Women's Participation in Local Government

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Women's Participation in Local Government

The under-representation of women at any level of governance and decision-making results in a democratic deficit. It has been proven time and again that diverse groups make better decisions. This is particularly true when it comes to a task as challenging as representing the interests of citizens at the local level. Often influencing policies in housing, security, transport, and the economy, local government makes important decisions that affect the lives of women and men. Women’s equal participation and representation in local decision-making processes is critical for prioritizing women’s practical needs and issues in local governments’ agendas and for localizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gender-balanced local councils may be an important step in helping to attain gender balance at the national levels.

Although some countries have information on how many women and men are local councilors and mayors, a standardized system to provide comparable statistical evidence across all countries and regions has been missing until recently. Some reasons for this are the vast number of local governments and the diversity of their structures worldwide. The methodology of the new SDGs indicator on the ‘proportion of seats held by women in local governments’ (5.5.1b) developed by UN Women provides a model on how to generate comparable data across countries. The harmonized measurement and reporting of data for the SDG indicator 5.5.1b will enable to build the first global measurement of the proportion of women in local governments. This will generate strong statistical evidence that will help to raise awareness and accelerate progress on a range of aspects of women’s political participation.

In addition to measuring numbers, further information is needed on strategies to elect more women at the local level. With the focus of the 2018 CSW revolving around achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, iKNOW Politics and its partners are convening this e-Discussion from February 2 to March 8, 2018 to seek input from politicians, experts, practitioners, and researchers on the challenges and opportunities for women’s representation in local government and its role in helping achieve gender equality and empower women at the local level.  

Questions:

  1. What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level? Are they any different from the challenges women face at the national level?
  2. What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level? What is the role of political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics?
  3. Do you know of any programmes or structures that support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level? Please share examples.
  4. What can local government do to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls?

To contribute:

  1. Use the below comment section; or
  2. Send your contribution to connect@iknowpolitics.org so that we can post it on your behalf.

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Posted on behalf of Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra (Ph. D.), Technical Assistant, Population Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University (SNDTWU), India. 

Note: Views expressed below are of the contributor AND NOT of the PERC, SNDTWU where Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra is currently employed. Major portion of the contribution presented below have been drawn from data published on web sites (which have been quoted in the text).

1. What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level? Are they any different from the challenges women face at the national level?

1.1. What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level?

Obstacles to women’s political participation: Women around the world at every socio-political level find themselves under-represented in parliament and far removed from decision-making levels. Research data suggest that in the year 2005, women hold barely 16% of parliamentary seats around the world. The factors that hamper or facilitate women’s political participation vary with level of socio-economic development, geography, culture, and the type of political system. Women themselves are not a homogeneous group; there are major differences between them, based on:

  • class,
  • race,
  • ethnicity,
  • cultural background, and
  • education.

The exclusion of women from decision-making bodies limits the possibilities for entrenching the principles of democracy in a society, hindering economic development and discouraging the attainment of gender equality. If men monopolize the political process, passing laws which affect society at large, the decision – making process does not always balance the interests of the male and female populations. As noted in the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), women’s equal participation with men in power and decision making is part of their fundamental right to participate in political life, and at the core of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women have to be active participants in determining development agendas. Women who want to enter politics find that the political, public, cultural and social environment is often unfriendly or even hostile to them. Even a quick glance at the current composition of political decision makers in any region provides evidence that women still face numerous obstacles in articulating and shaping their own interests (Source: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d998/eb3ddb02ef10d7a1b4f1d0fd15dbc95c557f.pdf, accessed on February 03, 2018). 

Obstacles to women’s participation in decision – making: The barriers that women and girls face to their meaningful political inclusion occur and must be addressed on three levels:

  1. individual,
  2. institutional, and
  3. socio-cultural.

