A revision to Nicaragua’s law on municipal elections last year required political parties to put up equal numbers of women and men as candidates for mayor and city council. It also increased the number of city council seats in each municipality. The result has been more women than ever winning races for mayor and city council.
One of them was Antonia Rizo, a city councilor in San Sebastian de Yal. “When I arrived at my position, I was afraid to speak,” she said, because of lack of familiarity with the city’s legal system.
And she was not alone.
While having more women in government is a plus for gender equality, many of the new office holders felt ill-equipped to handle the challenges of their new positions, having had little opportunity to participate in politics.
To help them become acclimated to life in office, NDI and UN Women brought together mayors and councilors elected in 2012 for a series of trainings entitled, “Getting a Head Start: Successful Female Politicians.” Conducted in three two-day sessions from May to October, the trainings were held in four cities - Managua, Matagalpa, Bilwi and Bluefields - to make them accessible to women across the country.
The program, with 102 participants from six political parties, was led by municipal and gender experts from Nicaragua and the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The training covered such topics as municipal law, public policy and constituent communication, and used videos and group exercises, among other techniques.
One participant who welcomed the emphasis on cross-party communication was Yamilet Baldelomar, a councilor from El Rama. She said that because of the workshop her “leadership level has increased” and she can now “build rapport with citizens regardless of their political affiliation.”
The program also provided a rare opportunity for female politicians from across Nicaragua to meet and network.
“This course has helped us feel more secure, has motivated us and enabled us to implement new strategies in our towns, and to work in accordance with regulations and legal statutes,” said Nelda Damaris Mendoza, the vice mayor of Ciudad Antigua. And being able “to provide this information to the rest of the municipal government, allows us to be models of good governance.”
Ivania Hooker, a councilor from Bluefields, said she also felt a new sense of empowerment.
“Personally, the course inspired me to commit to myself and to the society I’m a part of, to not be afraid of the stereotypes imposed by the men who feel that they will be at a disadvantage if women participate,” she said.
NDI and UN Women organized the program with funding from the United States Agency for International Development and the Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation.
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Published Nov. 20, 2013