Nairobi Forum ‘85 and the 1987 International Caucus of Women Political Leaders: From its earliest days, NDI has contributed to the global dialogue on women's political participation and leadership. The Institute’s engagement in Forum '85 - which presaged the non-governmental track in the UN's conferences on the status of women - helped define NDI’s broad approach to women’s political empowerment. More than 13,000 women from NGOs around the globe gathered at the July 1985 forum in Nairobi, which immediately preceded the UN's Third World Conference on the Status of Women. Forum ‘85 set the tone for developments leading to the 1995 Beijing Conference, the UN’s Fourth Conference on “Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace”.Mrs. Coretta Scott King gave the opening address at the second workshop (co-sponsored by NDI and the African-American Institute), which was closed by NDI's then Program Director and later Vice President for Programs, Vivian Derryck. Those workshops served to introduce NDI to women political leaders from all regions as a basis for future programs around the world. Numerous workshop participants urged NDI to convene a subsequent global meeting focused on women's political leadership, which the Institute set out to do.
NDI's March 1987 Eleanor Roosevelt International Caucus of Women Political Leaders, brought together 62 high level delegates from 38 countries and territories, plus 50 observers from the US and abroad. The Caucus was held in San Francisco and was hosted by then Mayor Dianne Feinstein. President Corazon Aquino provided a video message, while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and three other women heads of government sent written messages from Dominica, Iceland, and Norway. NDI Chairman and former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale addressed the assembly, as did Vice Chair Madeleine Albright and President Brian Atwood. NDI Board Members Elizabeth Bagley and Geraldine Ferraro, who chaired the Caucus, also participated. Alongside women civil society, legislative and governmental leaders from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Canada and New Zealand, Senator Barbara Mikulski, then at the start of her momentous senatorial career and a former NDI Board Member, participated in the International Caucus.
The Caucus was the first gathering of women leaders concerned solely with developing specific strategies to increase women's leadership in government and politics. It set up a steering committee to explore establishing the International Institute for Women's Political Leadership (IIWPL). The committee was chaired by Geraldine Ferarro and included NDI Board Members Madeleine Albright, Avonne Fraser and Rachelle Horowitz, as well as Senator Mikulski; former Liberia minister of finance and that country’s future president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; Second Vice President of Costa Rica Victoria Garron de Doryan; former minister of education and later Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados Billie Miller, special minister of state of Australia Senator Susan Ryan; and former president of New Zealand's National Party Sue Wood, among others.
Though the IIWPL was not successful in gaining program funding, it attracted considerable attention from women political leaders. The concept enhanced networking, solidified NDI's commitment to the arena and contributed to subsequent efforts by NDI and others to bring attention to the issue of women's political leadership. Participants in the San Francisco caucus and IIWPL joined NDI programs in numerous countries and continued networking through NDI’s efforts with the international associations of political parties (“political internationals”) and NDI’s International Leaders Forums organized in parallel with the U.S. Democratic Party’s Democratic National Conventions.
Win With Women: NDI’s Win With Women Global Initiative leveraged these early networks in convening the 2003 Win with Women: Strengthening Political Parties Global Forum, which was led by NDI Board Chair Madeleine Albright and Board Member Geraldine Ferraro. Working groups preceding the forum delved into issues related to women's participation and leadership as voters, political party leaders, candidates, and elected officials.Global Action Plan, which presented 46 specific actions to remove restrictions on women’s political participation and strengthen women's meaningful leadership in political parties. Those actions were presented as a prerequisite for increasing the number of women as candidates, elected officials and political decision-makers advocating for legislation that enshrines the full equality of men and women. The initial list of 27 noted women political leaders who signed the Global Action Plan grew to nearly 1,000 and the Initiative’s influence continues to be apparent in NDI's gender, women and democracy approach. The WWW Political Parties Assessment tools are an example. The Win With Women initiative also led to the establishment of NDI’s Women's Political Participation team in 2003, which in 2014 was renamed the Gender, Women and Democracy (GWD) team.