While change may not happen simultaneously on each level, all three must be addressed in order to create an enabling environment for women to reach equal and sustainable political participation. Breaking down the barriers and creating opportunities for women at each level calls for a collaborative effort among states, civil society, and the international community. Each of these stakeholders, from lawmakers to activists to religious or traditional leaders and family members, can play a different role in addressing different challenges for women’s participation. Due to discriminatory laws, institutional and cultural barriers, and disproportionate access to quality education, healthcare, and resources, women worldwide continue to be marginalized in the political arena. The path forward needs to ensure and support women’s right to be involved in decision-making and political processes, and should be rooted in the following solutions:

  • Introduce gender quotas as transitional mechanisms;
  • Promote women’s rights, safety and participation during humanitarian crises, conflict prevention, and peace – building processes;
  • Promote women’s rights and participation in conflict prevention, mitigation of humanitarian crises, and peace – building processes;
  • Include young women and women within marginalized populations;
  • Create training and leadership pathways that are gender-sensitive;
  • Foster inclusivity in leadership, civic engagement, and decision-making in public and private spheres;
  • Ensure political environments are free from discrimination and violence; and
  • Ensure recognition of women in decision-making capacities

Evidence suggests that when women are elected to political positions, they can make a difference for girls and women and strongly impact legislation. In many cases, women are more likely to pursue inclusive policies and respond to constituent concerns. they tend to push for positive change around health, community wellbeing, poverty reduction, and family welfare, and are more likely to strive to reach a consensus on policies.

When well-designed and properly implemented, quotas can be effective, temporary measures to increase women’s access to decision-making positions while transitioning to the point where a gender balance in political leadership can be achieved and sustained. Quotas can be adapted to fit a variety of political system, structures and contexts, and while they may not work in every situation, they can be particularly crucial within electoral systems that are not conducive to equal participation. Quotas often address an institutional barrier, whether within political parties or at a national level, and ideally, rather than placing the onus on individual women to succeed, they demand action from institutional actors and power-holders. In the 46 countries where women represented more than 30% of elected legislators as of June 2016, 40 countries had some form of quota system—either a legislative candidate quota or reserved seats (Source: http://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Deliver_For_Good_Brief_8_09.17.17.pdf, accessed on February 03, 2018).

1.2. Are they any different from the challenges women face at the national level? At the micro level, obstacles that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance (including in decision-making process) are same as which prevent their participation at the national level. However, at the macro level, challenges may be different in view of structure and type of political system, including legislative provisions.  

2. What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level? What is the role political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics?

2.1. What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level? In many countries women remain particularly under‑represented in local government and it is often the case that the stereotypes at the local community level are stronger. Action is need­ed to tackle this challenge and encourage more women to enter local politics. Mayoral and city council positions equip women with the skills nec­essary for higher levels of public office and serve to launch careers in regional and national politics. In view of this, initiatives focusing on the local lev­el, mobilising women to take political mandates in their own cities are particularly relevant, like pro­grammes developed in Germany and Portugal (Source: https://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwiEheLEg4nZAhWHrI8KHW6AANEQFggmMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Feige.europa.eu%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fdocuments%2Fmh0415104enn_0.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0eiuZG4rGaqIUWn71jO434, Accessed on February 03, 2018).

2.2. What is the role political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics? Participation in electoral processes involves much more than just voting. Political participation derives from the freedom to speak out, assemble and associate; the ability to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and the opportunity to register as a candidate, to campaign, to be elected and to hold office at all levels of government. Under international standards, men and women have an equal right to participate fully in all aspects of the political process. In practice, however, it is often harder for women to exercise this right. In post-conflict countries there are frequently extra barriers to women’s participation, and special care is required to ensure their rights are respected in this regard.

Political parties are among the most important institutions affecting women’s political participation. In most countries, parties determine which candidates are nominated and elected and which issues achieve national prominence. The role of women in political parties is therefore a key determinant of their prospects for political empowerment, particularly at the national level. Because political parties are so influential in shaping women’s political prospects, Governments and international organizations seeking to advance the participation of women in elections justifiably tend to focus on the role of political parties.   

Political participation extends beyond parties, however. Women can also become involved in certain aspects of the electoral process through independent action—particularly at the local level—and by joining civil society organizations. Some women in post-conflict countries have gained political experience by participating in non-elected transitional assemblies. Women’s networks, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, and the media can all provide avenues for women’s political participation (Source: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/publication/Chapter3.htm, accessed on February 03, 2018).

3. Do you know of any programmes or structures that support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level? Please share examples.

