For some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women will have the right to vote and to run for municipal election only in 2015. Switzerland gave women the right to vote in the 1990s. Explanations justifying not giving women the right to vote include: Women were not interested in politics; it is impossible to find women who want to run for elections; and women would vote as their priest directed. In some countries active political policies had to be put in place in order to promote the greater inclusion of women in decision-making positions. Nowadays, few countries have reached equality in political representation and while quotas have been implemented in political parties or for decision-making positions, ‘its significant effect in having the inclusion of women on candidate lists ultimately depends on the political will of the parties and effective enforcement of the law’.2 Overall, women still constitute only 19.6 per cent of the members of parliament around the world. Men have historically dominated parties despite women making great strides in recent decades. For the most part, the structural constraints women have to face if they wish for a political career are the same within political parties. And while there may be many women at the base, there are very few at the top. As power increases, the number of women decreases. In the seven countries for which data was available, 51 per cent of active party members were women, of which generally only 16 per cent of party presidents or secretaries were women. Men commonly hold the most senior or powerful positions (president, secretary general, economic secretary, programming secretary, etc.). Women tend to occupy less influential positions such as minutes secretary, archivist, or director of training or culture. This lack of political representation within political parties is due to its ‘highly gendered institutions that incorporated women on a different basis from men and in ways that impeded their access to leadership positions’. 3 So it is a challenging and daunting task facing young women indeed.

THE CHALLENGE OF GETTING MORE YOUNG PEOPLE INTO POLITICS As for women in politics, the challenges for young people in politics are just as harsh. For example, while 65% of the African population are under 35, the parliament of the different countries of the whole continent do not meet the challenges in matters of political representation of such a young population. Political parties have historically ignored young people and young people’s interests despite being, on a world scale, half of the population. And while it is hard for young men to attain real opportunities to reach decision-making positions within political organisations, it is even harder for young women. 1 2 3

Whiteley, 2011, 22 International IDEA, 2012, 11-12 International IDEA, 2005, 115


There are two opposite trends regarding young people and political parties. One is that the academic world has not considered young people and politics as a key research topic, and political parties have not considered young people as an issue of concern within their party. On the other hand, it seems that young people have different interests in politics than their elders. There is an overall understanding that there is a dramatic decline in the political involvement of younger generations, and decreasing levels of youth participation in elections, political parties and traditional social organisations. Research shows that generally, young people conceptualise politics differently, ‘seeing it as an arena for the older generation, and not linked directly to their own lives’.4 They also have a broad mistrust of political parties. Research also shows that, overall, young people who are not involved in politics have the feeling that political parties are not addressing their interests and they feel powerless in relation to the political system. They simply believe that they can’t have an impact. And even if they are members of political parties, they cannot see themselves playing important roles or being leaders in these parties.

We are not going to be able to solve the gender problem in our political parties without the support of men within the women’s committee. We have been missing that kind of strategy as women in Kenya.” MRS PENINAH MWASHEWA NATIONAL LABOUR PARTY, KENYA

In some countries, a two-party system seems to deter the political interests of young people as they feel they have a lack of alternatives. It is worth noting that one of the reasons the Greens party overall attracts more young members than the traditional political parties is that the Greens party agenda tends to be much closer to young people’s political concerns. There are two voices in conceptualising the decline of young people’s political interests. Some see the decline in interest in politics as a reflection of the increased individualism within the population. Indeed, some argue that the lack of interest in a formal model of political engagement is due to the new era of neoliberal discourse to which young people have been submitted. The neoliberal discourse has in some ways shifted interest from society to the individual. Members of the younger generation would be primarily interested only in themselves. Ward suggests that the new form of political engagement could be conceptualised as political consumerism, whereby citizens would consume politics as consumers would consume goods. While the pessimistic voices see the increased individualism of society and the consumption of politics as a threat to the future of democracy, the optimistic voices look rather at the wide variety of political actions, formal and informal, which have emerged over the last two decades and point the finger at the political parties not be-


Ann and Shuib, 2011, 175


ing able to keep up with and ‘being disconnected from young people’. 5 Indeed, the optimistic voices do not see any threat to the future of democracy but rather a revival and a renewal of democracy due to the diversity of political action that the political parties have to grapple with. These informal political actions create new modes of expression and participation that seem to appeal to young people. The new modes would be elite challenging forms of participation. They would, for instance, focus on single issues or what Norris calls a ‘cause-oriented style of politics’ 6, or what Giddens calls lifestyle politics. Others mention other forms such as the rise of networks, issue associations and lifestyle coalitions. Overall, the combined optimistic and pessimistic voices would point to an inadequacy of traditional democratic arrangements for contemporary youth. Beyond the two voices conceptualising young people’s attitudes and behaviours towards politics there are factors that determine their engagement. Major research in the USA shows that those who get involved in the new/informal forms of political engagement are those who are also more likely to get involved in formal forms of political engagement. In other words, young people who show political apathy in getting involved in formal political actions are also impossible to reach through other means of political action. Indeed, factors which determine political engagement are linked to education and overall social status and social economic background. The higher the education, the higher the political involvement of the parents, and the higher the social economic background of the parents, the more likely young people will engage in politics, whether formal or informal. Other factors would be the multiple challenges young people have to face nowadays which may have an impact on their political attitudes and behaviour. Young people ‘have to cope with dynamic social conditions during their transition to adulthood, which confront them with increasing demands for flexibility on the labour market, with self-reliance concerning welfare security, and with demands for increasing activity with respect to participation in the democratic process’. 7 Although the political engagement of young women is not weaker than that of men, it is nonetheless different. Young women tend to be less involved in formal politics and more involved in the informal ‘civic form of engagement’, such as socialmovement-oriented activities, that are for instance voluntary work, collecting money, and collecting signatures, and it seems also that ‘youth participation in politics using the new technology continues to be structured by gender’ in the same way. 8 There are varying factors to explain the difference. Due to the burden of duties such as caring commitments, household domestic duties, but also the requirement of the full participation in the workplace which involves working long hours, young women would lack opportunities and resources to fully engage in formal politics. In fact, a parallel could be made between women having a late entrance in professional careers due to their other domestic/caring commitments and women entering the political scene late for the same reasons. However, they are nonetheless a huge political force. Another factor that could contribute to explaining the difference of interest in politics is women’s socialisation. Women’s political socialisation is ‘understood here as the process whereby they internalise the view that politics is a man’s world’.9 A study of junior high school students found a significant gender gap in political interest in the United States. Boys had more interest in politics and boys and girls did perceive politics as something that held greater interest for boys. Except for Finland where 5 6 7 8 9

Carnegie UK Trust, 2008b, 14 in, Odegard and Berglund, 2008, 594 Gaiser and Rijke, 2008, 542 Cicognani et al., 2012, 562 Gidengil et al., 2010, 335


adolescent girls envisioned themselves as being more politically active as adults and more skilled about politics than the boys, research shows that young women tend to silence their engagement and knowledge in politics. The perception that politics is a man’s world can be mitigated however if there is the presence of female role models. Role models outside and inside the family circle increase the likelihood of political activity. Additionally, if one parent is involved in a political party, it is more likely that the offspring will also be. And, last but not least, having a mother actively politically involved has a particular impact on their daughters’ political involvement. Researchers of young women’s political involvement emphasise the mother role model effect and say that it is not confined to the elite level. The internal functioning and culture of political parties would also be another constraint to women’s commitment. Internal functioning, such as the way meetings are organised, the decision-making process, the formality of the decision-making process, the formality of speaking in front of other members, deter young women’s full engagement in politics.

INCREASING YOUNG PEOPLE’S POLITICAL INTERESTS: THE CASE OF NEW ZEALAND 10 In research undertaken on how to reach out to young people, the advice is as follows: Keep it simple, keep it positive, keep it relevant, keep it real, leave the script at home, hold onto your values and ask young people to participate. In the face of an overall decline of young people’s political engagement and interest, and the overall perception as being powerless to promote their particular interests, the Auckland City Youth Council initiative is very interesting. Created in 1984, the Auckland City Youth Council ‘enables young people to learn about their community, their city and their local government’. It was made up of up to 25 young people, aged between 12 and 24 years, whose role was to advocate on behalf of young people. It was an advisory board. Youth council members were self-nominating and were accepted provided they attended the induction. As New Zealand overall and Auckland in particular are characterised by a young population which is diverse in culture, identity and experiences. Despite principles at the heart of a youth council promoting youth participation which needed to be meaningful, connected to wider decision-making and occurring in ways that young people have control over’, the first stage of the youth council showed that having a youth council did not guarantee youth participation, voice and power in decision-making processes. After 15 years of existence, the youth council achievement was a source of disappointment. There was an overall perception that high achieving young people were overrepresented on the youth council. Additionally, the formal structure of the committee meetings, such as speaking through a microphone, making formal resolutions and requesting to speak through the chairperson, seems to deter young people from voicing their issues or engaging in robust discussion and debate. Following a thorough review and structural changes, in 2010, a new structure had achieved a better representation of its local communities. Not only were issues debated in a better environment within the council but also with young people outside the council. The youth council had also increased its capacity to run effective projects, such as implementing a regional youth council. The success of the Auckland Youth Council in 2010 is due to the quality of the relationships that have been built between the council, the community and the wider


Finlay, 2010, 53-59


youth population. Overall, it could be concluded that the success of this initiative is linked to enabling young people to have a strong voice that leads to action and to provide a space for young people to be heard in civic affairs and in informing policy development. What is critical to its success is that young people have been put ‘at the centre of a process created for them that allows flexibility and ownership over their participation’ in civic affairs. Following the initiative in Auckland, it can be shown that political parties have to find a more fertile strategy to reach young people and one way to do that is to build bridges between such youth councils and their own structure.

ENHANCING YOUNG PEOPLE’S POLITICAL INTEREST: AGORA DEMOCRATICA11 Another initiative to try to reach out to young people is happening in Ecuador and Columbia. Organised with the cooperation of International IDEA and NIMD, this initiative aims at reaching young people in order to enhance their political engagement. The first phase of its program is a series of 12 workshops that take place on the regional level in Ecuador and that aim to raise the consciousness among young people of their rights and of being aware of the barriers that prevent them from participating in politics. This initiative is associated with an interactive website called ‘activate’, where young people can interact and learn about Ecuador’s state institutions and ways to participate. The last phase of the initiative is to offer training, especially for young talented political representatives in political marketing. Part of this initiative specifically targets young women.

Having a youth council does not guarantee youth participation, voice and power in decision-making.” REACHING YOUNG PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE As a move to reach out to young people, and especially young women, in 2012 the South Australia government gave a grant to a young women’s group. This grant will be used for further developing the group’s website, connecting to other social groups, training members to manage and update their website and to instruct others on how to set up a website. This initiative, which has not yet been evaluated, is a really good attempt to reach young people where they are and through tools which are of interest to young people. While attempts to reach young women are always welcome, particular attention has to be paid to the message and the content. In 1999 the Greens party in the town of Fremantle in the state of Western Australia put in place a new initiative particularly targeting young women. The local women’s wing put into place a political mandate and used its network to reach out to local young women who wanted to run for election. Criticism, such as the complexity of the message and the lack of ownership regarding the content of the political mandate, was raised in explanation as to the failure of the initiative.


Source: Lizzie Beekman, political advisor, NIMD


WOMEN’S ORGANISATION UNITS IN PARTIES While many political parties claim to have institutionalised structures for women in their party rules and procedures, most of them do not get support from their parties and they are merely used as a symbolic function as they do not have a clear mandate or resources for action. In these units, women’s political participation is limited to support tasks, mobilisation and logistics. A specific mandate of the women’s unit must be promoted in order to be used as an active arm of the political party, mobilising women voters and providing logistical support – especially during campaigns. Two major papers, one by the UN and the other by International IDEA, have set up the groundwork on what has to be done within political parties in order to make them more women friendly. The first one, Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties, and the second, Gender and Political Parties: Far from Parity, develop the basic principles at every stage of political party life to meaningfully include young women. It is a good practice guide with recommendations. It talks about the internal party organisation and what to do before, during and after the electoral period. The women’s units’ role should be promoting gender equality and monitoring party commitments to gender equality, advising the party on gender policies and educating party members on the importance of these issues, and organising women politically from the standpoint of equal rights and opportunities that should be extended to promote young women and young women’s interests and specific situations.

A male political culture created barriers to women’s advancement towards high positions.”

