About Women and Democracy
Women around the world often face daunting social, economic and political challenges. For democratic governments to deliver to their constituents, they must be truly representative, and NDI recognizes that women must be equal partners in the process of democratic development. As activists, elected officials and constituents, their contributions are crucial to building a strong and vibrant society. It is therefore essential to support women around the world because:
Women are highly committed to promoting national and local policies that address the socio-economic and political challenges facing women, children and disadvantaged groups.
Women are particularly effective in promoting honest government. Countries where women are supported as leaders and at the ballot box have a correspondingly low level of corruption.
Women are strongly committed to peace building, as they often disproportionately suffer the consequences of armed conflict. Reconstruction and reconciliation efforts take root more quickly and are more sustainable when women are involved. By helping women become participating members of a democracy, one can look to mitigate conflicts or stop conflicts before they begin.
Women are strongly linked to positive developments in education, infrastructure and health standards at the local level. Where rates of gender development and empowerment are higher, human rates of development and standards of living are also higher.
These facts help guide NDI’s work with women, who have a profound positive democratic impact on communities, legislatures and the lives of citizens. Women must be trained, encouraged and empowered to become strong politicians, community leaders and activists.
Introduction to NDI’s Gender, Women and Democracy Programs
Since 1985, NDI has organized innovative and targeted programs across the globe to increase the number, effectiveness and popular support of women civic leaders, voters, candidates, political party representatives and elected leaders in the belief that as more women become politically involved, institutions will become more responsive to the needs of all citizens.
NDI currently works in more than 70 countries, creating programs that are specifically tailored to women and ensuring that women are a part of every existing NDI program. At any given time, nearly 75 percent of NDI country programs have a dedicated component addressing women’s political participation – in legislature, political parties and civil society as leaders, activists and informed citizens. The Institute has also introduced several global initiatives that aim to connect politically active women and help them network freely across time and place.
The United Nations has highlighted working with women as a Millennium Development Goal, and NDI is a leader in linking women’s political participation with good democratic governance. To continue this tradition of excellence, NDI seeks to expand its impact by deepening its work with women at the local and executive levels and working with men to promote women’s full participation in political life.
Through innovative programs that strengthen women’s political skills, emphasize how women are impacted by public policy, and improve the perception of women in political life, NDI has demonstrated its commitment to making democracy deliver, even in challenging environments. The Institute leverages its high-level political relationships to encourage leaders to understand and actively promote the benefits of gender-balanced politics. NDI focuses on training women as well as on the inclusion of a gender perspective in every NDI program. This dual approach has strengthened the Institute’s ability to build women’s skills and organize women across ethnic and political lines, as well as create the opportunity for women from diverse backgrounds to converge around shared goals to solve problems in ways that contribute to the development and well-being of their societies.
To reach the widest range of women leaders and activists, NDI uses a broad spectrum of inventive and inclusive strategies and techniques that are uniquely adapted to best fit the local cultural and political contexts of the communities in which we work.
Working with women at the local level
NDI trains, supports and encourages women at various stages of engagement in the political process, including at the local level. Through its women’s political participation programs, NDI helps women develop political skills and strengthen constituent relations at the community level.
In Burkina Faso, NDI provided assistance to over 100 women mayors, deputy mayors and municipal council chairs and distributed the Cahier de la Conseillere, a manual and resource to each of Burkina Faso’s 5,000 women local councilors. This manual contains concrete information on municipal council administration, the decentralization process, and the roles and responsibilities of local councilors.
NDI’s local women’s program in Azerbaijan focused on a group of concerned women citizens and activists looking to make a difference in their communities. The program, which strengthened advocacy skills and engaged women in civic life, resulted in the creation of a new Internet center for women, repair of crumbling roads, the establishment of regular constituent office hours with local politicians, and a hotline for questions about marriage contracts and early marriages. Several of the women activists trained by NDI were even elected to chair their neighborhood action committees.
Working with women in national parliaments
One of NDI’s strengths is its multifaceted approach to democracy and governance programming. In addition to working with women at the local level, NDI consistently carries out a wide range of programming for women at the national level.
Originally established with the support of NDI, the Macedonian Women’s Parliamentary Club, made up of women MPs, has made impressive strides in addressing the rights of women. One of its first achievements was to amend the electoral law to mandate that 30 percent of candidates on party lists be women and to introduce a list placement system, which mandates that every third place on the list go to a woman candidate. With these amendments in place, 36 women MPs were elected in 2006. The club held policy briefings on women’s issues, passed an amendment to Macedonia’s Health Care Law mandating free mammograms and presented a legislative initiative to strengthen the Law on Domestic Violence.