3.1. Do you know of any programmes or structures that support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level? Although women can vote and run for public office in nearly every country, in 2013, they accounted for only 21 percent of parliamentarians worldwide and served as head of state or head of government in twenty-four countries. Talented women who would make effective public leaders are excluded from the pool of available candidates due to financial, social and legal barriers, to the detriment of their communities. When women hold public office, they prioritize public goods that are of concern to women, including water, infrastructure, sanitation, roads, education and health.

With female political leaders present, female citizens engage more in civic discussion, women and minorities are more likely to report crimes committed against them, and adolescent girls’ career aspirations and educational attainment increase while their time spent on household chores decreases. Because of gendered behavioral expectations, women face different political challenges and opportunities than men. When they perceive female politicians as power-seeking, voters react negatively with feelings of moral outrage. Although women’s leadership is imperative for their communities, particularly for other women and adolescent girls, some norms inhibit women’s political participation.

Current research posits numerous explanations for the lack of women in leadership roles, including gender discrimination, lack of female role models, aversion to competitive environments, family responsibilities and social norms. We can address these challenges through structural changes to political frameworks and social changes in how we expect women and leaders to behave, which can give way to increasing women’s political aspirations. Following interventions will specifically support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level (Source: https://wappp.hks.harvard.edu/politics, accessed on February 03, 2018):

  • Gender Quotas: Power-seeking behavior, even when unintentional, hurts female political candidates but helps male candidates. Seat reservations for female elected officials make communities more likely to associate women with leadership and vote for women in the future. Reserving political seats for women increases female electoral participation and improves governments' responsiveness to women’s policy concerns. Yet, in the corporate sector, quotas have demonstrated mixed outcomes. In Norway, quotas for corporate boards increased gender diversity, but imposed costs on firms and shareholders, while another study found that quotas, or affirmative action, increased women's willingness to compete in competitive mixed-gender environments, closing the gender gap and resulting in the more qualified candidates, men and women alike, applying for competitive positions. 
  • Modeling Female Leadership: Women in leadership positions have a multiplying effect: Repeated exposure to female elected officials improves perceptions of female leaders and leads to future electoral gains for women. Female role models in leadership positions help adolescent girls to aspire to leadership. 
  • Political Training Programs: Mentorship, confidence building, media training and political campaign education are all effective tools to increase adolescent girls’ and women’s political aspirations and efficacy despite structural obstacles.

There are programmes or structures that support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level. There is one programme example of Women in Power (WiP) project. The Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance (DRG Center) of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the WiP project to better understand its women’s political empowerment programming; to improve upon existing measures of women’s political leadership; and to bring donors, practitioners and academics together for mutual learning to advance work in this field.

The WiP project generated substantial insights and best-practice strategies to increase the supply of women with the skills, experience and will to run for and serve in public office; strengthen the demand for women politicians and leaders; or both. Supply-side strategies provide insights on how USAID and its partners can more effectively support women leaders and candidates, close campaign finance gaps and enhance elected women’s leadership and policymaking skills. Demand-side strategies highlight practices that support the inclusion of women participants in political transitions and foster women’s access to institutions that include political parties, electoral management bodies and legislatures. Dual supply-and-demand strategies propose ways that USAID and its partners can address deep-rooted sociocultural barriers to women’s political empowerment by mainstreaming gender in civic and voter education, using the media as a force for change and combating violence against women in politics.

The WiP project also piloted a new tool for measuring women’s political empowerment: the Diamond Leadership Model (DLM). It adds to existing measures of women’s political leadership, most of which focus only on the percentage of women in a national legislature or executive cabinet, but do not capture variation in women’s representation across government sectors. The DLM closes this data gap by measuring women’s political leadership horizontally (legislative, executive, judicial and security sectors) and vertically (leadership positions at high, middle and low levels) to create a country’s Women’s Power Score (WPS). The project piloted the new model in 40 developing countries where USAID works. The DLM pilot study found that women’s political leadership is often highly uneven across government sectors; representation in one sector does not guarantee women’s leadership in other parts of the government. It also demonstrated that while much of this data was relatively easy to access, security sector data was not often publicly available and was the most challenging to collect.