POLITICAL PARTY STRUCTURE AND YOUNG PEOPLE 12 A report conducted by the NIMD shows how the organisation of political parties is crucial in integrating young people. In this report Gideon compares the organisation of political parties in Ghana and Kenya. He finds out that overall, while all political parties had a youth wing, the political culture of the Kenyan political parties impedes opportunities for young people as it was based to a large extent on network patronage. For young people who are less reliant on networks, it means they have to make their way in the political party outside the traditional system of party patronage, which makes it very difficult. Cooperation between young people in the Netherlands and Mali shows how crucial the commitment of the (older) political establishment is to ensure young people stand a fair chance in being elected to representative bodies. Sharing experiences, ideas and best practices was useful in order to pinpoint common gridlocks in getting actively involved in political parties.

THE JOINT YOUTH AND STUDENTS’ PLATFORM13 DemoFinland carried out a small-scale study on women’s role in Nepalese youth politics and in the Joint Youth and Students’ Platform. The Joint Youth and Students’ Platform aims at enhancing young people’s political empowerment and constructive

12 13 DemoFinland/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2007.


dialogue across party lines. It also brings together nineteen political youth and student organisations from different backgrounds. It aims, among other things, to enable capacity building of the youth and student wings of political parties. The small-scale study on women’s role in Nepalese youth politics and in the work of the platform clearly showed that Nepalese society still relies strongly on patriarchal values and these were reflected in the political parties overall and in the scheduling of youth activities particularly. Political parties were dominated by a male political culture and it created barriers to women’s advancement towards high positions. In the interviews, young females felt that gender quotas had substantially improved their political participation even in the Joint Youth and Students’ Platform. A common wish was that the quotas would be extended to the decision-making level so that women could be involved on the top level. DemoFinland has also organised a successful exchange about experiences between women’s units in Ghana and Tanzania. Similarly, NIMD has organised discussions between youth units of different countries, regions and political parties in order to share knowledge about difficulties for young people in being meaningfully included in political parties. Initiatives such as Suriname and The Netherlands youth wing, the Bolivian partner program (FBDN), The Youth Commission of the Permanent Forum of Political Parties in Guatemala, were implemented to increase knowledge among young people.

THE AUSTRALIAN ‘NEXT GENERATION’ INITIATIVE14 Following a call from its members to increase young women’s political en-gagement in decision-making positions, the Labor Party in Australia has put in place the ‘Next Generation’ initiative. This initiative aims at giving real-life experiences of political action to young women. The program consists of two streams: a residential program and placement in a campaign. The residential program aims at placing young women with women who hold a decision-making position, such as a high position in a political office, a union or a nongovernment organisation. The second part of the program is to place young women in a political campaign. As such, young women will follow a candidate that is running for election and learn first hand the ‘unwritten rules’ of a political campaign. These two programs are associated with workshops: one is called ‘Empowering Women’s Professional Development Program’ and the other is speed date mentoring. The first workshop aims at ‘providing political skills training, including campaign planning, government lobbying, affirmative action strategies and social change advocacy’. Speed date mentoring is aimed at providing a platform for women to support women, such as Networking Events. These events are tailored for young women. The women’s wing of the Labor Party is using a wide range of mediums that include Facebook, Twitter, the political party base and university political groups to reach out to young women via this program. After running it for two years, an evaluation of the ‘Next Generation’ initiative has shown real enthusiasm as members asked to retain it.

THE COMMITTEE TO PROMOTE WOMEN IN POLITICS IN CAMBODIA A grant was made by the UNIFEM/UNDEF program to promote women in politics in Cambodia. This was used to improve public support for women politicians. It included strategies to achieve objectives such as training, advocacy, dialogue, civic education and the development of a peer support network. This project was put into place in 12 of the 24 provinces of Cambodia. 14

A special thanks to Hutch Hussein, EMILY’s List Australia National Co-Convenor who was interviewed to share information about this initiative.


It is believed that the work of this program tripled the number of women commune councillors in two provinces in 2007, doubled the number nationally by 2008, doubled the number of women in the top ranks of national party lists and raised the percentage of women in parliament from 19% to 22%, despite the short timeframe to implement it. Beyond the numbers, this initiative increased women’s skills as politi-cians and reinforced the links between women at the local and national levels. It increased awareness and support for women politicians by political leaders and voters. Specifically, the program put into place eleven courses for existing women commune councillors to strengthen their effectiveness in office and each woman councillor was individually helped through monitoring to ‘work through scenarios faced in council meetings’. Additionally, within political parties in Cambodia, women were provided with some basic items, including clothing appropriate to wear while campaigning and a bicycle for moving around.

AFRICAN REGIONAL PROGRAM TO INCREASE WOMEN’S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION 15 This initiative was aimed at sharing experiences and knowledge about women’s political participation in the different countries of the African continent. For instance, in the documentary produced around this program, Alice Nzomukunda, Member of the Democratic Alliance for Renewal in Burundi, travelled with other women members of political parties in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in order to understand what kind of challenges other women are facing in other political parties: ‘What they are going through and how they have been able to overcome challenges’, as Peris Tobiko from the Orange Democratic Movement in Kenya stated. In other words, the aim of this program is for women to share positive experiences and knowledge about women’s political participation. While this kind of cooperation consisting of cross-party or cross-country exchange is being praised as a key tool in understanding the challenges women are facing to get into positions of power, the participants of this initiative also emphasised the crucial role of grassroots activism as a way to increase political engagement.

Participants emphasised the crucial role of grassroots activism as a way to increase political engagement.”

THE SWISS MENTORING PROJECT: ‘FROM WOMAN TO WOMAN’ 16 Started in 2000, the National Youth Council of Switzerland (NYCS) has been running a mentoring program in politics for young women called ‘From woman to woman’. The NYCS decided to run this program in 2009 when it became aware that there were only a few women in the higher positions of organisational bodies of the NYCS as well as in the overall political participation of young women in Switzerland in general.

15 16 Neruda, 2005


The program was broadly understood as aiming to promote more women in the political sphere, including encompassing political parties. Each year there are around 25 mentoring couples participating. Usually, a young woman member of the NYCS – the mentee – is associated with a woman occupying a position in politics or another high position in the public sphere (NGO, union, political party) as the mentor. The idea is for the mentee to exchange ideas and gain experience from the mentor. This mentoring program is associated with ‘additional training sessions on issues such as gender politics, media work, international politics, a visit to the Federal Office for Women’s Issues and a meeting with a female minister’.17 The mentee/mentor is expected to fulfil a number of goals set up by the mentee, such as face-to-face meetings to talk about personal issues, and discussions on how to organise and manage the work-life balance with job, family and politics. After three years of evaluation, the results have shown that overall, the mentees reported a better career and future planning, broader networks and more self-confidence in delivering public speeches. They also mentioned being more interested in political issues in general, in political organisations such as parties and in gender equality. The program helped them improve their knowledge and practice in project management, the planning of their further education in the area of political issues and their media performance. It is also worth noting that this program resulted in really good media coverage in bringing the under-representation of women to the forefront of political issues. Another effect was the multiplication of the program at different levels, such as the European level in Austria, Estonia, Portugal and Malta. More has to be done by setting realistic expectations about the mentoring relationship, increasing the range of activities to increase experience, and expanding the time to be invested between the mentee and the mentor in order to extend positive outcomes. It is worth noting that some mentees were disillusioned about the reality of political life.

THE WOMEN CAN DO IT PROGRAM IN THE BALKANS 18 Originating in the Norwegian Labour Party Women’s Movement, it was then implemented in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Kosovo province, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. It aims at ‘raising awareness about gender inequality and creating the capacity to change the situation’. It is essential for women and young women who are already involved or who could potentially become active in public life. They can also be women coming from NGOs and local political parties, from the health and social sector, schools and local administration. It is sustained by a training program to increase ‘political skills and motivation among women to take on responsibilities and decision-making positions in public and political life’. It encompasses four steps: The Training-for trainers – two-day local seminars where the participants learn about gender equality status in their own countries; a training workshop to deliver speeches, cope with domineering techniques, solve problems in a creative way, manage stress and defeat, campaign and network; then the participants plan a local action to practise the new skills; and following that there is an evaluation seminar. Local partners (women’s group) have been the main actors within the program, carrying the main responsibility for the seminars. Overall, the evaluation of the seminars is appreciated by the participants, espe17 18

Neruda, 2005, 2 NORAD, 2005


cially their down-to-earth and practical skills. Thanks to this program, a substantial number of women have been involved and the activities have ‘strengthened women’s organisations and underpinned the work done for gender equality in general’.


working through grass-roots campaigns, school programs (mock elec-tions), entertainment events and other methods of communication to reach out to young people and to engage them politically; ´ participating in the creation of young people’s spaces to meaningfully voice their concerns, issues, interests and ideas; ´ promoting structures in these young people’s spaces which meaningfully facilitate young people’s voices to make them feel they can have an impact and to ensure diversity of representation; ´ facilitating cooperation between youth councils (at any level) or youth organisations across party, ideology, regions and countries to share ideas, experiences and knowledge about how to improve young people’s and especially young women’s voices to be better heard and included in political agendas at every level; ´ participating actively in cause-oriented political action as a way of reaching out to young people; ´ promoting young women’s political action, initiative and method of communication by offering support including financial support and web support.


modifying the structure of the political party organisation to be more ‘young women friendly’; have a legal framework and governing documents which are gender sensitive; have a youth and women’s organisation; have measures taken to promote young women’s participation in governing boards and decision-making structures; establish party consensus to promote young women’s electoral positions and to place them in winnable positions on party lists with real financial assistance; give a real voice to young women by including their interests and agenda in the overall political party mandate.



mentoring: residential program and placement in campaigns; organise workshops to share knowledge and experiences about the party rules and unwritten rules, and how to make their way through the political party structure; offering workshops to increase political skills and motivation among women to take on responsibilities and decision-making positions in public and political life; promote cooperation between youth and women’s units of political parties across ideologies, regions and countries to share information and knowledge.

Carnegie UK Trust, 2008b, 14


BIBLIOGRAPHY Ann, Teo Sue and Shuib, Rashidah (2011), ‘Young People’s Perceptions of Roles and Responsibilities as Political Party Members in Malaysia’, International Conference on Social Science and Humanity (IPEDR 5; Singapore: IACSIT Press). Institute of Politics: John F. Kennedy School of Government, A Guide to Reaching Young Voters, Anonymous, Harvard, 2004. DemoFinland/Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Political Youth Organisations: Strengthening the Voice of Yout in Politics: The Finnish Experience, Anonymous, Helsinki, 2007. UNIFEM-UNDEF, Democracy with Women, for Women: Seven Grants that Helped Change the Face of Governance, Anonymous, New York, 2008a. Carnegie UK Trust, Empowering Young People: The Final Report of the Carnegie Young People Initiative, Anonymous, London, 2008b. UNDP/NDI, Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guide to Promote Women’s Political Participation, Anonymous, New York City, 2011. NDI/UNDP, Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guide to Promote Women Political Participation, Ballington, Julie, New York City, 2011. International IDEA, Women in Parliament: Beyond Numbers, Ballington, Julie and Karam, Azza, Stockholm, 2005. Briggs, Jacqueline Ellen, ‘Young Women and Politics: An Oxymoron?’, Journal of Youth Studies, 11, 6, 579-92, 2008. Cicognani, Elvira, et al., ‘Gender Differences in Youths’ Political Engagement and Participation. The Role of Parents and of Adolescents’ Social and Civic Participation’, Journal of Adolescence, 35, 561-76, 2012. Finlay, Sarah, ‘Carving out Meaningful Spaces for Youth Participation and Engagement in DecisionMaking’, Youth Studies Australia, 29, 4, 53-59, 2010. Council of Europe, Revisiting Youth Political Participation: Challenges for Research and Democratic Practice in Europe, Forbrig, Joerg, Strasbourg, Council of Europe Publishing, 2005. Gaiser, Wolfgang and Rijke, Johann de, ‘Political Participation of Youth. Young Germans in the European Context’, Asia Europe Journal, 5, 541-55, 2008. Gidengil, Elisabeth, O’Neill, Brenda, and Young, Lisa, ‘Her Mother’s Daughter? The Influence of Childhood Socialization on Women’s Political Engagement’, Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 31, 334-55, 2010. National Youth Council of Switzerland, Mentoring as a Means to Empower Young Women in Politics: Conclusions of the Swiss Mentoring Project “From Woman to Woman”, Neruda, Veronika, Bern, 2005. International IDEA, Gender and Political Parties: Far From Parity, Rosa, Vivian, Beatriz, Llanos, and Garzon de la Roza, Gisela, Stockholm, 2012. Sloam, James, ‘Rebooting Democracy: Youth Participation in Politics in the UK’, Parliamentary Affairs, 60, 4, 548-67, 2007. Whiteley, Paul F, ‘Is the Party Over? The Decline of Party Activism and Membership Across the Democratic World’, Party Politics, 17, 21, 21-44, 2011.