NDI often incorporates its global initiatives into women’s political participation programs. As part of its Win With Women program, NDI worked with more than 124 female federal and state legislators, candidates, party leaders and their staffs from three political parties in Mexico. NDI trained the women on various political techniques so they could work more effectively in the political area. Training focused on message development, media management techniques, and negotiation.
In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, NDI provided technical assistance and support to “Barefoot Candidates,” women who campaigned barefoot to symbolize their integrity and humility and to express their connection with constituents. By providing candidate training workshops, NDI and the newly formed Political Caucus of Women Leaders in Mindanao worked to address widespread corruption in elections by helping women, such as the Barefoot Candidates, who were running on a platform of improving communities through transparent, effective governance.
Working with women is an important piece of NDI’s strategy in Sudan, where the Institute has a number of programs. For example, created in partnership with the Sudan Radio Service, the Let's Talk! radio program introduces listeners to a wide range of civic topics, including the role of women in politics, and encourages women to become more politically active. Prior to the radio program, NDI also brought together women's organizations from northern and Southern Sudan to encourage dialogue between individuals of different ethnic, tribal, religious and cultural groups. As part of this dialogue, NDI provided concrete information about the rights of women under their country’s constitution.
Supporting Women in Peacemaking and Transitional Governments
The importance of including women and women’s voices in peace negotiations, transitional governments and long-term political processes is critical to the stability of emerging democracies. In each stage of a country’s democratic transition, whether it is still entrenched in conflict or moving toward reconciliation, there are opportunities for women’s inclusion that will have a profound effect on determining a successful outcome. With this in mind, USAID created the Global Women’s Leadership Fund (GWLF), designed to promote women’s participation in peace negotiations, political transitions, democratic institutions and legal frameworks for reconciliation.
Through this fund, NDI is working to increase women’s participation in transitional institutions by fostering dialogue with emerging transitional authorities regarding the importance of including women as negotiators, peacebuilders and in political institutions. NDI is also working with political parties to increase women's participation as voters, party members, leaders, candidates and elected officials. NDI’s GWLF programming is underway in a number of countries including Burma, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
Supporting the creation of networks and coalitions for women politicians
To build an inclusive political environment, NDI works to foster coalitions between women politicians and activists so they can support each other. This includes bringing women together across national and party lines, which has led to the creation of women’s coalitions working jointly to ensure the development and passage of vital policy and legislation.
In Jordan, NDI provided technical assistance, training and support to women running for parliament and helped launch Women Helping Women: Jordan’s Women’s Election Network (WHW), a network of people interested in supporting and funding women candidates. WHW provided fundraising training to several women candidates, raised money and in-kind donations for candidates, and implemented a post-election survey on women’s participation in the national Jordanian elections. NDI also completed and launched a book and video documentary entitled First Class, which profiles the women Senators and MPs in Jordan from 2003-2007. Available in English and Arabic, the booklet and video can be viewed here.
In Bulgaria and Romania, NDI worked to strengthen multi-party women’s caucuses and provided networking opportunities for women politicians. This initiative enhanced women’s political participation in both countries through the exchange of best practices through a series of cross-border workshops.
To create an environment favorable to women’s political participation in Indonesia, NDI explored priorities and perspectives among voters, conducted consultations to deliver specialized campaigning techniques to each party, and led a series of multi-party trainings to help women party activists and leaders develop political skills. In addition to working with eight political parties, NDI worked with the Indonesian Women’s Political Caucus (KPPI). NDI provides on-going technical assistance to KPPI on how to broaden its membership base, raise funds for women candidates, expand its network of branches, strengthen its capacity to train candidates, and sharpen its advocacy for structural changes to women's political leadership in Indonesia.