The WiP project led to comprehensive and cutting-edge learning related to women’s political empowerment and identified multiple areas for improvement. A key starting point for USAID and its partners is to develop a clearer definition of women’s political empowerment that goes beyond the physical representation of women in government and includes their ability to influence public policy development and implementation. The project proposes a new working definition of women’s political empowerment, which includes: the equal participation, representation and leadership of women within government institutions, political parties and civically engaged organizations; women’s free exercise of the authority inherent in those positions; and the regular creation, implementation and enforcement of laws and policies that address women’s rights, positions and priorities.

Clarifying the meaning of women’s political empowerment is a necessary first step to advancing a more holistic approach to programming. The WiP project also highlighted a clear need for development practitioners to adopt longer-term and context-specific programming focused on increasing women’s political empowerment during all phases of the electoral and governance cycle. This includes looking at other government sectors beyond the legislature and paying closer attention to sub-national as well as national levels of government. It also requires allocating dedicated resources to support women’s political empowerment programming and developing better indicators and reporting systems to measure their impact. Finally, the project identifies areas where more robust and intentional collaboration among donors, implementing partners and academics could foster better data collection, improve shared learning, contribute to more successful programming and ultimately lead to more women empowered to serve in public office (https://www.usaid.gov/documents/2496/women-power-summary-report:  accessed on February 03, 2018).

3.2. Please share examples. Following two examples in support of programmes (or structures) that enable women elected to become leaders can be presented:

  • Example – 1: Doubling the Proportion of Women Parliamentarians in Senegal: In 2010, after long-term efforts by civil society and the national cross-party women’s network, Senegal adopted legislation calling for women to be guaranteed seats in all elective bodies at every level of  government. It set mandatory stipulations for absolute gender parity by requiring political parties to alternate one man and one women on the lists of candidates they submitted, or risk having their candidates rejected outright. In preparation for the 2012 elections, the government, along with civil society and UN Women, launched an awareness campaign and a training program on the electoral process to educate and encourage female candidates. The outcome of the 2012 elections resulted in a near balance between men and women in the National Assembly—a tangible shift toward gender parity and democracy (Source: http://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Deliver_For_Good_Brief_8_09.17.17.pdf, accessed on February 03, 2018).
  • Example – 2: The Peace Table Project: As the Asia-Pacific focus of the Women at the Peace Table project, Indonesia has made great efforts to attain gender balance in peace negotiations through a participatory process. Through convening actors from government and civil society, the project has yielded positive dialogue around ways to develop sounder and more gender-inclusive policies for peace – building. From these meetings, a report, Women at the Indonesian Peace Table: Enhancing the Contributions of Women to Conflict Resolution, was released, outlining the positive effects of women in leadership roles. As a follow-up, training sessions were conducted to address the relationship between women, peace, and security (Source: http://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Deliver_For_Good_Brief_8_09.17.17.pdf, accessed on February 03, 2018). 

4. What can local government do to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls?

Local government is the sphere of government that is closest to communities. The services that are provided by municipalities to communities can make a significant change in not only the condition, but also position of women and men, as well as play a dynamic role in redressing past racial and gender imbalances in communities. It is local government’s moral and legal responsibility to engage in a gender equality approach in all its policies, programmes and projects in order to ensure fairness in the treatment of women and men. Given ingrained disparities, equal treatment of women and men is insufficient as a strategy for gender equality. Specific measures must be developed to identify and remove the underlying causes of discrimination in policies, laws, procedures, beliefs, practices and attitudes that maintain gender inequality (Source: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/text/2004/8/draft_gender_policy_updated_july04.pdf, Accessed on February 03, 2018). Efforts have been made at international level to improve the lives of women. This has been through adoption of international instruments and programmes of action aimed at committing governments to empower women in their countries. Among these is the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN general assembly as the International Bill of Women Rights in 1979 and came into force in 1981 (Source: https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/doc_lib/123_1_reality_grassroot_uganda.pdf, Accessed on February 03, 2018).

Malliga Och's picture

For the United States, running a local campaign is increasingly expensive. In California, a state legislature race can cost upward to 1 million dollars. The same is true for mayoral races in major cities which can cost several million dollars.