WOMEN IN LOCAL LEVEL POLITICS Social accountability and public participation BY SUMONA DASGUPTA, INDIA

Involvement of women in local politics is critical for their political and economic empowerment. Yet across the world there are several impediments to this process. Patriarchies cut through cultures and institutions across the world, sometimes in more open forms, at other times in a more subtle hidden manner even as it may differ in the degree in which it can affect women’s participation in politics. This paper will begin with examining the term “local politics” and critically discuss the factors that both enable and inhibit women from entering this space. It will also analyse what difference women can or have made as elected representatives at the local level both in rural and urban spaces drawing from examples and case studies across the world. Finally it will explore some of the best practices of advocacy strategies that promote the role of women in local politics.


Sumona DasGupta is a Political Scientist and independent research consultant based in New Delhi. She is currently senior research consultant with Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA). Her research and publications focus on issues of governance and democratic dialogue, conflict and peace building, and South Asian politics. Gender is a cross cutting issue that informs all of her work. Her book ”Citizen Initiatives and Democratic Engagements: Experiences from India” from 2012 looks at issues concerning women’s political leadership in local governance as one of the issues covered. ABOUT THE PHOTO

A villager casts her vote in a polling booth in Nungmaikhong village, Manipur, India. About 62 percent of the 802,000 registered voters voted in an incident-free second phase of Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) elections for the Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency on April 22nd 2009. (Photo by Sanjit Das/Panos Pictures).


INTRODUCTION The growing discourse on deepening democracy around the world is increasingly being anchored around democratic decentralisation and meaningful local governance which is also being linked to greater social accountability and public participation. Governance is not just about government, but is now seen as a much wider process that involves how the idea of “public good” is both framed and contested – a process that involves both private sector and civil society actors.1 The idea of local politics rather than local government provides space to examine how multiple actors – among them political parties – connect and contest for power in the formal and informal local spaces in a scenario where local governments have to increasingly live up to the expectation that they can indeed be responsive, accountable and participatory. If being participatory is one of the principles informing the call to decentralize it follows that inclusion of women in local politics has to be ensured and actively encouraged – through political parties, organisations, social movements, etc. Involvement of women in local politics is critical for their political and economic empowerment.

The importance of women’s informal community work also amounts to their involvement in local politics.”

LOCAL POLITICS Local politics is intrinsically linked to the idea of the local community2 whether in rural or urban areas, which is increasingly being invested with some degree of local autonomy across the world through a process of local self government. The local community so empowered with the right of self government is then in a position to perform a series of functions related to planning, development, service delivery, maintenance of local assets such as schools, houses and streets et al. In performing these functions it engages in decision making and governance for promoting public good in the local area. Since what constitutes ‘public good’ is itself a matter of contestation, the business of local government also becomes an arena where local politics is played out, under the overarching principle of democracy. Like at the national level, various aspects of a political process are in evidence at the level of local politics such as local elections with or without direct party activity, and rise of and changes in political participation by the local population. There are different political phenomena around local autonomy and it can be noted that local politics within local communities, the relationship between national politics and local politics and the conflict and cooperation between central governments and local governments are all significant points of departure for the study of local politics.3 Though the question of autonomy is lined with local politics and it may be analytically possible to study this as an isolated political space it is still necessary to pay attention to the manner and extent to which local politics and government is guided by the interventions of national politics and governments. The central-local relationship theory or the inter-governmental relationship theory is the theoretical frameworks that have developed these viewpoints systematically.4 1 Tandon and Mohanty (2002). 2 Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid.


While contesting the post of an elected representative (as urban councillors and mayors in towns and cities or as representatives in countries and villages) is the most visible form of participation in local politics this is not the only means of involvement. There is a considerable amount of literature that indicates the importance of women’s informal community work that also amounts to their involvement in local politics. Drawing on experiences from Africa, Chabal (1999) has indicated the porous borders between the personal and the political and the importance of unravelling this in order to understand the political process. If this is so then informal dynamics at the community level possibly work in conjunction with formal democratic processes to enable women to access leadership positions. The by now well-known feminist articulation that the personal is in fact the political logically led to such a distinction between formal and informal spaces of politics and the importance of the latter for women’s political agency. For instance drawing on case studies from South Asia and West Africa, Purkayastha and Subramanium (2004) point to a large number of informal networks that foreground women’s agency – and this would clearly also include political agency – in the developing world. They point to how local networks from the state of Karnataka in India have formed informal groups at the periphery and become recipients of development assistance preventing such resources from being captured completely by local elites. The participation of women in new social movements across the world, most of them centred on local issues related to life and livelihoods, has also become an important instrument of political transformation. However taking a slightly different line of argument, some scholars have rejected what they see as the artificial dichotomy between the formal and informal spaces and modes of local politics pointing instead to the commonality of the underlying political processes of both. For instance Brownhill and Halford (2004) draw on examples of women’s community action in London’s docklands and local government’s women’s committees to indicate there are theoretical and empirical interconnections rather than disconnects between these two forms of action rendering this dichotomy between formal and informal politics meaningless in any substantive way. Having identified the spaces for local politics we now turn our attention to the reasons that are advanced for women’s inclusion in local politics.

WHY WOMEN IN LOCAL POLITICS There is a substantive body of literature on why it is necessary and desirable to have women involved in local politics. The economic conditions of men and women differ and women must have the opportunity to allocate scarce resources to also benefit women and bring their perspective to the decision making table. The democratic component of the system will be strengthened by inclusion of women, and the legitimacy of decisions taken will increase as women gain equal access to a system largely dominated by men. It is also possible to argue as Siddiq and Allen (2011) have done that women councillors can make a difference for the women they represent, and could introduce a feminized view to local governance more broadly, something that has the potential to aid all constituents. That is not to say that women should have to help women in order to ‘earn’ their place on the council, but that the presence of higher numbers of women in local politics will make this feminization process more likely to occur.” Acknowledging this, the role of women in decision making at the local level was specifically addressed by landmark international agreements and conventions notably CEDAW and Beijing Platform for Action (1995). The International Union of Local Authorities Worldwide Declaration on Women in Local Government 1998; Item 9 says:


“The problem and challenges facing humanity are global but occur and have to be dealt with at the local level. Women have the equal right to freedom from poverty, discrimination, environmental degradation and insecurity. To fight these problems and to meet the challenges of sustainable human development, it is crucial that women be empowered and involved in local government as decision makers, planners and managers.” While the participation of women in local politics has been poorly documented till specific studies were commissioned such as the UNESCO study of 2000 to document and increase awareness of the issue in Asia Pacific and the study conducted by the Council of European municipalities and regions of 2008, it appears that despite being under represented in positions of power worldwide, women across the world are better represented in local politics and government as compared to the national one. We now examine why this is so more closely.

ENABLING FACTORS The basic factor that has enabled women to access local politics more felicitously as compared to national politics is because participation in local government is probably easier for women to accommodate in their daily lives along with their multiple roles in the family, household and employment. Local government is also seen as more accessible in terms of the number of positions available and perceived to be less threatening as it is an extension of the work they already do in the community.

Women councillors can make a difference for the women they represent, and could introduce a feminized view to local governance more broadly, something that has the potential to aid all constituents.” Once the process of women being elected at the local level gained momentum the environment became more open for them, and to women’s issues being on the agenda. Of course much of this culture of acceptance in the last two decades has been prompted by an active women’s movement and by statutory requirements for quotas of women.5 The report ‘Comparative study Women in Local Government in Asia and the Pacific’ has identified some key factors that create an enabling environment for women to enter local politics. These are: Positive laws, practices and initiatives that ensure participation including statutory provisions guaranteeing women the right to participate, signing of CEDAW; national policies and programme such as specific women’s departments and plans; participatory local government structures even if these are not specifically gender specific; participation of NGOs in encouraging women to participate; training to participate; regional and international conferences that provide support, training and initiatives that increase the number of women; encouragement by women within local government to other women to participate and support them and collection of data that enhances the visibility of women. 5

Comparative study of Women in Local Government in Asia and the Pacific.


In fact training and capacity building are seen as crucial interventions that would provide an enabling environment for women to enter and assume leadership in local politics. In the e-discussion conducted by iKNOWPolitics in 2009 on women in local politics, women from Burkina and Ivory Coast including an aspirant from the latter wrote in about the importance of support and capacity building for women to enter local politics. The aspirant from Ivory Coast wrote: “Women are not enough confident they are not prepared for the job. Many of them refuse to run for election. In order to increase women number in election at the local level the following measure are required: Strengthen women ability to do politics; promote best practices in local governance; promote women candidacy thanks to coaching and experience sharing; and the reinforcement of women’s leadership.” Women are also more likely to participate in devolved systems of local governments which have more autonomy, financial freedom, hold regular elections and are generally more open to change rather than ones strictly controlled by the central government. In fact decentralisation is seen as a key to women’s participation in local level politics. Contributors from Senegal and Mali made this point in the e-discussions on women in local governance in August 2009. For instance Fatou Diop from Senegal made the case for decentralization as a key tenet in improving local governance mechanisms by making them accessible to women. “The decentralization process is one of the main measures undertaken for improving local governance. In order to have solid local institutions, more women involvement is required. In villages and small towns, women are doing all the work and they are also the first victims. In order to increase the number of women in local governance quota is required in the case of Senegal.” Mariam Diallo makes the point that decentralization can also result in enhancing the capacity of local communities through knowledge transfer: “In Mali we have 8 regions, 40 circles, and 287 administrative districts. There is three level of decentralized authority: Regions are divided into circles, circles into commune and communes into quarters. The main goal of the decentralization process is to share the central power with the local entities. Not only will the power be conveying but also the skills and knowledge for an effective decentralization.” A proportional representation system can result in more women being elected and there also appears to be some evidence that local elections based on the ward system create more visibility for women, and give them a better chance to win elections as well as keeping campaign costs low. Introduction of quota systems for women in local government in some parts of the world such including South Asia has resulted in significant increases in the number of women being elected and employed. However the discussion around the quota system may need to be qualified a little further. The summary of the e-discussions on women in local governments in 2009 cites the example of Jordan as a case in point where the use of quotas in 2007 led to over 300 women being elected as municipal council members. At the time of the discussion in 2009, some 35 countries had quotas at the constitutional level or legislative quotas at the subnational level, quotas at the party level for electoral candidates (pro-


portional representation in party lists such as in South Africa), and other forms of electoral reforms that support women’s participation at the local level. At the same time many discussants pointed out the need for a deeper understanding of the existing quota models and their impacts. It was pointed out that in some countries including Pakistan for instance there appeared to be a bias against those who were elected through quotas – a fact that would be true for other South Asian countries as well. A revealing study from Tanzania titled “Why women succeed in local politics” conducted by Anne Francis (undated) reinforces that in this case the informal factors that enable women to succeed to political positions cannot be discussed in isolation from the formal processes. In Tanzania the local elections are fought on a party basis and in fact the entire sample of councillors interviewed entered the political arena through the ruling party. From the research sample it was evident that all the women were long term party members including the women’s wings. Special seats were considered as a stepping stone to being a ward councillor, but the study indicated an ambivalence about how women themselves perceived this affirmative action and whether the special seat provision in this case was in fact more divisive and disempowering. Informal factors were also at play with the study indicating that it helped to have a family member active in a party –however further investigation was needed to reveal the extent to which women mobilise these contacts for advice, funds or campaign strategies or simply use them to smoothen the route to power. The study further hypothesizes that a number of informal factors could be at play in explaining why women do succeed in local politics – among them activism/leadership in formal community groups such as church, women’s groups school board, village committees or economic and self help groups, supportive family and positive role models.

Decentralisation is seen as a key to women’s participation in local level politics.”

Interestingly in a very different setting in Norway where women entered the political process in a big way since World War II including at the local level, there was at least till 1971 a urban-rural divide with lower participation by women in the countryside where traditional sex role patterns were more firmly entrenched than in urban areas. Here too at least in the first three decades after World War II family engagement in politics and role models were factors that contributed to the women’s success in local politics.6 As a comparison between women in local politics in South Asia, East Asia and Pacific regions with that of the south east Asian region indicates women are more likely to succeed if they have had a longer history of enjoying the right to vote and participate, enabling political and electoral arrangements including affirmative action. Participation at the local level would also be related to the social and economic circumstances under which women live. While it may be easier for women to enter local politics as compared to national politics there are also formidable structural and institutional factors that hinder their participation. This largely emanates from patriarchy being the organisational principle at home and in the workplace across the world though in different degrees. Highly patriarchal societies enforce rules, responsibilities and behaviour for women,


Means 1973.


enforcing these norms in ways that affect their self-confidence, limiting their access to information and skills and reinforcing their lower status. The following section deals with this.

BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN LOCAL POLITICS Some of the institutional and structural barriers to women’s participation in local politics can be identified as follows:

´ Entrenched sexual division of labour within the households and outside: While in many parts of the world such as South Asia women do enjoy constitutional rights their actual roles are still closely tied to their reproductive and household functions. This makes it difficult for them to find time for politics. Closely tied to these sexual divisions of labour are associated cultural and traditional norms that entrench these even further. ´ Low indices on the human development index for women: Demographic statistics in South Asia and Africa for instance indicate low literacy rates, poor health and poverty particularly for women that points to a lack of basic rights to education, health care, safety and employment opportunities. ´ Discrimination: Women often face discrimination in practice when standing for office to local government positions even if laws are in their favour. Attitudes that put policies and decision making into the male preserve see women as incapable of management and governance roles. ´ Institutional cultures within political institutions at all levels including local ones are not favourable to women as they often have styles and modes of working that are unacceptable to them. The male dominated environment within the institution can limit the extent to which women can bring forward issues relevant for women and ones related to social justice. Some also find that society and colleagues have unrealistic standards and expectations for them. ´ The culture: Women are not prepared to be involved in political environments which support an aggressive culture, combative debate and personality conflicts as well as male; colleagues who have difficulty coping with women and so belittle and personally attack them. The increasing corruption in politics is another disincentive. ´ Campaign expenses can be prohibitive for women who are also active in the unpaid care economy and earn less than men in the labour market. Once elected they have to superimpose their new duties on their already existing ones in the home – the lack of child care support and timings of the meetings have also been a problem. ´ The provision of quotas for women in local government has not necessarily created a culture open to facilitating the participation of women though it may have facilitated their initial entry into the system. In some cases reserved seats are decided through indirect elections and women have little autonomy. Sometimes women are nominated rather than elected from reserved seats – this creates a system of patronage that can prevent them assuming independent positions of leadership. Even when they are elected from reserved seats and not nominated the reserved seats are seen as having an inferior status. Considerable training and support is needed to assist women to learn the way the political environment works and fulfil their roles. ´ Dependence on support through kinship and family: For women without family connections barriers to participation remain and even when they enter the system the pres-


ence of a supportive family has often been cited as the reason for their active participation. This dependence syndrome often means that those who do not have this support system may not be able to enter local politics even if they have the qualities and inclination to do so. ´ Absence of support from political parties: Political parties have historically acted as gatekeepers to political participation and there is considerable evidence from South Asia that when it comes to giving tickets to women at any level a clear bias exists in favour of male candidates. Due to the rhetoric around gender equality political parties field some women candidates but often these are more signs of tokenisms. It does not necessarily come out of a change in gender ideology that regards equal participation as a norm.

The informal factors that enable women to succeed to political positions cannot be discussed in isolation from the formal processes.”

WHAT DIFFERENCE DO WOMEN MAKE IN LOCAL POLITICS Research appears to indicate that women in local government believe they can make a difference as women leaders by bringing a different style to local government and approaching the job in a different way. Drage (2001) indicates that increasing the number of women in local government will “accelerate the pace of change, promote collaborative styles of leadership and decision-making, broaden perspectives and move communities forward.” The report on Comparative study of Women in Local Government in Asia and the Pacific make the following points about the changes that women can bring to local politics. According to the report women have a greater sense of the social issues and the well being and welfare of their communities and factor these into the decisionmaking process; promote policies and activities which strengthen communities; encourage participation; emphasise the importance and the practice of good communication with the community; have a different approach to the way their local authority is governed; develop a team approach; set different priorities; bring the mediation skills that they have developed as mothers, the ability to have clear goals, to juggle many tasks at once, and to be practical; are dedicated, responsible, practice what they preach and show a great deal of spirit and stimulate and encourage other women to be part of development. The study further elaborates: “Women’s concerns and priorities are more likely than are those of men to center on people’s needs for safety and clean water supplies and for community facilities rather than just the traditional roads, rates and rubbish. Women also have a strong focus on women’s issues and a human rights flavor in their goals for local government, suggesting that changes in local politics will lead to changes in society, less discrimination against women and greater flexibility in work and childcare. By bringing a grassroots perspective to local government, women make it more people orientated and closer to the community it serves.”


WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS AT THE LOCAL LEVEL For women to make a real difference at the local level not only must they enter the system but must also be prepared to take on the mantle of political leadership. As Pant and Farrell (2009) point out “the pedagogy for empowering women politically for leadership roles aims to enhance the capacity of women leaders to understand, organise and act upon their needs, priorities, and makes demands upon the system for better service delivery.” Drawing on the experience of women being elected through three terms of local rural and urban elections in India they point out that in the first term women got elected with no precedence or role models and since governance was new to them women stepped back, allowing the men to provide guidance including male members of the family.7 In the second term however the community was more accepting of women in leadership roles with women now using the legitimacy of their elected position to address several critical issues such as children’s education, drinking water facilities, family planning facilities, hygiene and health, quality of healthcare, roads and electricity in the village areas. They also took the initiative to bring alcohol abuse and domestic violence on to the agenda of political campaigns.8 The third term of women’s participation in rural and urban local bodies in India saw women leaders become more visible as they became more familiar with the processes of governance. Despite this change in leadership roles however, women continued to lack an effective participation base due to gendered identity practices and institutional inadequacies.

Provision of quotas for women in local government has not necessarily created a culture open to facilitating the participation of women.” The Indian experience of local elections over the last three decades showed that while numbers may indicate presence it does not necessarily translate into meaningful inclusion in the political process as women can be deliberately excluded from the political process through force or covert strategies. In this connection a recent study indicates that an increase in female representation in local government in India appears to have induced a significant rise in documented crimes against them, but argue that this is driven by greater reporting of the crimes rather than an increase in the crimes per se.9 In another significant finding they point to the fact that large scale membership of women in local councils also affects crimes against them more than their presence in leadership positions. However there is little doubt that violence against women in politics particularly at the level of local politics has been endemic in not just India but other parts of South Asia as well. In fact within the community and political parties as well there have been backlashes for women who exercise their decision making power and the resistance often from upper caste males can range from threats to attempts of bribery, charges of 7 8 9

Pant and Farrell (2009). Nambiar and Bandyopadhyay (2004). Iyer et al. (2011).


incompetence, spreading false rumors designed at character assassination, and willful use of the power of no confidence.10 Taking into account the violence against women in politics particularly at the local level, which is one of the most important barriers to their participation, a South Asian initiative was launched by South Asia Partnership International that specifically called for an end to violence against women in politics. A resolution passed by South Asian citizens in 2008 says: “There are inherent structural impediments that prevent and dis-courage women from participating in decision-making processes which consequently perpetuates violence, both visible and invisible against women….Violence is not just limited to overt, visible and manifest ac-tions but can also be congealed and invisible and is deeply embedded in the system of the state mechanisms. Such violence is unacceptable to the men and women of South Asia.” It goes on to express concern that “women in politics are subject to a range of violence and intimidation and practices that adversely affect their active participation in decision-making processes. Such forms of violence include but are not limited to (honor) killings, actual violence and threat of violence, psycho-social torture, humiliation, degrading treatment, intimidation, character assassination and sexual harassment, targeting women, their relatives and supporters. Abuse of religion, culture, traditions and patriarchal practices subvert and undermine the interest of women and inhibit and not only prevent the scope of their political participation in decisionmaking processes but also negate the overall development of South Asia.”11

By bringing a grassroots perspective to local government, women make it more people orientated and closer to the community it serves.” CIVIL SOCIETY INITIATIVES TO PROMOTE WOMEN IN LOCAL POLITICS In recent years a number of civil society initiatives working in conjunction with the state have been undertaken in different parts of the world to promote the role of women in local politics. Two examples – from Turkey and India – are instructive in understanding how such multi stakeholder initiatives can play an important role in this regard since this is a job that a government cannot do on its own. On September 9, 2008, a project on women in local politics was launched in Ankara with broad participation from political parties, women parliamentarians, civil society organisations, academics, media representatives and well known international experts and activists aimed at increasing the number of women elected for the 2009 elections. It involved capacity building activities for present and potential women candidates and significantly both male and female representatives of local institutions that play a role in increased women participation in local politics and decision making processes. At the roundtable and workshops different stakeholders discuss chal-lenges and lessons learnt on how women can be supported to participate in local level politics 10 Nussbaum et al. (2003); Sisodia (2005); Kalpagam and Arunachalam (2006). 11


amidst a scenario where only 0.6% were mayors, 1.81% members of provincial councils, and 2.42% are members of municipal councils. The role of the media as a key opinion maker and its role in increasing awareness on this issue were reiterated.12 In India in the year 1995 a civil society organisation called Society for Participatory research in Asia launched an ambitious and massive civil society campaign ahead of the elections to institutions of local self government in the rural areas elections (popularly known as panchayat polls in India). Called Pre Election Voters Awareness Campaign it involved three important players, namely civil society coalitions, state election commissions and the media and one of its primary purposes was to launch a special drive to ensure participation of women both as voters and candidates. Thus began a process of politicization of women for local elections regardless of whether they actually contested the local elections or not. Through this campaign some of them emerged as animators, others as engaged voters. Women candidates who chose to contest the local elections were supported not only in the constituencies reserved for women but also from unreserved constituencies to drive home the fact that women need not restrict their political aspirations to reserved constituencies only.

STRATEGIES FOR CHANGES AND RECOMMENDATIONS While specific strategies to increase meaningful participation by women in politics can be context specific, drawing up some broad generalizations and guidelines are possible.13

´ The first of these operate at the systemic level. A quota of reserved seats for women in countries where few women have been elected filled with direct open elections with the same status as general seats work better than any form of nomination with its associated culture of patronage. A proportional system of representation and ward system appear to work better for women. It is also important that local elected representatives should be paid at a level that will allow women to participate. Funding for gender and development that emphasizes capacity building, networking and advocacy and finally recruitment by political parties of women are important steps that can be taken in this direction. ´ Systemic changes need to be backed by attitudinal changes – the culture of local government needs to change to ensure that women are treated fairly and for this gender awareness programmes for both men and women need to be developed. Local government needs to be more women friendly and consensus style politics and meetings at times that fit into other responsibilities that women have will create a more enabling environment for women in local politics. Most importantly opportunities need to be made for women to understand their roles and functions as soon as they are elected. ´ The third set of strategies is meant to increase the number of women in politics and change their subordinate status. Policies on economic and social empowerment are needed to enable women to participate on an equal footing with men. Local government needs to work closely with NGOs civil society and women’s groups to develop communities and services that take care of women’s needs. Women will be able to enter local politics only if they find financial support, childcare support and training opportunities and women’s associations for women councilors need to provide a voice for women’s views and networking. Funds need to be established to assist women to stand for election and gender disaggregated data needs to be built to increase visibility of women. 12 13 Comparative Study of Women in Local Government in Asia and the Pacific, p. 8-19.


Trainings by NGOs, political parties, educational and political institutions are imperative in order to secure greater participation of women in local politics to develop their skills self confidence, gender awareness rights and also for political leadership.

CONCLUSION We began by emphasizing the importance of local politics at a time when the discourses on deepening democracy are gaining importance including that of deliberative democracy that celebrates debate and discussion on matters of policy rather than this being taken up exclusively by elected legislators. If such practices are indeed gaining ground, the role of women in local politics cannot be overstated. Since their experiences are different from that of men they bring in new perspectives and new ideas, and to ignore this or bypass it would defeat the very purpose of such a decentralisation process associated with deepening democracy. Whether it is in the countries that are held out as exemplars of women’s political participation such as the Scandinavian countries or states in Africa and South Asia where the hold of patriarchy is palpably more, the phenomena still exists across the world. This mindset produces a certain sexual division of labor in the household and corresponding gendered institutions and ideologies that militate against women participating in local politics. These are the barriers that need to be identified and removed. This is why the South Asian resolution around the issue of violence against women in politics concludes: “We, the people of South Asia, both women and men, collectively challenge patriarchy and seek to replace it with a culture that actively supports equal participation of all. We encourage a South Asian forum that promotes such culture and values through mass communication.” This will be as true in different degrees for the rest of the world as it is for South Asia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Brownhill, Sue and Susan Halford. “Understanding women’s involvement in local politics.” Political Geography, vol. 9(1990):4, 396-414. Chabal, Patrick and Jean-Pascal Daloz. Africa Works. Disorder as political instrument. Oxford and Bloomington: James Currey and Indiana University Press, 1999. “Comparative study Women in Local Government in Asia and the Pacific.” huset/women/reports/comparative_report.pdf DasGupta, Sumona. Citizen Initiatives and Democratic Engagement: Experiences from India. New Delhi and Abingdon : Routledge, 2010. Drage, Jean. Women in local Government in Asia and the Pacific, Paper presented to the Asia-Pacific Summit of Women Mayors and Councillors, 2001 Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). Niikawa, Tatsuro. “Decentralization and Local Politics.” Farrell, Martha and Mandakini Pant. “Women’s Political Empowerment and Leadership: Pedagogical Challenges.” Participation and Governance. vol 2 (July 2009): 42-56. Francis, Anne. (not dated) “Why women Succeed in local politics.” Kalpagam, U. and Jaya Arunachalam. (ed.) Development and Empowerment: Rural Women in India.


Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2006. Means, Ingunn Norderval. “Women in Local Politics: The Norwegian Experience,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, vol 5(1973): 3, 365-388. Nambiar, Malini and Kaustuv Kanti Bandyopadhyay. “Self-Help Groups: Engagement with Governance Institutions,” Participation and Governance, vol 10 (March 2004) : 23-30. Iyer, Lakshmi et al. “The power of Political voice: women’s Political Representation and crime in India,” (working paper) 2001, Nussbaum, Martha et al. Essays on Gender and Governance. New Delhi: UNDP, 2003. Purkayastha, Bandana and Mangala Subramaniam. The Power of Women’s informal Networks: Lessons in Social change from South Asia and West Africa. MD: Lexington, 2004. Siddiq Tulip and Peter Allen. “We need more female councilors for everyone’s benefit” Sisodia, Yatindra Singh (ed). Functioning of Panchayati Raj System. Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 2005. Tandon, Rajesh & Ranjita Mohanty. Civil Society and Governance. Samskriti: New Delhi, 2002.




One major issue that persists throughout the world is that women’s physical presence and voices in the decision making during political transitions to democracy remain weak and almost non-existent. Though women participate visibly and actively in revolutionary transitions, their participation does not always guarantee women’s inclusion in the decision making in transitional processes and structures. Consequently, securing any meaningful participation and representation of women in countries in transition is an on-going democratic challenge. It can be argued that the unfinished business of political transitions is the inclusion and representation of women in transitional decision making processes and the transitions are largely “unfinished transitions”.


Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu is the Senior Programme Manager responsible for the Global Programme on Democracy and Gender at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in Stockholm, Sweden. She is a gender equality advocate and practitioner, with more than twenty years of hands-on professional experience on gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives at national, regional and international levels. She has worked with capacity building and gender mainstreaming in parliaments, intra-party democracy processes, management of electoral processes from a gender perspective and transformative leadership strategies for women in politics. ABOUT THE PHOTO

Maliha Ahmadzia, a 25 year-old law and political science student at Mawlana University in Balkh province, who was running for parliament poses for a photo a day before the parliamentary election September 17, 2010 in Mazar-e-sharif, Afghanistan. About 2,500 candidates contested the 249 seats in Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images).


INTRODUCTION The issue is not whether women are able to and/or can perform an active role in transitional politics, because they can and are able to contribute at many levels. The issue is how women’s participation and voices can be translated into critical influences and decisions in political and transition processes and why is it that women perform visible and instrumental roles in certain contexts and stages of transitions, yet their participation is not matched with their presence and involvement in transitional decision making processes. There is global evidence that attest to the existence of various factors that are the drivers for the continued exclusion of women from the critical decisions that shape the outcomes of political transitions and subsequently their participation beyond the transitional uprisings. Ultimately, the critical area of concern is how to ensure that the ”gains” women make through their involvement and partcipation in the demands for political transformation is institutionalized and translates into changes of women’s status and position in society as well as into gender-sensitive changes in political systems and institutions. This paper highlights that women’s involvement and participation in political transition processes is not a guarantee for their inclusion and representation in the critical positions of power and decision making at the peak of transitions and in the established nation building institutions. The paper focuses on some of the prominent factors and dominant trends that perpetuate the marginalisation of women in many parts of the world including countries in political transitions. Four striking issues or factors across the different regions of the world, which are intricately connected and have significant impact on women in different countries and transitional processes and political contexts are presented. Being cognisant of the fact that there is no “one size fits all” approach as the magnitude of the issues varies within different country and regional contexts, the paper will also outline possible strategies that can be adapted to support women in transitions as well as address some of the obstacles encountered by women in these political processes leading to the formation of democratic governments. Before discussing the prominent issues, there is need to underscore the lessons learnt from the most recent political transitions that occurred in 2011 and are still underway in the Arab Spring. The most recent experiences from the Arab Spring attest to the deep-seated hurdles that women encounter in order to attain their fair share of participation and representation in positions of power and decision making at all levels, despite women’s contributions.

LESSONS FROM THE ARAB SPRING In 2011 women in the Arab world demonstrated that women can often play important roles in revolutionary processes and events as women have done before in Africa, Latin America and Europe. For instance in Egypt and Tunisia they participated in the popular uprisings for democracy and changes in their societies. As elsewhere in the world, women in the Arab Spring countries in transition are struggling for their fair share of opportunities to access political power at the onset of transition processes, in view of the rules of the game that are clearly based on patriarchal values and still in flux. When participating in the revolutions across the transiting countries, women’s demands were not only calling for the change of the oppressive regimes, but also sought justice and greater empowerment of women in all spheres of life. Many women still have reason to hope that the “Arab Spring” will bring changes to the Middle East and help them realize their dreams and secure a better life for the next generation of women through the democratic transitions away from legacies of autocratic rule, social, economic and political marginalisation of women to collaboration between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, government and civilians.


A year later, women in the Arab Spring countries in transition are beginning to ask why the benefits from the revolutions do not seem to be shared equally between men and women. Why are few women represented in key decision making positions and institutions across the countries in spite of women’s active participation alongside their male counterparts during the revolutions and uprisings to end the reign of dictatorships? Recently, the President of the Egyptian Feminist Union, Hoda Badran, stated that, “Now that the dust of revolution has begun to settle as the Arab spring countries begin their transition process towards democracy, women are finding themselves marginalised and excluded from decision-making. The many disturbing incidents that have occurred illustrate the extent to which, in spite of the new freedoms championed by revolution, women are still considered as subordinate to men. In Tunisia a mass protest called for all women to be veiled, which led to unveiled female professors of religion being hounded off campuses. Mobs shouted at Tunisian women demonstrators to go back to the kitchen “where they belong”. In Egypt, too, conservative thinking is on the rise and voices are growing louder in support of policies that would represent a backward step for women. A good example of this are the reforms being made to family legislation.”1 The words of Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist and first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 aptly capture the reason for hope and expectations for change for women in Arab Spring countries, namely Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria and in other Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan, Saudi Arabia. In her speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, she stated that, “Millions of Yemeni women and men, children, young and old took to the streets in eighteen provinces demanding their right to freedom, justice and dignity, using non-violent but effective means to achieve their demands. I see the great number of Arab women, without whose hard struggles and quest to win their rights in a society dominated by the supremacy of men I wouldn’t be here. This supremacy has caused a lot of injustice to both men and women. To all those women, whom history and the severity of ruling systems have made unseen, to all women who made sacrifices for the sake of a healthy society with just relationships between women and men, to all those women who are still stumbling on the path of freedom in countries with no social justice or equal opportunities, to all of them I say: thank you ... this day wouldn’t have come true without you.”2

BATTLES FOR RECOGNITION AND PARTICIPATION Most transitions towards democratic changes are motivated by expectations for greater social equity, improved political participation and representation in making decisions that impact on societies and the lives of many women and men. Yet around the world, women have found that, “participation is one thing and recognition and voice is another”. In past and present transitional processes, women’s meaningful participation can be illustrated by an analogy of a journey, which is best captured by expressions such as, “still have a long way to go”. As women’s participation in revolutionary transitions is evident, their demands for inclusion continue to rise. For example in Egypt, Dr. Omaima Kamel, a member of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting Egypt’s 1 Article by Hoda Badran, The Arab Spring is looking like a great leap backwards for women, Summer 2012 2


new Constitution, affirmed that, “we are working hard to write a Constitution that will protect the dignity of all citizens, especially in the chapter on women’s rights. We are also working to ensure the right of women to work and representation in important positions in the state”3. Political transitions to democracy are strengthened when genuine participation and representation of women is included on the list of priorities for countries in transition. Too often, this is generally seen as a luxury to be left aside until the other important democratic values and objectives have been achieved. All kinds of women’s participation and representation in transitional politics contain battles over rights, recognition, participation and redistribution of power. The intensity of each battle is determined by the extent to which consider themselves excluded and are conscious of the degree to which the critical decisions are made by men only. These battles are a manifestation of the many deeply entrenched obstacles (both formal and informal/traditional) to women’s political, socio-cultural and economic advancement of women across the world. In many parts of the world, these battles and issues are varied and complex and the challenges for women are enormous. While the participation of women in revolutionary uprisings in the Arab Spring provided opportunities for the active presence of women, women are still battling for equality on all fronts and an uphill climb still looms.

UNEQUAL POWER RELATIONS Evidence abounds to attest that the continued marginalisation of women in decision making processes in transition countries is in fact part of the broader gender discrimination and the resulting inequalities that span the world from developed countries such as the Gulf States to low income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The unequal power relations that impede the effective inclusion of women in transition countries operate at many levels of society, from the most personal to the highly public. In some countries the inequalities are clearly blatant in the legal frameworks, such as constitutions, laws and policies. Across the world, the attitudes about the superiority of men and inferiority of women at the household and family level are still very common. Within each region and within countries the magnitude of the attitudes differ reflecting factors such as culture and religion, the rural-urban divide, the political and legal system. Due to patriarchal notions of power, traditional practices and religious interpretations, men are still widely considered the ‘head of the household’ with superior status and decisionmaking authority and often greater rights and freedoms.

Participation and representation of women is too often seen as a luxury.”

The implications of family and household hierarchies and stereotyped roles for men and women are many, including diminished access of women to economic and political participation and violence against women. Transformed relations between men and women’s at the household and family level is critical to their full participation in and contribution in transition processes and outcomes in all spheres of society and it will benefit men as well as women. Periods of transition provide opportunities to create democratic societies by establishing principles of non-discrimination and gender equality if the different needs and priorities for women and men are taken into account during the transitional phases. 3


INSTITUTIONALISED MALE DOMINANCE AND PRIVILEGE Everywhere in the world, it is evident that political transitions are gendered and their outcomes ultimately reflect the different social meanings attributed to men and women. Hence, the unequal participation and representation of women and men is evident in the predominance of men among the leaders of political parties or movements, parliamentarians, cabinet ministers and heads of governments and states. In most countries, although not in all, women and men have equal rights to vote and to stand for elective positions. After at least 40 years of struggle, Kuwaiti women gained comprehensive political rights in 2005. In 2003 in Oman and Qatar, women were granted the right to vote and to stand for parliamentary office for the first time. Currently women make up only 19% of the parliaments of the world. 4 Why, then are there so few women in elective positions of power and decision making at all levels? Why is that political transitions keep producing and reproducing men as leaders in higher proportions to women? To illustrate the point, despite the promising start to the year, according to the Inter Parliamentary Union by the end of 2011, women represented only 10.7% of parliamentarians in the Arab region. The Arab region remains the only one in the world without any parliament that has at least 30% representation of women. However, it is worthy to note that a number of countries in the Arab region have introduced quotas to improve the political participation and representation of women, in the face of political, cultural, religious, economic and institutional factors that pose particular challenges to women in this region. For example, in Morocco, following the 2011 elections and in accordance with a bill passed by the Council of Ministers on 9 September 2011, women now constitute 16.7% of Morocco’s Lower House and this is largely due to the reservation of 60 seats for women and 30 for candidates under the age of 40. In Tunisia, the political parties participating in the October 2011 elections were required to include women in their electoral lists in strict alternation. In theory, this was a strong affirmative measure, but in practice, most of the more than 80 parties contesting the elections (with more than 1,500 lists registered) won only one seat in any one constituency, which went to the male candidate invariably heading the list. In Libya, the adopted Election Law stipulates that the General National Congress (constituent assembly) would be composed of 200 members elected freely and directly, and requires parity on party lists for 80 of these seats. In Egypt, however, the new law on the Exercise of Political Rights amended the previous quota for women, which used to allocate 64 seats (or 12%) in the parliament to women. The amended law required each political party to include one woman on their candidate list, but did not require the positioning of women in “winnable” slots – each party has the freedom to decide where to allocate the name of the woman candidate, even at the bottom of the list. This has ultimately resulted in a decrease in the number of seats held by women before the revolution and democratic uprising, with only 10 women out of 508 members (2%).

MOBILISATION OF WOMEN AS WOMEN In any political transition process, a key question is why women choose to organise or not to organise in the different contexts. It is important to pose this question because it points to the reality of the diversity among women and the absence of a homogenous “category” of women who are not differentiated by class, religion or ethnicity. Equally important is the fact that not all women may have women’s strategic interests on the top of their agenda during transformative transitional processes. It can be argued that women’s exclusion is due in part to the significant social and ideological differences among women as well as to the dynamics of social mobilisation in transitional processes. 4 See Women in Parliament in 2011-The Year in Perspective, Inter-Parliamentary Union.


