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Engaging Male Champions to Support Women’s Political Participation

Research and experience has documented that gender diversity yields better outcomes in political decision-making and that women’s role in local and national political processes greatly improves democratic outcomes. Women’s right to equal voice and participation in political life has a strong foundation of international commitments - from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to the Beijing Platform for Action and more recently the Sustainable Development Goals. Yet women continue to be under-represented across every area of political life – including in political parties, being  part of inclusive constitution-making processes, as candidates, elected representatives, voters, etc. As of June 2017, women make up only 23.4% of national parliamentarians, 7.9% head of state, and 5.2% head of government, with unknown numbers in local government.

Gender balance in politics, however, can only be achieved if men work side by side with women to share the responsibility in breaking harmful cultural norms and practices, as well as the institutional, structural and legal barriers that hinder women’s equal and influential political participation.  Proactive work by male champions, in partnership with women, is necessary to establish an environment that empowers women’s political participation at all levels of decision-making. 

Men’s partnership is required  in addressing issues that hinder women’s political engagement, including: structural barriers, discriminatory practices and violence that prevent women from exercising their right to vote; unequal access to education, networks and resources; discriminatory institutional practices and laws that prevent women from being recruited, nominated for standing for office, or getting elected; institutional discrimination against women in office resulting in their not being appointed to committees where they can have influence; violence, sexism and harassment against female candidates and female elected officials, and negative gender-based stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

Men can help lead the charge with women in enacting legislation that promotes women’s rights, repealing laws and policies that discriminate against women and limit opportunities. They can also support the advancement of women in decision making bodies by advocating for temporary special measures. In political parties, men and women can work together to champion women’s participation including nominating more women, having hard targets or quotas for women in leadership roles in the party, and ensuring women have the same professional development opportunities as men to enable their advancement within the party.

Beyond legal reform, quotas, and capacity building, gender balance in politics requires a reconfiguration of gender dynamics and power relations, breaking down social norms and stereotypes that limit women’s participation in decision-making. It requires men to question and challenge the status quo, to change practices, and to lead other men in doing the same. It also requires a normative shift for women who may contribute to sustaining gender stereotypes and narrow gender identities regarding leadership roles for women as well as men.

Men can be powerful advocates in their community to promote women’s role in political life, speaking out about the importance of women’s role [in political life], advocating for women to run for office, supporting registration of female voters, or canvasing for female candidates. Male leaders can also utilize media appearances to make targeted statements advocating for change, raising awareness on the lack of women’s representation and leadership in their communities, or supporting the realization of women’s right to participate in elections.

As fathers, men can help re-shape gender identities by emulating shared decision-making and leadership in the home, and speaking to their children about the importance of women in politics. Fathers also play a fundamental role in cultivating a culture of equality by sharing the duty of caregiving for children and by setting equal standards for boys and girls within the family, thus opening opportunities for women and girls to participate in public life.

Objective of the e-Discussion

This e-discussion is a platform to promote an active and fruitful dialogue on how men can be catalysts for enhancing women’s participation in politics with the goal of drawing out best practices and lessons learned.

Structure of the e-Discussion

The e-discussion is co-convened by iKNOW Politics and the International Gender Champions, a leadership network that brings together female and male decision-makers to break down gender barriers, from 06 September to 12 October 2017. Public officials, political party leaders, civil society activists, government and international organizations representatives, academia and technical experts are invited to contribute with their experiences by answering to one or more of the below questions. The iKNOW Politics team and the International Gender Champions teams look forward to an informative knowledge-sharing exercise on this topic. 

The e-discussion will be supported halfway through with a Facebook Live of a roundtable discussion in Geneva on 2 October 2017 on the topic with male and female International Gender Champions based in Geneva. Stay tuned!

Questions

  1. How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations?   
  2. How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies? How can men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons, and other family members, support women’s role in political life? Share concrete examples.
  3. What strategies and approaches have been successful in engaging male champions in shifting the gender disparity of women in decision-making bodies?
  4. What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women in politics (or in women’s empowerment and gender equality)?
  5. What can be done to catalyze and encourage more male champions of women's political participation?  Please share any initiatives or good practices that you are aware of.