Another issue that might prevent women from becoming mayors, particularly in more traditional societies, is that the mayor's office is a more masculine office than the state legislature or city council. Thus, voters might look to candidates that more closely have masculine leadership traits. This perception of the mayor as a masculine office might be exaggerated in bigger cities and in cities where the mayor has far-reaching powers.

Dewi Yuliani's picture

Generally, married women starts to think about their contribution to society later in life, which is after their children grew up. This means the women is around fifties. However, age limitation for many profession makes it difficult for those women to contribute, be it in politic, science or other social activities.

Dr. Indra Biseswar (Coach and Gender Consultant) Netherlands's picture

1. What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level?

There are many countries where political opposition is viewed as state enemy and where independent political candidates are targeted as traitors. With the introduction of women's affairs offices (WAO)in many African countries, the aim was to promote women's active engagement at all levels in society. The WAO's, however, turned into state instruments embedded with political loyalty and party propaganda. As such, when women aim to deviate from the dominant party (take Ethiopia as an example), they face numerous challenges. Local governance in this regard, is also not free from the federal influences and dictates. Here too women from the own party are selected (nomination is often rare) to represent the party's agenda and state driven National women's policy.

For women to be able to objectively strive and dictate their own emancipation agenda, there are many hurdles and challenges to overcome. Many of the known challenges are the patriarchal town-based governance structures and masculine policy making, exclusion of the female voice and concerns (often taken as non priority), cultural demands and constraints placing women's prime responsibilities away from the public areas, ridicule and mockery of women political representatives by communities (who are Low/not educated on accepting women's leadership), party dictatorship (one dominant party ruling the country for decades) and lack of decision making power. These add up to the precarious socio-economic conditions of women, making it hard for them to exert their influence.

In Uganda, women think it is better for women to strive and flight for their goals from outside the political arena, as that reduces their time in political squabbles based on party programs, national/federal dictates, and endless bureaucratic hurdles especially those of passing the bucket on (regarding decisions to be made in critical areas). There is always someone at the top (usually men), who has the final word.

The good thing is that a few female political representatives have been discovering and developing their own strategies to take up the challenges they face and to remain in the race. However, many remain loyal to the ruling party.

2. What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level?

- devise continuous training and support systems (including Tink Tanks and leadership) for female political leaders whenever needed.
- Coaching and guidance of female leaders
- information and training for local governments on the benefits getting more female politicians.
- information to communities to motivate them in the support of women politicians and the benefits thereof.
- reserve a certain percentage of seats for women.
- actively help in the grooming of female leadership starting high schools.
- use of media/social media to educate the public.

What is the role of political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics?

Political parties are not an easy target when it comes to devising a women's agenda/ or gender policy in their party program. I noted that first hand with the opposition party in Surinam where a younger chairperson was keen on getting the gender policy integrated in the party program, but where the party's senior's (elders) were not convinced. It is imperative that parties standing for election are challenged as standard with questions on how they aim to tackle various gender concerns and be committed to take up a gender policy as part of their party manifesto and election agenda. Once parties integrate this, it should turn into common practice for al parties to have such.
There are political parties that have women as active members in their party but who, during election time, fail to put any woman on the candidate list to be elected. With the gender policy this problem can be solved.
There are also parties which do advance women on the candidate list for election, but do not have a gender policy in their party program, and are often aiming for only cosmetic gains of women voters. They do not provide a comprehensive action plan or content on gender concerns.

admin's picture

Posted on befalf of Agripinner Nandhego, Programme Specialist, Political Participation and Leadership, UN Women Uganda

What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level? Are they any different from the challenges women face at the national level? 