Another key factor that prompts women to mobilise as women is the pre-transitional politics in each country. Though the circumstances of transition varied from country to country, in much of Latin America women mobilised both as several groups primarily made up of women and women organising specifically as women to press for the guarantees on women’s rights and democratisation of everyday life. In some countries as diverse as Argentina, Spain and South Africa women maximised the opportunities presented during revolutionary transitions to democracy by mobilising as women along women’s issues. In countries such as Brazil and Chile women mobilised across class and party lines to ensure that women’s equal participation and representation in politics and decision making is guaranteed during and post the political transitional processes. In all transitional processes the capacity for women to mobilise as women consolidates women’s political clout and attracts the attention of predominately male political actors who tend to then harness women’s support for their own political gains. On the other hand, this can lead to the incorporation of women’s de-mands on the political agenda if political actors begin to see women as a constituency worth co-opting. The exclusion of women from the agenda setting and women’s concerns from the agendas articulated by predominately male leaders heightens the political salience of gender equality relative to other values. Too often, women’s concerns are considered but not followed through in the actual decisions and in practice as women’s concerns seem to have an imposed duty to “give way” or yield to other important values.

RECOMMENDATIONS How women’s roles in transitional politics translate into critical actions and decisions is highly controversial politics because those without voice are often ignored by those with voice. In the face of such on-going challenges, the following multi-dimensional recommendations if adequately implemented hold enormous potential to increase women’s participation and representation in politics and transition countries in the long term. In defining these recommendations, it is important to ask, how much are the national, regional and international stakeholders willing to invest in women’s empowerment and gender equality?

WOMEN AS AGENTS FOR CHANGE ´ Support for women to mobilise as women: Supporting women’s mobilisation as a constituency is a key investment to increase women’s effective participation in transitions. The support for women has to reinforce women’s capacity as agents for change and cultivate robust initiatives to mobilise women as women. In order to ensure that the political spaces opened by revolutionary transitions do not get closed by supporting women to seize the opportunity offered by transitions to negotiate the changes to their condition and status. ´ Additional empowerment: Cultivating and reinforcing transformative leadership skills among women through additional empowerment strategies that translate women’s presence into critical influence and actions to engage from an understanding of women’s rights as human rights and the broader democratic issues. ´ Agenda setting: One way to support women in transitions is to strengthen the defining of women’s strategic interests in the agenda setting of transitional processes and institutions especially constitution drafting bodies and electoral reforms proposals. The agenda setting support should buttress the need for the implementation of principles and values on gender equality and women’s empowerment that are written in international covenants such as the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women(CEDAW), which is among the most ratified of United Nations treaties.


OPENING SPACES AND INCREASING ACCESS ´ Adoption and implementation of positive measures: Legislated quotas to get women into the spaces for decision making is an urgent priority to reduce the representation gap of women in politics. As it is not only men who are always unconvinced of women’s right and capacity to participate in public life, the measures that are advocated for and put in place have to be reinforced with public awareness campaigns on women’s participation and representation. This is because obstacles to women’s participation in all political processes including transitional processes stems from a range of political and electoral structures and processes and cultural patterns opposing women’s participation in public life. ´ Political parties, movements, groups: Developing political parties’ capacity to analyse their intra-party processes, rules and regulations on the identification, nomination and selection of candidates for elective positions within the political parties and into public positions of power and decision making. This will involve providing examples to political parties on how they can be conduits women’s empowerment. ´ Male advocates: Working with men and designing initiatives that sys-tematically engage men and boys in women’s empowerment and gender equality promotion and making men equally responsible as women for the achievement of women’s empowerment. This is involves encouraging men to relinquish some of their power in order for women to have a fair share in political participation and representation.

POWER OF THE MEDIA ´ Mobilisation of media support: The way women are portrayed in the media has enormous impact on women’s participation and representation in processes and positions of transitional decision making. Working with the media to provide balanced coverage of women and men and equality issues is an essential strategy for supporting women in politics and in transitions. ´ Advocacy to end gender based violence: The media is an effective tool to fight violence against women and girls as this remains a global pandemic. Women’s particular vulnerability to gender based violence is one of the most obvious deterrent for women’s participation in political transitions. Media advocacy to address the underlying gender inequalities that are the key drivers of gender based violence is a vital strategy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY The Arab Spring is looking like a great leap backwards for women, Article by Hoda Badran, Summer 2012. Progress of the World’s Women 2008-2009: Who Answers to Women, UN Women (2008). Women’s Movements and Democratic Transition in Chile, Brazil, East Germany and Po-land, Lisa Baldez, Comparative Analysis, 2003. Unfinished Transitions: Women and the Gendered Development of Democracy in Venezuela 1936-1996, Elizabeth J Friedman (2000). No shortcuts to Power: African Women in Politics and Policy Making, Anne Marie Goetz and Shireen Hassim (Editors), 2003. The Role of Women in Rwanda’s Transition, Elizabeth Powley, 2003. Women and Democratization: Conceptualising Gender Relations in Transition Politics, Georgina Waylen, World Politics, Vol 46, No. 3(April 1994), pp 327-354. Women in Transitions, Fast Facts UNDP Tunisia, July 2011. Women’s Political Participation in the Great Lakes Countries Emerging from Conflict, International Alert Report(2007).



GENDER AND DEMOCRACY Danish democratic transition in a gender perspective BY JYTTE LARSEN, DENMARK

Women’s political history in Denmark is a success story. Danish women were among the first in the world to be granted full political rights, in 1915. Today, almost forty per cent of the Members of Parliament are women, and sixty per cent are men – a gender distribution matching international standards for equality of status. Furthermore, four of the eight parties represented in Parliament are headed by a woman. In 1924, Denmark made political world history with the appointment of the first female cabinet minister. Today, the cabinet has a similar gender distribution to Parliament. When Helle Thorning Schmidt became the first female Prime Minister following the 2011 elections, the last male stronghold in Danish politics fell.


Jytte Larsen is a senior research consultant at KVINFO, the Danish Centre for Information on Gender, Equality and Ethnicity. She is a historian and her research and publications focus on gender history, feminism and equality. Over the last twenty years, Jytte Larsen has contributed extensively with scientific articles and lectures on Danish women’s history, gender equality, feminism etc., especially for the Danish Labour Union and several women’s organisations. She is producing book reviews for Danish and international gender research periodicals, and has contributed to several lager anthologies. Her latest book ”Også andre hensyn. Dansk ligestillingspolitik 1849-1915” is the first volume of a handbook about the history of Danish equality policies. ABOUT THE PHOTO

Leader of the Social Democratic party, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, speaking in the Danish parliament ’Folketinget’ for the first time since winning the September 2011 election and being appointed Prime Minister. (Photo by Martin Lehmann/Polfoto).


THE DANISH PROCESS OF DEMOCRATISATION The Danish success is greatest on the national level. Women have found it harder to break into local politics, where historical male dominance has survived, notably on the leadership level. Women hold around thirty per cent of the seats on municipal councils, and there is only one female mayor in ten. Achieving this success has been a lengthy process. It took seventy years from the time women’s suffrage was instituted until female politicians made up a so-called critical mass of thirty per cent, which any minority generally speaking must achieve in order to obtain real influence. In Denmark, as everywhere else in the world, women’s political history is an integrated part of the national development towards democracy. And in Denmark, as in other Western countries, the women’s movement has been a central player in the struggles for political rights and, subsequently, for political representation. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Denmark – initially bringing up the rear of the democratic transition that created the modern Western world around the year 1800 – became a pioneer democracy when the Scandinavian welfare model became an international brand. The model – based on equality of status and notably characterised by a high degree of inclusion of women on the labour market, and a high degree of female political representation combined with public child care policies and care for the sick and the elderly – has been labelled as woman-friendly. The history of democracy in Denmark is thoroughly evolutionary and remarkably undramatic. The country’s first free Constitution, from 1849, had been carefully prepared, and was adopted in the atmosphere of broad consensus that still characterises political life. Thus, the absolute monarch remained as constitutional monarch following adoption of the Constitutional Act, and today, Denmark is one of only a handful of democratic monarchies in the world.

The history of democracy in Denmark is evolutionary and remarkably undramatic.“

Danish democracy was imported from abroad. Following the uprising against British colonial rule in North America and the founding of the United States of America as an independent nation in 1776, a flood of revolutions swept over Europe in three separate waves. The two first waves did not reach Denmark with enough force to overthrow the absolute monarchy, but they initiated a much-needed process of modernisation. During the time of the French Revolution (1789-99), a series of comprehensive land and educational reforms were carried out in Denmark. Farmers were released from servitude under the landed aristocracy and were granted the opportunity to buy the land they farmed. During this period, the establishment of teacher training colleges brought improvements to education, which, particularly in rural areas, had been of a meagre standard. Compulsory general education was instituted in 1814. The July Revolution of 1830 led to cautious democratisation through the establishment of elected regional councils – the so-called Advisory Provincial Estates – and the fledgling beginnings of municipal government. Only a few per cent of the male population were eligible to vote, but in the years leading up to 1848 the new political arenas, along with the easing of censorship and a modern press, created a bourgeois public sphere. Knowledge of international developments was no longer the privilege of a tiny academic elite that was in command of the major European languages and undertook educational journeys to the centres of culture. Broad swathes of the pop-


ulation were now able to read about current political movements and literature in Danish-language newspapers and periodicals. Due to these reforms, it was a relatively egalitarian, prosperous, and enlightened population that took over the management of national affairs in 1848, when the King renounced absolute power and convened a constitutional assembly. Since then, the Danish Constitutional Act has been revised three times, with the latest revision adopted in 1953. The fact that the current Constitutional Act is coming up on its sixtieth anniversary is remarkable not least because the concepts of democracy and citizenship have been subject to swift and profound transformations in the period following World War II. Due to this singularly conservative constitutional tradition, Denmark – unlike most other nations – has not embedded a modern notion of human rights in the Constitution.

DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS Modern democracy is defined by both a political system of government and a political ideology. Both aspects were developed during the Enlightenment, whose ideas of human rights, popular sovereignty, and social contract legitimised the abolishment of tyrannical regimes and inherited privilege. Under the watchword of “liberty, equality, fraternity”, the great majority of farmers and burghers joined forces to combat the concentration of power in the hands of royalty, clergy, and nobility. The grand narrative of modern democracy is about free and equal individuals who enter into a covenant in order to institute governments that further the development from a state of barbarity, where the jungle law applies and might makes right, to civilised societies and the rule of law. The societal covenant is, in other words, a social contract under which private individuals relinquish sovereignty to public authorities that, in their turn, undertake to ensure the rights of citizens and maintain law and order. From this perspective, despotism and oppression deprives individuals of their rights. This narrative was laid out with model conciseness in 1776 in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”1 This was followed in 1789 by the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen – the first declaration of human rights proper, containing a catalogue of rights and duties of democratic citizenship.

HUMAN RIGHTS AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS ‘Men’ and ‘homme’ can both mean human, but in the context of the two foundational texts of the democratic movement, they meant ‘man’. These documents instituted a man’s rights discourse, which was not replaced by a human rights discourse until the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. 1

American Declaration of Independence


As soon as absolute monarchy came to an end, the liberal bourgeois class broke its alliance with the less privileged classes and grabbed power for itself. Running entirely counter to its egalitarian rhetoric, the bourgeoisie defined democratic citizenship in its own image, and reserved political rights for the educated and married man of means – the paterfamilias. And they called this model ‘universal suffrage’. The revolutionary left responded with socialism – the second great political ideology of modernity – which recycled the liberal criticism of the old regime, but with the emphasis on equality and fraternity rather than on individual liberty. The fact that both bourgeois liberals and socialists conceived of human rights as men’s rights prompted the emergence of feminism – the third great political ideology of modernity – with its demands for liberty, equality, and solidarity for both sexes. Feminist voices were raised in protest from the very outset of the democratic movements. Among the first was Abigail Adams (1744-1818), who was married to John Adams, one of the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence. When she saw the contours of the man’s rights discourse begin to take shape, she warned her husband that a new rebellion loomed if women remained without legal rights: “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”2 In France, the voice of protest was raised by revolutionary activist Olympe de Gouges (1748-93), who penned the first declaration of women’s rights, Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne, in 1791. Here, she replaced the word ‘man’ from the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen with ‘woman’ – and gave us an object lesson in just how patriarchal the famed original text is. Olympe de Gouges was also the first to gender the deprivation of rights by drawing parallels between the King, who deprives the people of their rights, and men, who deprive women of their human rights and tyrannise them: “Liberty and justice consist of restoring all that belongs to others; thus, the only limits on the exercise of the natural rights of woman are perpetual male tyranny; these limits are to be reformed by the laws of nature and reason.”3 It is worth noting that human rights in their original inception are founded in both a religious and a secular world view. In the Christian, American tradition they are God-given, while the secular, French tradition roots them in nature and reason. Likewise, it is important to emphasise that feminism pertains to political views that may be held by both genders. From the outset, men participated in the struggle for equal status, which is, after all, just another word for equality. One example is the French Enlightenment philosopher J. A. Condorcet (1743-94), who forwarded the simple argument that human rights perforce apply to all human beings. Rights that apply only to some sections of the population are special rights, group rights, or inherited privileges, which the revolution had set out to abolish. Rights awarded to wealthy white men can only be called human rights if poor people, coloured people, and women are not human beings. From around 1830, we may speak of an international women’s move-ment, driven 2 3 Duiker 2006, p. 499


From the outset, men participated in the struggle for equal status.”

by American, French, German, and British women, who developed both theory and practice through close contacts maintained through travel, letters, and exchange of literature. Against the backdrop of the 1848 revolutions, the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, USA, adopted a manifesto entitled the Declaration of Sentiments, which called for full implementation of equal rights.