Strengthening Women’s Political Party Leadership
In advance of the 2006 transitional elections in Mauritania, NDI supported a steering committee of women leaders from political parties and civil society whose successful lobbying led to the adoption of a quota mandating that 20 percent of all candidates be women. NDI also worked with the committee to develop a broad media campaign that included the production of a documentary, TV and radio spots, and print ads to raise awareness of women candidates. Mauritania emerged from these elections with the second-highest proportion of women representatives in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Because enhancing the capacity of women to represent their parties and serve the public as elected officials allows women to participate in and more effectively influence legislation and policy-making, NDI implemented a program to enhance the training available to women inside political parties in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. After conducting an assessment to identify the challenges women activists in political parties face in competing for leadership positions, NDI facilitated further discussion at a regional conference followed by a workshop for core trainers to address those challenges. NDI then supported each of these core trainers to deliver follow-up trainings and activities tailored to specific political needs and interests of political women leaders in their home countries. In the 18 months following the conference, more than 3,200 women in political parties in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao were trained by the core trainers in political leadership skills.
Building the political and leadership skills of women
After many years of working successfully to advance women’s political participation, NDI is strategically placed to offer targeted, high-level training to build and sharpen practical campaign and political skills needed by aspiring and accomplished women political leaders around the globe.
In partnership with the Simon Bolivar Andean University, NDI launched its Women’s Leadership Institute with 35 Bolivian women representing a variety of political parties, citizen groups, labor unions and NGOs. For six weeks, Bolivian experts used interactive training techniques on such topics as strategic planning, conflict resolution and negotiation, advocacy, and Internet communication technologies. The participants then put the training into practice in a month-long program in which they applied their newly-acquired skills within their respective organizations.
NDI often provides support to women through regional training academies such as the Maghreb Regional Campaign Academy held in Marrakech, Morocco. Nearly 60 women from Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia gathered to develop a regional network and to receive pointers from campaign experts and experienced women political leaders such as U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.
NDI offers several global initiatives that connect and support women politicians and activists around the world.
Tackling Violence Against Women in Politics
Women’s full and equal political participation is a human right, a measure of democratic integrity, and results in real gains for society. But violence against women in politics is a major barrier to women’s political participation, and threatens to undo many of the gains that have been made toward political equality. To address this serious issue, NDI is bringing together the different groups concerned with the issue and building on the shared analysis of international experts in order to move towards the creation of a Global Action Plan to address violence against women in politics -- an action plan that can be used effectively by activists, politicians and policymakers in their own countries to raise awareness, mitigate violence and increase the accountability of perpetrators.
Around the world, women are targeted by violence because of their commitment to vote, their jobs as electoral officials and their aspirations to hold political office. NDI categorizes this kind of violence as “violence against women in elections” (VAW-E), recognizing that election-related violence against women is a separate issue from general electoral violence because it is specifically aimed at preventing women from exercising their voice and agency. To address the issue, NDI’s Gender, Women and Democracy team has undertaken an innovative new program to strengthen the capacity of election observers to monitor and mitigate VAW-E and to promote a deeper understanding of the phenomenon worldwide.
The International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKNOW Politics) was created by NDI and its partners, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWOMEN), the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, to encourage women’s participation and effectiveness in political life globally. A virtual forum in English, Spanish, French and Arabic, iKNOW Politics is an online portal for resources and expertise that provides opportunities for women to share their experiences, access information and build a supportive online community to promote women’s political participation. Since its inception in February of 2007, iKNOW Politics, the first network of its kind, has averaged 1.5 million hits a month, and serves elected women officials, candidates, decision-makers, political leaders and civic groups, as well as academics, students and practitioners worldwide.
Because the meaningful inclusion of women is integral to vibrant democratic development and strong political parties, NDI and its chairman, Madeleine K. Albright, launched the Win with Women Global Initiative to promote strategies for increasing women's political leadership worldwide. The anchor of this initiative is the Global Action Plan, a document that outlines practical recommendations for political parties to broaden their appeal by addressing women's role as voters, candidates, party activists and elected officials; the Global Action Plan was created in 2003 and has since been translated into more than a dozen languages. Activists and dozens of political parties, civic organizations and intergovernmental institutions have signed onto the plan, and many are using it to improve women’s access to political leadership.
As part of its commitment to promoting the equitable participation of women in politics and government, NDI established the Madeleine K. Albright Grant in 2005 as a means of acknowledging and supporting small or developing grassroots organizations around the world that have effectively worked to promote women’s participation in politics. With support from the Mel and Bren Simon Foundation, NDI selects the recipient from a competitive pool of applicants who submit proposals to receive $25,000 to support specific initiatives that further promote women’s role in political life or civic life. Past recipients include the Women’s Political Caucus of Indonesia, the Mostar Women Citizen’s Initiative of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone.
For more information about these programs, use our contact form or dial our main telephone number: 1-202-728-5500.