  1. Low levels of literacy: The literacy levels for women at the lower local government level are usually much lower given the high poverty levels that do not enable them to access good schools but also the strong cultural beliefs that do not favour girls’ education in rural areas. This limits women from contesting for some leadership positions where there is a set academic level requirement.
  2. Lack of finance resources means that women are sometimes not able to raise the required funds to raise nomination fees and money to run an effective campaign. Elections by design need money for one to set up the required structures to manage a campaign, create visibility and network with colleagues which are key elements for success of any campaign.
  3. Lack of support from family members including the spouse for women intending to participate in elections demotivates some women from standing for positions. In patriarchal societies men still exert a lot of influence on their wives and in extreme cases they are refused to contest for elective positions because this is perceived as challenging the power of the man in the home. Sometimes their movement is controlled with claims that women might become promiscuous once they are given liberty to move out of the home and in such a situation they cannot effectively participate in decision making bodies.
  4. Negative cultural perceptions and attitudes about women in leadership: In patriarchal societies there is always a belief that public space is not meant for women and that by nature they cannot make good leaders. These perceptions are stronger at the lower levels making it very hard for women to contest and take up leadership at these levels. The few cases where women have been able to break though is when there are temporally measures like Uganda which has legislated 1/3 representation for women in local councils. In such cases for positions where women have to contest for direct seats with men their participation goes down.

What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level? What is the role of political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics? 

  1. Women candidate trainings: In Uganda UN women usually supports partners to map out aspiring women candidates and train them in campaign management, public speaking, media engagement among other skills. These trainings enable the women to build self-confidence to be able to address campaign rallies and also overcome some of the challenges that come with campaigns. Through such trainings women have been able to contest and win seats even in situations where they are contesting with men. Such trainings are usually conducted 1-2 years before elections to enable the women to perfect the skills.
  2. Community sensitizations: Aware of the negative cultural perceptions against women participation in leadership CSOs in Uganda with UN women support have been conducting community awareness sessions to sensitize people about the importance of women participation in decision making. This to an extent helps to change some of the negative perceptions to enable women successfully to take up leadership. Prior to the last elections held in Uganda in 2016, we supported a media campaign on TV which involved dialogues on women leadership in a commuter taxi code named ‘minibuz’. Follow up assessment of this program revealed that many people had been reached and there was a positive impact on their perception of women leadership
  3. Set up temporally quotas for women: Temporally special measures in the form of reserved seats for women can help increase women participation. The local Government Act of Uganda provides for 1/3 representation of women at the local level and this has contributed to the increased representation of women at that level (45.7%). It is important to note that in positions where there is no affirmative action policy like Chairperson of a district the representation is 1%.

What can local government do to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls?

Local governments can support achievement of gender equality by engendering their budgets and plans to offer gender responsive education services for example. This will enable more girls to enrol and stay in school which will enable them offer meaningful service to their communities in future. 

admin's picture

Posted on behalf of Abosede George-Ogan, Chief Facilitator at WomeninPoliticsNG -- an online platform to encourage, engage, equip and empower women, especially young women, to get involved and participate in politics in Nigeria. 

1. What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level? Are they any different from the challenges women face at the national level?

In the Nigerian society, women face myriads of challenges that have stood in the way of their progress; not only in politics but in their social and corporate life. Some of these challenges are as a result of how the society is structured to favour men. Nigerian women have encountered a number of problems while venturing into politics. There is a large scale of discrimination from the men folk, both in voting for candidates and in allocating political offices. A major factor that have hindered women participation in local governance is culture - patriarchy culture. African societies believe that it's the men's world and women should listen while men take the lead. Some of the purveyors  of this mentality have taken solace from religions and have deeply situated their beliefs in Religious teachings. This has constituted itself to be a set back for women participation in politics. Imagine a community where young ladies stood in amazement when they saw a lady driving a car. From their reaction, they were not expecting a lady to be behind the wheels, they believe driving is for men only. What would one tell these young ladies about taking up political roles at their local level? One might have to remove the cultural mental cobwebs through proper sensitization. 

Another challenge is societal prejudice. The society has limited the scope of educational and professional training accessible by women. Employers prefer to recruit and promote men in the corporate settings base on the assumption that women are less achievement oriented and are often distracted by domestic duties. This assumption is not only misleading but detrimental to our collective growth. It has been proven empirically that there are few, if any important differences between men and women that affect their job performance; but the corporate world has continued to interact with women base on this assumption. 

Also, lack of adequate education has hindered women from actively participating in local politics and governance. In most families in Nigeria, parents prefer to send their male children to school than female children. This has accounted for the level of illiteracy recorded among women, hence, a reasonable percentage of women remain uneducated and unexposed. 