THE STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE The late fall of absolute monarchy in Denmark meant that feminism had already found a definite form when the Constitutional Assembly convened. It was thus an act of bad faith when the Danish founding fathers, who were well-informed of international developments, inducted the Danish Constitutional Act of June 5th, 1849 into the man’s rights tradition based on the infamous – and erroneous – statement that “it is thus everywhere recognised that persons of incompetence, children, women, criminals shall not be eligible to vote.” Hardly had the ink of the Constitutional Act dried before the men of the new democracy admitted that they had set aside women’s human rights. As early as in 1857, Parliament passed a collection of equal rights laws as part of a major reform programme with the goal of making women full citizens. The first concern was making unmarried women legally competent, independent citizens. This was because the pre-modern marriage code, with its autocratic paterfamilias, stymied the rights of married women. In the article “Three Questions about Womanhood Suffrage”, political scientist Carole Pateman reflects on the differences between women’s and other social groups’ struggles for political rights. Why did suffragettes in Britain and the United States have to fight for half a century for the right to vote? How could demands for voting rights in Western democracies around the year 1900 lead to assassinations and suicides, mass arrests, hunger strikes, and forced feeding? Her answer is that the man’s status as head of the family was regarded as the last bastion of patriarchy. Voting rights was not a question of the women’s cause in general; it was a matter specifically of the position of the married woman. “[S]uffrage was, at bottom, the wife question, not a woman’s question”4. Danish equal rights policy between 1849 and 1915 falls into two stages. The most obvious marker of the watershed is the ascent of the women’s movement in 1871 with the formation of the feminist mother organisation Danish Women’s Society. In the first phase, the initiative was in the hands of Parliament, who constructed the female citizen in the image of the paterfamilias by according civilian and social rights to unmarried female heads of household. The second phase is characterised by a close alliance between the women’s movement and the increasingly successful political left, whose agenda was the extension of democratic rights to all, regardless of gender, social class, and civil status. In other words, the women’s cause was integrated into the general de-mand for democratisation, and the struggles for equal and universal suffrage and against patriarchal marriage could be synthesised in the assault on the privileged paterfamilias. The chief architects behind the new equal status strategy were the husband and wife couple Fredrik and Mathilde Bajer. They drew their inspiration from the international women’s movement, and specifically from the British power couple Harriet 4

Pateman 1994, p. 336.


Taylor (1807-58) and John Stuart Mill (1806-73), whose close intellectual collaboration found its final form in The Subjection of Women (1869) – the first scholarly dissertation on the societal significance of gender, published by John Stewart Mill as a memorial to his deceased wife. In keeping with the women’s movement in general, Harriet Taylor and John Stewart Mill placed great emphasis on women’s political rights. The right to vote is labelled “a means of self-protection”, which women had sore need of in questions involving “interests of women, as such,” since “we know what legal protection the slaves have, where the laws are made by their masters.”5

The 1970’ies became the women’s decade par excellence.”

The work was an exemplary exposition of the three classical forms of argumentation employed by the movement for women’s suffrage, and which will here be labelled justice, representation, and resources. The first two of these advocate for women’s human rights, including the right to political representation of their interests. The third claims that it is not only an obligation of a democratic society to allow its entire mass of talent to unfold, doing so is also beneficial to that society. While feminist scholars have agreed on the typology, terminology has varied. The argument of representation is also known as the interest argument or the feminist argument, because insisting on gender-specific political interests is often regarded as especially radical. The resource argument is also known as the utility argument or the utilitarian argument, with reference to its roots in nineteenth-century utilitarianism. Today, it is typically labelled the diversity argument. The historical influence of The Subjection of Women can hardly be overestimated. The book spurred the formation of the Danish Women’s Society, chaired by Mathilde Bajer, and it forms the subtext for the political debaztes on equal rights that Fredrik Bajer, as a Member of Parliament, initiated in close collaboration with the women’s movement. In the years leading up to the turn of the twentieth century, the women’s movement had changed from being an elite Copenhagen phenomenon to a countrywide organisation with tens of thousands of activists that had made universal suffrage a popular demand. On the local level, the breakthrough came in 1908 with the adoption of a modern Municipal Voting Rights Act, and on a national level the watershed moment was the adoption of the new Constitutional Act in 1915. With its duration of some thirty or forty years, the Danish struggle for universal suffrage was a brief one when compared with the campaigns in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, where the demand for political rights for women was raised earlier and honoured later. In France, this did not happen until 1946. The violent confrontations that marked the struggle for universal suffrage in the United Kingdom were entirely absent in the Danish campaign. In Denmark, married women were granted the vote by special exemption because they were unable to fulfil the general demands in the Voting Rights Act that all voters have disposal over their estate and be taxpayers, until a reform of the Marriage Act rendered them fully competent in the eyes of the law in 1925 – sixty-eight years later than their non-married sisters. The tenet that “suffrage was, at bottom, ‘the wife question’” thus also applies to the history of equal rights in Denmark. 5

Mill 1924, p. 49


THE STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION Equality before the law is the original feminist demand, and the 1915 amendment to the Constitutional Act was celebrated with parties, parades, and memorials across Denmark because the recognition of women’s political rights was regarded as the constitutional establishment of women’s rights. This view was supported by the fact that the government had changes to remaining gender discriminatory legislation on its to do list, and that those political parties that did not already have equal rights on their agendas now revised their platforms to include it. According to this logic, the women’s movement had accomplished its mission, and many of the extensively ramified movement’s associations dissolved themselves. Their take on the future was that women should safeguard their interests in the voting booth, through membership of political parties, and in Parliament. However, the pioneering Danish Women’s Society kept up its work. The first elections were something of a wet blanket to this mood of victory. The municipal elections of 1909 resulted in a female representation of 1.3 per cent and a gender distribution in municipal politics of 127 women to 9682 men. Women fared only marginally better in the national elections of 1918. Only 4 of the 140 elected candidates were women. Those who put the initial results down to teething troubles were about to be even more disappointed. As Figure 1 shows, the following elections brought a decline in women’s representation. FIGURE 1

Women in the Danish Parliament 1918-20116 No. of MPs No. of female MPs




















Note: In the lower house up until 1953, when the present unicameral system was adopted. Source: Kvinder i Folketinget


Generally speaking, developments are uneven, particularly for the first fifty years, which are characterised by long periods of stagnation broken by some notable forward leaps in the early 1940s and again in the early 1970s. The representation of women in Parliament thus falls into three phases, which mirror the general situation when it comes to equal status policy. 1915-1945 with less than 5 % female representation. 1945-1971 with a female representation of up to 10%. 1971-2011 with a rapid and sustained growth in female representation towards the 40% mark. The first phase ends with the close of the Second World War, when a great window of opportunity opened up in equal rights policy, as is often the case in post-crisis situations. Across the world, women had made a significant contribution during the war years, both on the home front and in the field. Recognition of this contribution came in several forms. Equal gender rights were included in international legislation through the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The political representation of women increased in countries with women’s suffrage, including Denmark, and having a female government minister became a must. Other countries, including, as previously mentioned, France, instituted voting rights for women. The second phase ends with the beginning of the second feminist wave in the wake of the 1960s youth rebellions. The 1970s became the women’s decade par excellence, not least due to the United Nations’ prominent focus on equal rights, including the International Women’s Year, the World Conference on Women, and a bill of rights for women: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In Denmark, women charged into parliament, where the percentage of women surged from eleven to twenty-four per cent over the course of the 1970s. And in a new development, women’s political representation continued to increase. Following the long period of stagnation, focus shifted from political rights to political participation, and the feminist tenet that political organs not having an equal gender distribution are illegitimate now garnered broad popular support. Revolutions are created by the assault of youth on old regimes, and the second feminist wave became the historical youth rebellion of women. In earlier days, female politicians were typically middle-aged, because they did not run for office until the children were out of the house. Since the mid-1960s, the mean age for women in Parliament has dropped by ten years, from fifty-five to forty-five, and the age composition has become more diverse. The latest national elections gave seats in Parliament to two women between the ages of twenty and twenty-four, and two between the ages of sixty and sixty-nine.

The entire female elite in the country was mobilised in a large-scale media push.”

The young women brought the issues of pregnancy, birth, and parental leave with them into political life. When the first pregnant woman ran for Parliament in 1971, and was elected, it made the headlines. Front pages were cleared again when the first female minister gave birth while in office in 1998. Since then, many have followed in their footsteps, and today nobody disputes female politicians’ right to have children while holding office.


On the municipal level, developments in female representation mirror those of Parliament, though women’s representation in local politics still lags behind the national level. FIGURE 2

Women’s representation in municipalities and in Parliament 1918-2006


40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 2006














FROM EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW TO GENDER MAINSTREAMING Why did it take a hundred years to achieve political participation on an equal level? A very significant explanation is the fact that for centuries, feminism was hobbled by a theoretical deficiency in relation to liberalism and socialism, modernity’s two other political ideologies. Whereas the latter were formulated by the male academic elite based on major new theories of politics, economics, sociology, and history, feminism did not gain an academic foothold until the 1970s. While it is true that the University of Copenhagen (the only university in Denmark at the time) opened its doors to female students in 1875, and that female academics returned the favour by getting involved in the women’s cause – two of the first four female Members of Parliament were academics – research positions were long reserved for men. And even if a woman managed to squeeze through the eye of the needle, this was due to merits in traditional fields of research. Commitment to feminist politics was relegated to off-duty hours up until the second feminist wave, in which a large, young, and highly educated generation of women occupied universities and under the motto of Research of women, by women, for women developed theories on the societal import of gender that finally put feminism on a scholarly par with liberalism and socialism. By organising the insights that had run as a subtext throughout the feminist criticism of liberalism and socialism since the democratic transition in the late eighteenth century, women’s studies and gender studies forged the basis for new and effective strategies, including affirmative action towards the underrepresented gender and gender mainstreaming.


In point form, these insights, which seem commonplace today, may be summed up thus: ´ Formal equality is a necessary, but not a sufficient, prerequisite of true equality. ´ Direct gender discrimination is only the tip of the iceberg, with wide-spread indirect gender discrimination hiding beneath the surface. ´ The private is political. ´ Civilian, political, and social rights are based on sexual and reproductive rights. But in 1915, equality before the law and political rights were the undisputed road to equal status. Though there were discussions in what remained of the women’s movement of forming a women’s party, and though women’s lists were entered in the first municipal elections, the main tenet throughout the inter-war years was that women should enrol in, and run for office via, existing political parties. However, in the parties the interest in female voters was higher than the interest in female candidates, and more so once the first election results had been reviewed. Political parties maintained that the state no longer had a part to play given that direct gender discrimination in legislation had been abolished. From here on out, it was up to civil society and the market to create a fitting gender balance. Until 1945, this meant one female Member of Parliament per party – the so-called token woman. The women’s movement thus ended up with the full responsibility for increased political representation of women. To begin with, the movement took up the gauntlet by launching a nationwide educational programme in citizenship, and by facilitating the founding of women’s organisations within the political parties. Thanks to the initiative of members active in the women’s cause, all political parties had women’s committees in the 1930s. The close collaboration between the women’s movement and the political parties could also be seen in the fact that women’s organisations until the end of the 1970s drew their chairman from the ranks of prominent female politicians – preferably government ministers – and that the parties took turns holding the post. Following the Second World War, the women’s movement expanded its repertoire to include proper electoral campaigns. In the 1945 elections, the “vote for a woman”campaign was launched. This was to become a fixture of Danish electoral campaigns for many years to come. The concept is simple: activists position themselves outside voting stations carrying posters encouraging voters on their way to the ballot to vote for a woman. This is also when the women’s movement founded the tradition of crossparty election meetings – a tradition still alive today. The most spectacular campaign was carried out in the municipal elec-tions of 1970, when the entire female elite in the country was mobilised in a large-scale media push. The weekend preceding the elections, every nationwide newspaper as well as the major regional papers carried opinion pieces urging voters to vote for a female candidate and written by politicians from all parties, leading members of the women’s organisations, and famous artists. Demonstrating the strength of the feminist heritage, every single opinion writer drew on the classical arguments of justice, representation, and resources in their plea for increased political representation for women. In 1945, the women’s movement also suggested the implementation of a quota system in the form of a proposal that all parties be mandated to reserve 33 per cent of the spots on their lists of candidates for women. However, this type of affirmative action did not receive broad support until the third wave of the movement: between 1977 and 1996, several parties operated with some form of quota system or other. By this time the glass ceiling had, however, been broken by the second feminist wave, which paved the way for a new understanding of the entire concept of politics


and set new standards of female citizenship with the demand that women have the right to rule their own bodies. Affirmative action became statutory and was, on the advice of the United Nations’ fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, supplemented by a third equal status strategy, gender mainstreaming.