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Noutcha's picture

questions 1.

  • How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations? 
  • In some provinces, where traditions remain perennial, sending the girls to school is not a priority. To some low-income families, boys are sent to school at the expenses of the girl children. These stereo types set up by cultural mentalities and practices have contributed  to women excluding themselves from participating in politics, because of the wrong conception about engaged women, most of them have been convinced that politics and leadership is for men. 
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    By Dr. Ibrahim Okinda, PhD in Communication and Media Technology Candidate, Moi University, Kenya

    1. How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations?    

    • Low socio-economic status
    • Patriarchy society
    • Women’s poor attitudes towards politics: Low to political knowledge, efficacy, interest, party partisanship and trust
    • Inadequate accessibility to relevant political information
    • Media  coverage of women, women politicians and gender equality is often inadequate and stereotypical
    • Fewer role models

    2. How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies? How can men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons, and other family members, support women’s role in political life? Share concrete examples.

    • Men as leaders should: Enact legislation that promotes women’s political participation for instance in Kenya which has a progressive constitution which if adhered to can attain this.
    • Men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons and other family members should: Give women opportunities of leadership at family level, for instance allow them to take charge of not only traditional but non-traditional roles in the family; and initiate  open interpersonal political discussions at family level involving all genders and give all of genders equal opportunity.

    3. What strategies and approaches have been successful in engaging male champions in shifting the gender disparity of women in decision-making bodies?

    • Use these champions in village and religious meetings
    • Use opinion leaders whether men or women to engage the public

    4. What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women in politics (or in women’s empowerment and gender equality)?

    • Cultural impediments as such  male champions may be branded failures and against the traditions of the society they reside in 

    5. What can be done to catalyze and encourage more male champions of women's political participation?  Please share any initiatives or good practices that you are aware of.

    • Male champions need to financially supported to do public education
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    By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra, Technical Assistant, Population Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University (SNDTWU), Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

    Note:

    • Views expressed below are of the contributor AND NOT of the PERC, SNDTWU where he is currently employed.   
    • Major portion of the contribution presented below have been drawn from secondary data sources (which have been quoted in the Reference Section at the end of the text).

    Questions

    1. How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations?

    Women continue to be under-represented in the political and economic decision-making process. Balanced participation of men and women in decision-making is a precondition for the improved functioning of democracy. There is need for positive measures to strengthen institutional mechanisms – such as framework laws, governmental programmes, national action plans and the setting up of gender equality committees in elected assemblies – in order to make up for lost time in this field. It stresses that political parties have a responsibility to promote women’s access to decision-making positions. The media also has a role to play in forming public opinion about the place of women in society [1].

    2. How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies? How can men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons, and other family members, support women’s role in political life? Share concrete examples.

    Girls and women have a right to engage in civil society, vote in elections, be elected to government office, serve on boards, and make their voices heard in any process that will ultimately affect them, their families, and their communities. By investing in their right to political participation, the international community not only moves closer to achieving gender equality, but also to fulfilling several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets that depend upon it. While achieving gender equality and empowering girls and women is the goal of sustainable development goal (SDG) 5, the benefits from the inclusion of girls and women are cross-cutting, paving the way to more inclusive and egalitarian democracies, balanced economic growth, and enhanced peace-building capacities [2]. In addition to measures by national governments and other stakeholders at the macro level, male population can contribute lot at the micro level for furthering women’s participation in decision-making matters. They, in their individual capacities, can encourage women and girls to take vital decisions in household activities. This can be good beginning which, at a later stage, can become mass social movement with intervention of interested individuals or organizations.   

    3. What strategies and approaches have been successful in engaging male champions in shifting the gender disparity of women in decision-making bodies?