Advancing Norms and Practical Approaches: NDI’s approach to women’s political empowerment programming has consistently aimed to advance norms and standards for gender equality at the global level, as well as to provide practical tools and shared experiences for use in specific countries. Many initiatives have flowed from the creation of the internal unit dedicated to supporting NDI's commitment to women's political empowerment and gender equality, including: #NotTheCost: Stopping Violence Against Women in Politics program, with a special focus on ending online violence and hate speech; the decade long Changing the Face of Politics campaign, which contributes to the UN’s call to “accelerate the pace of change” on all aspects of women’s empowerment; and Men, Power and Politics, which challenges male political leaders to become transformational change agents for gender equality.
NDI’s participation at the Women Deliver 2023 Conference in Kigali, Rwanda (WD2023) is a recent example of the Institute continuing this global and regional work. WD2023 gathered approximately 6,000 in-person and 200,000 online participants over the course of six days inStacey Abrams and GWD Director Sandra Pepera. NDI's activities included engagements with political leaders such as Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, climate activist Vanessa Nakate, Nobel Laureate and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark, and Mayor Constance Muleabai of Livingston, Zambia, as well as with a wide range of organizations including the Population Council, the International Republican Institute, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Open Society Foundation. At the WD2023, the Institute introduced a new tool developed in partnership with NDI's regional teams on how local governments can plan and implement the equitable delivery of services through inclusive and participatory processes.
NDI’s DISRUPTHER program is one way the Institute focuses on the next generation of women’s political leadership. The DISRUPTHER program has been carefully curated based on the expertise of leading organizations already focused on girls' empowerment - including the Population Council, Women Win, Running Start and EnCompass - who recognize the need to also build adolescent girls’ political ambitions and opportunities for political leadership. Addressing this programming gap and supporting the development of these capabilities by adolescent girls and young women as they transition into adulthood can fundamentally alter the course of their individual lives, the dynamic of their communities and create more inclusive, sustainable and resilient governance structures.
Country and Regional Examples of NDI Women’s Political Empowerment Programs: The Institute has also implemented numerous country and multi-country programs to promote women's political empowerment, each reflecting the local country context and regional conditions. The following is a small sample of these programs that illustrates NDI’s broad approach.
Kenya 1992-95: NDI country director Wanda Williams (now Director of Political Action and Legislation for District Council 37, New York City’s largest public employee union) conducted countrywide grassroots training sessions for women interested in running for political office at all levels in Kenya. The program grew to include other staff, international experts and Kenyan partners. Hundreds of women who became candidates and office holders started in the training sessions. Some of them went on to be MPs, including Charity Ngilu, who became a Minister, Kenya's first ever woman Presidential Candidate, and a governor. She and others have also joined NDI delegations to other countries. The program was unique in drawing together women political activists from the ruling and opposition parties along with those from civil society to exchange information and build bridges as well as address running for office and managing campaigns. Among the civic organizations that co-sponsored program activities over the years were the League of Kenyan Women Voters, Institute for Education in Democracy, Gender Sensitive Initiatives, National Commission on the Status of Women, National Council for the Advancement of Women and Children, and the Democratic Foundation.
Central and Eastern Europe Regional Initiative 1994-1995: Recognizing similarities among the barriers to women’s political participation in countries across central and eastern Europe following the collapse of the Iron Curtain, NDI organized two region-wide conferences to advance women’s political leadership, involving 95 participants from 15 countries. The multi-day working sessions allowed participants to gain from sharing experiences and networking across the region’s northern tier and the Balkans. The conferences were held in Bucharest (1994) co-hosted by Romania’s Pro-Democracy Association and Skopje (1995), co-hosted by Northern Macedonia’s Association for Civic Initiatives, bringing together women elected officials and political party leaders at national and local levels as well as from politically active NGOs. The sessions concentrated on skills needed to run for office, develop and represent constituencies, and develop, define, and promote policy responses to public issues. In addition to the relationships and networks built across borders, the conferences fostered cooperation among participants from different political parties and NGOs in the same countries. NDI helped them build upon that through country programs, and participants in six countries conducted skills-building sessions with their peers after attending the conferences.