WOMEN AND DEMOCRACY So what has a hundred years of women in politics meant to Danish society? First and foremost, it has meant democratisation. Long gone are the days when regimes that reserved political rights for (select groups of) men could be labelled democratic. Today, democracy legitimises itself through universal human rights and equal political representation. In other words, by recognising the legitimacy of feminism’s first two arguments for women’s political rights. The resource argument – that women have different areas of compe-tence than men, and that this has contributed to an improved process of political decision-making – is more questionable. On the one hand, a clear, gender-based division of labour can be demonstrated, under which women have handled the ‘softer’ policy areas, such as equal status policy, social policy, and cultural policy. On the other hand, women have stuck to party lines in these as in all other policy issues. There are very few examples of women collaborating across party divides, and in the end, it is the male majority that has established the “woman-friendly” welfare state through their votes in Parliament. More research is thus needed to properly investigate this important question The question remains whether the Danish model may serve as inspiration for countries undergoing democratic transition today, when alternative, and faster, roads to political equality are available. Quota systems, in particular, have proven to be very effective instruments. But maybe the secret to sustainable equal status development is that it is rooted in a combination of top-down and bottom-up politics. The state may institute equality before the law, but carrying this over into equality in life required the cooperation of civil society. And here, others can perhaps draw on the experiences of the Danish women’s movement when it comes to information campaigns, women’s mobilisation and organisation within political parties, and electoral campaigns.

BIBLIOGRAPHY American Declaration of Independence. United States National Archives; exhibits/charters/declaration_transcript.html Dansk kvindehistorie; Kvinder i Folketinget; Dahlerup, Drude, Vi har ventet længe nok: håndbog i kvinderepræsentation, Kbh.: Nordisk Ministerråd, 1988 Equal democracies?: gender and politics in the Nordic countries, Christina Bergqvist (editor in chief), Anette Borchorst ... [et al.], Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1999 Duiker, William J., and Jackson J. Spielvogel. World History: From 1500. Cengage Learning, 2006. Larsen, Jytte, Også andre hensyn: dansk ligestillingspolitik 1849-1915, Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2010 Mill, John Stuart. The Subjection of Women. Hayes Barton Press, 1924. Pateman, Carole, “Three Questions about Womanhood Suffrage”, Caroline Daley & Melanie Noland (red.), Suffrage and Beyond. International Feminist Perspectives. New York University Press, 1994



NETWORKS AND TOOLKITS Some resources that can inspire your work

Participating in the ‘Christiansborg Seminar’ in Copenhagen offers the participants an opportunity to meet with colleagues from around the world who struggle with similar challenges on a daily basis. While there is probably no better way of learning than to share your experiences face-to-face with colleagues in the global community, this is not an option for all. In fact, for most of us the most practical option is to read what others have put on paper or decided to share on the internet. Much has already been produced by practitioners, academics and institutions, and some of the resources are listed in the bibliography section of the previous chapters. In this section we only highlight a few resources that we find particularly relevant and useful.


A worker removes election posters on January 8, 2008 in Nairobi, Kenya. Normal business has resumed in the capital after post election violence abated. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images).



A network developed by International IDEA, International Parliamentary Union, National Democratic Institute, UNDP and UN WOMEN. This is an interactive network of and for women engaging in politics. The goal of the network is to increase participation and effectiveness of women in political life by utilizing a technology enabled forum that provides access to critical resources and expertise, stimulates dialogue, creates knowledge, and shares experiences on women’s political participation. The network also allows women to collaborate on issues of common interest. The platform runs e-discussions on selected topics, offers e-learning, and provides a knowledge library.


International Republican Institute The Women’s Democracy Network connects women leaders and aspiring leaders with their counterparts around the world to share best practices and learn new skills. Working together, members of the Network are building thriving communities and lasting democracies. In many countries, women are just beginning to enter the political sphere, and many continue to struggle to gain positions that will enable them to push forward democratic reforms. Among women worldwide, there is a growing need to break traditional barriers that discourage or prevent their political participation. The WDN seeks to enable women to do this, by connecting them to their best resource: themselves. The goals of the Women’s Democracy Network are: To formalize a network of women who have gained experience in political and civil society with women who struggle to take part in the democratic development of their countries so that they might engage in sharing experiences; to provide training and mentoring opportunities that address the specific needs of women within the regions of Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and North America.


ACE is a collaborative effort between nine organisations: International IDEA, EISA, Elections Canada, the Federal Electoral Institute of Mexico (IFE), IFES, UNDESA, UNDP and the UNEAD. The European Commission is an ex-officio member. Established in 1998, the ACE network promotes credible, and transparent electoral processes with an emphasis on sustainability, professionalism and trust in the electoral process. ACE offers a wide range of services related to electoral knowledge, assistance and capacity development. The network comprises of a global, thematic component, and a regional component. The ACE website is an online knowledge repository that provides comprehensive information and customised advice on electoral processes. The website contains indepth articles, global statistics and data, an Encyclopaedia of Elections, information on electoral assistance, observation and professional development, region- and countryspecific resources, daily electoral news, an election calendar, quizzes, expert networks and much more. It is freely accessible to all and the number of visitors is constantly growing – as of January 2012 the website has more than 1,3 million visitors per year. While ACE does not have a particular focus on women like networks like iKNOWpolitics and Women’s Democracy Network, it is possible to find a lot of very relevant information regarding women’s involvement in elections.



UNDP and NDI, February 2012, 120 pages This publication identifies targeted interventions for promoting the stronger presence and influence of women in political parties as well as advancing gender equality issues in party policies and platforms. The lessons learned and common strategies in this Guide are drawn mainly, but not exclusively, from 20 case studies that were commissioned by UNDP and conducted by NDI during 2009-2010. The entry points identified are designed to provide ideas for action for political parties, development assistance providers, party foundations, and CSOs in their work to support parties.


International IDEA, June 2011, 90 pages The election of four female presidents in Latin America in recent years has drawn attention to women’s political participation and their access to political decision-making. Despite these encouraging results, statistics reveal that the Latin American region is still far from achieving gender equality in politics. Although women are increasingly involved in politics, they still have limited access to leadership positions in political party contexts. Researchers from 18 countries provided input to the Gender and Political Parties in Latin America database ( based on a survey of 94 political parties. This report presents an analysis of database information. The purpose of the report is to provide comparative data on women and men in political parties to inform on the situation and challenges of women’s political participation.


International IDEA, 2005, 264 pages Little research had been done so far on the way and extent to which women Members of Parliament influence politics. With this Handbook, the focus shifts from getting more women elected to the parliament, to giving those elected the means to make a greater impact on politics. Key findings include: It is not all about numbers: While a critical mass of women is necessary to ensure women’s representation, the quality of the representation is just as important. Training is crucial to avoid the trap of electing “token women”. Gender perspectives, not gender issues: Women elected to parliament change politics globally; they introduce a women’s perspective into all areas of political life, they are not limited to gender issues. Representation means more than elected politics: It means that more women must have seats at the Cabinet table, more women must be appointed to senior decision-making positions, and more women’s voices must be heard and included when major political reform or transformation is undertaken. The handbook includes case studies from Argentina, Burkina Faso, Ecuador, France, Indonesia, Rwanda, South Africa and Sweden, as well as regional overviews from the Arab World, Latin America, South Asia and a case study on the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).


OSCE, 2004, 54 pages This handbook provides guidance on monitoring women’s participation in the electoral process. The handbook was designed as a working tool to assist ODIHR election


observation missions in identifying the various elements of an election process that may impact on women’s equal participation. It sets out practical steps to be taken to integrate a gender perspective into election observation and should serve to ensure that conclusions drawn on the extent to which an election process meets OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections fully takes into account how the election process affects both women and men.


OSCE/ODIHR, 2012, 76 pages The report is an overview of current trends in women’s political participation across the OSCE region. It identifies a Six-Step Action Plan, a series of fast-track strategic interventions which can contribute towards the attainment of gender equality in elected office, in a ‘nested’ model. Each of the six strategies can be a starting point for action, taking into consideration the variety of different political and electoral systems and traditions in place. It offers a visible understanding of the need to cover all of the areas, not just one or two, and it links up very well to the understanding of the need for both a top-down state focused response (legislation) and a bottom-up civil society oriented response (changing gender attitudes etc.).


A conference report by Africa Contact, Gendernet, The Danish Institute for Human Rights, KVINFO, and Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy, 2011, 36 pages. The report is a short record of the conference which dealt with the challenges related to developing and enabling a democratic political culture for women in a large number of countries that are undergoing various processes of transition, including countries in Sub-Saharan and North Africa. The key areas of the conference were: the structures of exclusion – focusing on barriers to political participation; responses to exclusion – focusing on best practices for enhancing the political participation of women; and finally, workshop discussions on challenges and recommendations in relation to; local civil society cooperation; engaging international actors; from politics of presence to critical influence and action; and from elite driven democracy to broad-based participation.


UNIFEM & Henrich Böll Stiftung, 2009, 192 pages The report casts a light on the socio-political context and the space of agency for male and female parliamentarians in both houses of Parliament, the Wolesi Jirga and Meshrano Jirga. Due to conservative gender relations and traditional beliefs about the status of women in Afghan society, women politicians much more than their male counterparts have to prove themselves in their roles as the people’s representatives. However, instead of joining together as one force against the current political environment that is curtailing the political, social and economic freedoms that have only recently been achieved, women parliamentarians are being swept up in political, ethnic or regional power structures and agendas.



UNIFEM, 2008, 24 pages The document describes initial results of the projects of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). Women’s participation in governance, whether in time of peace or war, continues to be limited, yet it remains a top priority and a critical element for achieving gender equality. Only when women have full access to decision-making positions will laws, policies, and budgets reflect the needs of all citizens and support women’s rights. The purpose of the Fund is to promote democracy by providing assistance for projects that consolidate and strengthen democratic institutions and facilitate democratic governance. A common factor among the projects is the creation of an enabling environment that provides an opportunity for women to participate in reform policies, agendas and decentralization processes. Many of the countries involved have held elections between 2006 and 2009, and in several countries, women have run for office.


UN Women, 2004, 105 pages This handbook was inspired by a series of regional and national seminars on Parliament and the Budgetary Process, including from a Gender Perspective. Intended as a reference tool, the handbook sets out practical examples of parliament’s active engagement in the budgetary process. It seeks to advance parliament’s own institutional capacity to make a positive impact on the budget, and to equip parliament, its members and parliamentary staff with the necessary tools to examine the budget from a gender perspective.


National Democratic Institute, 2011, 138 pages The Guide focuses on programs in the areas of citizen participation, elections, political parties and governance. It presents the case for increasing women’s participation and provides information on best practices and strategies to move that goal forward. It also offers case studies, check lists and additional reading for each of the areas highlighted, as well as a general list of factors or tactics to consider when designing a program.


© Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy Strandgade 56 1401 Copenhagen K Denmark Tel: +45 32 69 89 89 Email: This publication is also available on Views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of the Board of DIPD. Responsible Editor: Bjørn Førde Consultant: Marie Skov Madsen Design: detusch&luba Print: TOPTRYK ISBN print 978-87-92796-10-3 ISBN web 978-87-92796-11-0


CHRISTIANSBORG SEMINAR The ’Christiansborg Seminar’ is an annual event, bringing DIPD partners and colleagues from around the world together to share ideas and practices on a specific theme. The seminar offers a unique opportunity for Danish political parties and NGOs to learn from other Nordic organisations as well as from partners in political parties and democracy organisations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.




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