Lastly, lack of adequate finance is a crucial hindrance to women political participation. Just as cost of governance is expensive in Nigeria, cost of winning election is more expensive. Females are no match to their male counterpart in terms of financial stability and strength. The factor responsible for this might be that of societal prejudice mentioned earlier. These barriers are surmountable. Only If the solutions proffered subsequently are implemented. 

2. What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level?

Women participation in politics is pivotal to the social, economic and democratic growth of any nation. That is why it pertinent to embrace all forms of positive measures that will stimulate as well as sustain women's interest in political participation. One of these ways is implementation of quota allotment reserved for women. The problem of making laws and not implementing them is affecting virtually all sectors and this has also fast-tracked underdevelopment for women in politics. It is important that percentages seats in government as recommended by different notable bodies be adopted and thoroughly implemented. 

In addition, to sustain women's participation in politics, there is the need for unparallel training and retraining with a unique innovative approach to impact knowledge and equip them with required resources for optimal productivity. With knowledge comes power and information for liberation; information cutting across all spheres of political participation, to motivate, support and encourage. This social sensitization should be extended to the general public as it would correct various stereotypic notions that could cause retrogression in women political participation. We @womeninpoliticsng have been caught in the web of encouraging and equipping women to participate in politics.

In the same vein, active grooming and mentoring will go a long way in advancing women political participation and representation. Proper coaching and orientation would birth attitudinal change in women and break them from the patriarchal shackles imposed by the society. Some women are definitely interested in contributing their quota of proper representation in governance but they need concrete escapism to stay above the social limitations. Therefore, a mentorship scheme would position them in the right perspective to achieving this feat. 

Finally, a collaborative effort, involving all major stakeholders in the political schematic of operations is a sure way out to attaining a desired level of women representation in politics. Socio-economic transformation can only get better if women are given and encouraged to take their rightful position in governance; all hands must be on deck. 

3. What is the role of political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics  Do you know of any programmes or structures that support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level? Please share examples.

In a country like Nigeria where independent candidacy is still a mirage, one has to contest for any political office under the banner of a political party; therefore, political parties are crucial to determining who to represent the party at the polls. Political parties can support women participation in politics by allocating a certain percentage of all elective offices to women. If possible, they might even go to the level of not conducting primaries for the women except there are more than one candidate for that particular office. (though this might not be in line with party constitution). Also, for women interested in politics, political parties should reduce the requirements especially financial requirements necessary to run for a particular elective office. This will encourage more women to participate and bring them to the decision - making table. Political parties should have gender equality motivated policies as it will drive their actions.

4. What can local government do to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls?

Grassroot politicking and mobilisation is one of the foundational principles of a true democracy. Since democracy is an all inclusive system, rural dwellers especially women must be incorporated into the decision making process for proper representation. Local Government Authorities have a strategic role to play in this regard as they are the closest to those in the grassroot. The Local Government must ensure a gender balanced atmosphere especially in its policy formulation and implementation. They must create a level playing ground that would facilitate gender equality. Their actions would speak to the sensibilities of local community occupants especially those that are still beclouded by the patriarchal domination. This should be accompanied by proper awareness of the women folks on the need to be more active and take the bull by the horn. The LGAs should also organise programmes that would transform the minds of the women and allocate more resources for girls education at the elementary and secondary level.

Ionica Berevoescu's picture

Women’s representation in local government is measured by one of the new indicators set to monitor the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely the SDG indicator 5.5.1b. The development of the indicator, led by UN Women, is a key step in measuring, understanding and improving women’s political participation at local level. Although some data on women’s representation in local government have already been produced by many countries, the indicators used for data dissemination varied and, occasionally, included data of limited quality. While this past work played an important role in making the underrepresentation of women in local government visible, it is important that the new indicator is consistently used from now on. Consistency in collecting and reporting data will enable sound comparisons across countries and computations of global and regional averages of women’s representation in local government. It may seem like a small thing, but we are not yet able to do such simple comparisons and computations at the global scale.