Indonesia late 1990s-early 2000s: NDI’s work in Indonesia in the late 1990s through early 2000s, which witnessed the country's return to democracy in 1999, included reaching across political parties and civil society to promote women’s political leadership. Those efforts helped to establish the Political Women's Caucus of Indonesia (Kaukus Perempuan Politik Indonesia/KPPI), a voluntary organization of women from all the country's major parties. It also engaged women leaders from civic organizations, government, trade unions, academia and the media. Formed in 2000, KPPI helped enable landmark gains in increasing women’s effective engagement in politics, both in elections and political leadership. Ahead of the 2004 legislative elections, KPPI worked with networks of women’s NGOs and fought to have a legal candidate quota in the election law that required all party candidate lists to include at least 30 percent women candidates. These efforts opened up public discourse on advancing women's participation in elections, propelled changes to the election law, and ultimately led to more women being nominated and elected. KPPI continues to play a vital role in advocating women’s empowerment in Indonesia’s political institutions and processes.
Morocco 2002-2004: Only two women were elected in Morocco's 1997 parliamentary elections, then the lowest percentage in the Arab world. Moroccan women activists, led by the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women, set out to radically change the status of women in political life, focusing on the 2002 elections. The association approached NDI for help, and together, the organizations developed a plan to increase women’s representation in the legislature by convincing party leaders that the integration of women could build a larger voter base and help them win more seats while also increasing women’s political profile and grooming likely candidates. In parallel with that, a series of campaign training schools were organized over two years to prepare women as qualified candidates and a multi-media public education campaign was conducted to build support for women as candidates. Ultimately, the party leaders decided to adopt a voluntary quota that would see 30 seats elected from a national list devoted to women. The parties also agreed to place women higher on their district level lists and use party resources to promote women’s candidacies. The result, which exceeded everyone’s expectations, was that 35 women were elected in 2002 - an increase that vaulted Morocco to the top of the Arab world in women’s political participation. NDI trained one third of the women who were ultimately elected, and many relationships developed in 2001-02 persist to this day.
Mexico 2010 and 2011: NDI convened stakeholders from across Mexico to ensure that legislation promoting women’s political participation would be enacted. Civil society activists, government representatives, academics, and women from leading political parties came together in a coalition for “2% and More Women in Politics”. It developed and advocated for a regulation to promote enforcement of the federal election code’s provision designating 2% of federal political party funding for women’s leadership training. The reforms were approved by the National Electoral Institute (INE) in July 2011, and the July 2012 elections saw historic gains for women’s representation in national politics, with 183 seats in the 500-seat national legislature going to women candidates - a 5.4 percent increase from the previous election. The 2% initiative used new methods, including social media, to generate support and pressure government officials. Following this achievement on the national level, the National Institute for Women (INMUJERES) and NDI developed a toolkit with a detailed guide on how to organize an advocacy campaign. NDI used the guide to support local groups that successfully advocated passage of 2% regulations in Puebla and Sinaloa states. To promote the sustainability of the initiative, NDI partners have assumed responsibility for supporting local coalitions working to ensure state level party funding for women’s political participation.
Central and West Africa, 2018 ongoing: NDI's innovative "Men, Power and Politics" (MPP) approach addresses patriarchal and misogynistic norms that can prevent women from advancing in politics. The “personalize, politicize, strategize” methodology engages male leaders in political parties, civil society, and the media in exercises that enable them to appreciate how they can adapt their behaviors and use their influence to work alongside women for organizational transformation within their parties and organizations. Globally, NDI has helped hundreds of participants engage in MPP discussions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Lebanon, Liberia, and North Macedonia. Participants have reported positive changes in their personal and professional lives as they interact with and promote women as leaders, and NDI has seen promising results in terms of the advancement of women where participants have applied their new understandings. Male leaders have notably reported that they were helping more at home and promoting concepts of positive masculinity among their friends and acquaintances. In Nigeria, civil society executive directors who participated in the program began to transfer more decision-making responsibility for the organization to female program staff. In the DRC, one party allocated posts in government equally to men and women because of the experience with MPP; and in Burkina Faso, male political party leaders for the first time assisted their female counterparts in organizing an event for March 8, International Women’s Day, a task that had always before been seen as women’s work.
Authors: Pat Merloe, Strategic Advisor to NDI and Sandra Pepera, Director of the Gender, Women and Democracy
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.