Violence Against Women: A Threat to Participatory Democracy

A female election official in Nigeria marks the thumb of a voter on election day in 2015 to help prevent double voting.

For the first time in history, over half the world’s population lives under elected governments. Yet, even in the most established democracies, women continue to be widely under-represented as voters, political leaders and elected officials. As half the world’s population, women are a key part of any democracy and their full and equal participation is a human right, and a measure of democratic integrity. Furthermore, we now have evidence of the positive effects of women’s participation. This can be seen in peace processes, where women’s involvement in peace negotiations means that the settlements are 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. Equally, a study that tracked women’s increased participation in local councils in India, showed that more women councillors led to increased investment in public services such as water and roads, improved parents’ aspirations for their daughters, and “erased” the gap between the boys’ and girls’ educational achievements.

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Papa said: “Set a benchmark for the women in our community”

Sehrish Naseem, the 2016 Andi Parhamovich Fellow, at Marietta College Speaking about Young Pakistani Women Leading Transition in Their Society.

One day at breakfast when I was 23 years old I asked my father, “Papa, why is not aunty considering to contest the general elections, even though she is an active member of our community?” A smile appeared on his face and replied, “because if she does our community will stop considering her a woman.” My aunt was not a politician, but as an opinionated and socially active woman with a deep understanding of the issues facing Pakistan, I thought she should be. This was the moment I came to believe that democracy cannot exist without empowered women. And empowerment comes through women’s access to education, health, and employment because it creates space for them to play an active political role.

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Why Reactor’s Gender Equality Work Matters for Macedonia’s Democracy

Macedonia became independent when Yugoslavia disintegrated 25 years ago. Many thought that Macedonia might not survive as a new country. It was in a tough neighborhood, the economy was in tatters, it had little experience with democracy, and there was a strong undercurrent of tension between the majority Macedonian population and a large Albanian minority.

But Macedonia did overcome those early challenges, got to work on its new democracy, and as a result it has progressed toward European Union and NATO membership.

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Women Can Bring Civility Back to Politics

We are living in a time where people are pretty down on Washington. Around the world, the U.S. Congress has become better known for partisanship than as a beacon of democracy. Still, I am proud to be part of a bipartisan group of women senators who are a part of the solution, proving that civility and effectiveness in politics is not a thing of the past.

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Election Observers Promote Tolerance and Transparency in Guatemalan Communities

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Louis Enrique Borrayo Hernandez is a young Guatemalan man who learned about the election observation through Association Ixim, the local organization that supported Citizen Action’s (AC) observation in the department of Sacatepéquez, just outside of Guatemala’s capital. We recently spoke with Louis, as well as his colleague Theylor (who preferred that we not use his full name), about why they decided to join the AC network as long-term observers. Their answer was clear: “we wanted to make a difference in our community and our country,” they both agreed.

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Indigenous Ixil Women Take a Stand Against Gender-Based Violence in Guatemala

A Mayan ceremony celebrating the launch of the “Less Violence, More Inclusion” observation effort in Nebaj, Quiche, Guatemala, to reduce election violence and illegal campaign activity leading up to the Sept. 6 presidential election.

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The Network of Ixiles Women is based in Nebaj, which is located in a remote valley in the Ixil area of the department of Quiché, Guatemala -- a region that is predominately Maya-Ixil. The organization was one of 13 local groups that partnered with Citizen Action (AC) to observe electoral violence and campaign spending across 20 municipalities. We recently spoke with the organization’s coordinator, Juana Baca, as well as two observers, Paula Ramírez and Andrés Saquic, about their experience participating in the “More Inclusion, Less Violence” electoral observation network.

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Not Just Observation, Guatemala Election Monitoring Opens Doors to Dialogue and Civic Education

Milvia Roxana Lopez (third from left) speaks during a training for citizen election observers in Guatemala. “Self-confidence was key,” she said, referring to her ability to break through gender-based stereotypes as an election observer documenting incidents of violence and educating voters during last year’s historic elections.

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At 25 years old, Milvia Roxana López, an indigenous woman, may be diminutive in size but she exudes a confidence that demands she be heard. As an observer who monitored electoral violence, Milvia met with leaders from her town and surrounding communities to document acts of electoral violence -- not an easy topic to broach in country that has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. “For me, self-confidence was key,” declared Milvia, referring to her role as an election observer. “To many people, it’s not the same when a woman says something as when a man says something. I don’t know where I got the strength, but I did it.”

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Global Women's Leadership Program Brings Women MPs to World Bank 2016 Fragility Forum

After the delegates' closing remarks at the 2016 Fragility Forum, from left to right: Stella Ngwu (Nigeria), Aissata Toure Diallo (Mali), Besa Rizvanolli (NDI), Clara Rojas (Colombia), Sabina Dario Lokolong (South Sudan), Dr. Sultana Mismari (Libya)

In fragile and violent places, whether it is Colombia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, or South Sudan, the role of women during crisis, war, and post-conflict reconstruction has been critical. Conflicts often force women to get organized and to safeguard the basic necessities that bolster day-to-day life in each family. They also participate in fighting wars, and in rebuilding their communities. Women act as peacekeepers, relief workers, and mediators. Yet, when peace talks occur, women are not invited to the table and peace agreements are often drafted without the critical perspectives of women.

With this reality in mind, under USAID’s Global Women’s Leadership Program (GWLP), NDI brought a delegation of women members of parliament (MPs) to the World Bank Group Fragility Conflict and Violence Forum 2016 (also referred to as the Fragility Forum) in Washington, DC in early March.

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“Moving Forward More Strongly Towards Freedom:” What #NotTheCost is Really About

Mona Lena Krook, #NotTheCost technical advisor, greets Dr. Ave Maria Semakafu (Sextortion Coalition, Tanzania) and Susana Villaran (Former Mayor of Lima, Peru, current vice presidential candidate). Photo credit: Nikhil Shah.

At 5:45 in the morning, there isn’t much that I think about apart from coffee. But at 5:45 AM on March 17th, 2016 in New York City, I - along with NDI colleagues from the Gender, Women & Democracy (GWD), Operations, Communications & Development teams - was getting ready to run lighting cues, set-up registration and prep our volunteers for the #NotTheCost launch event. But then March 17th happened, and after all the planning, after all the last-minute arrangements -- including exciting additions to the program such as women’s activist and wife of the Canadian Prime Minister Madame Sophie Grégoire Trudeau -- I finally got to see this thing come to life. I watched people I’d only ever read about discuss this topic. I heard Madeleine Albright speak, and I listened as women representing countries as diverse as Kosovo, Cote D’Ivoire, Indonesia and Peru shared profoundly personal stories of violence they had experienced as women because they dared to be political activists, elected officials or candidates. I walked away from the event completely floored by what what I had just witnessed.

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Three ways to celebrate International Women’s Day

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today and the progress that women around the world have made, we must also commit to efforts that will overcome the significant obstacles that still stand in their way. This year, the National Democratic Institute is launching a campaign to stop violence against women in politics. Physical and psychological violence is real and has long-lasting consequences. Often women are told that such violence is “just the cost of politics.”

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