The SDG indicator 5.5.1b was designed to be measured in a simple, clear and cost-effective way: the proportion of elected positions held by women in local councils or equivalent deliberative bodies of local government. The primary source of information is the low-cost administrative data based on electoral records produced and upheld by Electoral Management Bodies or equivalent bodies tasked with organizing elections at local level.

However, it is also important that the SDG indicator 5.5.1b is complemented by additional data on women’s political participation at local level. For instance, countries are also recommended to collect and disseminate data on women’s representation among voters, candidates in local elections, members of local executive bodies, and leadership positions in local government (such as mayors and council heads). This additional statistical information can contribute to understanding women’s political participation at local level and support better-informed national policies, strategies and programmes.

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Posted on behalf of Kadidia Doumbia, Specialist in Gender and Education, DC Human Rights Liaison and former Grassroots Coordinating Committee co-chair for the Democratic Party in the Washington DC area.

1. What are the challenges that hinder women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level? Are they any different from the challenges women face at the national level?

Women’s political participation and representation at the local governance and decision-making level are hindered by stereotypes of women who should be home and the men’s supremacy that refuses to give them a space.

In most societies, women are not invited to sit at the table even if their number in the political arena, has grown, for the past 20 years.

Many of the challenges come from within their own parties where they have been very active in helping with elections but have never been seen, as potential candidates; the voter’s perception of women politicians is another issue, people need to be educated and understand that a woman is as good as a man to conduct political affairs.

The attacks on their reputation often based on false assertions, by spreading anonymous rumors, force many women to withdraw from politics. 

2. What are the good practices that help advance women’s political participation and representation at the local level? What is the role political parties in supporting women’s engagement in local politics?

Women need to get organized and take ownership of their political engagement. Men will not do it for them. They need trainings, support by their peers and communities. Funding is also an issue. In the United States, for instance “ To successfully run for Congress, candidates spend an average of about $1.3 million for a seat in the House and $10.4 million for a Senate seat, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”(https://www.teenvogue.com/story/big-thing-keeping-women-out-of-politics-money-running)

Political parties need to be honest with women candidates. It should be clear from the very beginning if they will support a woman or not. That said, based on the realities on the ground, women should work very hard on the ground to be accepted by the constituents and not wait for the party.

Women should be invited to sit at the table to discuss social and political issues that have an impact on the whole society or country. 

3. Do you know of any programmes or structures that support women elected at the local level to become leaders at the national level? Please share examples.

In the USA for instance, such organizations as Emerge, She Should Run, Vote Run Lead, Ready To Run are focusing on getting women ready to run or to support other women who run.

Many of them offer online trainings which is very convenient for women who can follow them from anywhere in the world. 

4. What can local government do to achieve gender equality and empower rural women and girls?

The first thing is to make education mandatory. Depending on the realities of every government the requirements may differ.

The second element is to emphasize the fact that women are citizens and have civil rights. It should be visible on the laws passed and how they are implemented and enforced.

Rural women need access to lands, to micro-finance and basic literary and financial education.

For all, the right to vote and to be heard.

 

Ionica Berevoescu's picture

Women’s networks can play an important role in supporting and inspiring women’s engagement in local politics. One such global initiative comes to mind. At its flagship conference last November (2017) in Malta, CLGF launched a new network for Commonwealth Women in Local Government, with the aim of supporting more women to get involved in local government as politicians and practitioners, and to increase the influence of women in the decisions made about local priorities. Check the link to information on the launching, including the three influential speakers – Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca (the President of Malta), Patricia Scotland (Commonwealth Secretary General), and Helen Clark (former prime minister of New Zealand): http://www.clgf.org.uk/whats-new/news/launch-of-the-women-in-local-gover...

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Posted on behalf of Sifisosami Dube, Head of Programmes, Gender Links, South Africa. 

Gender Links is working with 430 local government councils to mainstream gender in service delivery. Using the Centres of Excellence programme, a 10 stage process involving council buy-in, action planning and sharing of best practices of gender mainstreaming in service delivery. We focus on gender focal persons and gender champions in the councils to spearhead gender equality at a local level. Our main framework is the SADC Gender Protocol which is aligned to international gender instruments and the Sustainable Development Goals.