    The causes of women’s continued lag behind men in leadership and participation in decision-making are well known, some of them being (a) persistent highly patriarchal political systems, (b) inadequate training of aspiring women leaders, (c) poverty, and (d) illiteracy. In order to promote women’s leadership and participation in decision-making in pursuit of Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Section 12 of the Commonwealth Charter, it is imperative that ongoing successful strategies are continued, and more innovative approaches introduced to accelerate the advances made so far. These measures may include supporting special leadership training programmes to develop the leadership capacities of women and enhance their effective participation in decision-making. Promoting women’s economic empowerment as a prerequisite to advancing women’s participation must also be top priorities of governments and civil society [3].

    4. What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women in politics (or in women’s empowerment and gender equality)?

    Men are likely to face challenges in efforts to increase women’s participation in decision-making. Difficulties may begin at home where other male population may discourage others from taking required steps. This is because of deep-rooted cultures which do not, in many cases, promote women’s development. This is a big challenge and there is need to research into how to overcome this barrier. 

    5. What can be done to catalyze and encourage more male champions of women's political participation?  Please share any initiatives or good practices that you are aware of.

    The role of women in decision-making is central to the advancement of women around the world and to the progress of humankind as a whole. It is, therefore, right and, indeed, necessary that women should be engaged in decision-making in every area, with equal strength and in equal numbers [4]. Under international standards, both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of political processes. In practice, however, it is often more challenging for women to access and exercise these rights. The extent of women’s participation in politics and women’s access to decision-making can be seen as the key indicators of gender equality in a society. Gender equality in decision-making is to be viewed in the context of whether women are in the position to make or influence public decisions on the same footing as men [5].

    There are several ongoing initiatives and good practices aimed at enhancing women's participation in decision-making. One such initiative is the Poor Rural Communities Development Project (PRCDP). The PRCDP is a rural development intervention covering some of the poorest communities in Guangxi, Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces in China. The project has a strong outreach to ethnic minority areas and aims to improve livelihoods security and achieve sustained participation of rural people in project design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. It does this by heavily involving farmers in decisions on the kinds of rural infrastructure and livelihood activities that will be implemented in their communities. A facilitated process brings households together to discuss the key challenges faced by their communities and to identify solutions that can be carried out with strong participation from the farmers’ themselves [6].

    Ensuring that local investments are responsive to women and men’s priorities is a key feature of the PRCDP. As beneficiaries play a substantial role in project implementation, gender analysis carried out by the team focused on how women and men access basic services and on what their respective roles in decision-making at the community and household level were. The analysis was undertaken using qualitative research methodologies such as participant observation, key informant interviews and focus group discussions. These were either separate discussions held with women or consultations with groups with a balanced men/women composition. The aim of the analysis was to identify entry points for women’s participation in the community-based activities promoted by the project. Gender analysis also focused on how the implementation arrangements proposed by communities would impact men and women differently. The key concern in this case was to ensure that implementation arrangements did not place an undue burden on women who already have a particularly heavy workload of agricultural activities and domestic work. The preparatory analysis carried out by the project focused on how women’s economic situation and development priorities are often wrongly assumed to be the same as those of other poor groups. It sought to understand how: (i) local customs, beliefs and attitudes limit women’s participation, (ii) women’s economic and domestic workloads pose important time constraints to their participation in community activities, and (iii) customs, policies and laws limit women’s access to resources [6].

    In addition, the PRDCP gives women a seat at the table when it comes to decision-making at village level. The project uses a 30% target for women’s participation in the village groups created to implement sub-projects. This is intended to make sure that beyond the planning stage women are able to benefit from the additional capacity building activities implemented by the project and are able to participate actively in village organizing, in monitoring construction work and in mobilizing the community for the operation and maintenance of the sub-project investments. In order to support local facilitators in this, a project specific gender-check list was put in place as a step-by-step guide for gender-sensitive community planning [6].

    References:

    [1] Parliamentary Assembly (2005). “Mechanisms to ensure women's participation in decision-making, Report: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men” (Accessed on September 07 from: https://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/X2H-Xref-ViewHTML.asp?FileID=11068&lang=en).

    [2] “Strengthen Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making Power”. (Accessed on September 07 from: http://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Good_Campaign_Brief_8_092016.pdf).

    [3] The Commonwealth (2017). “Women's leadership and participation in decision-making in the Commonwealth”. Geneva, Switzerland: The Commonwealth (Accessed on September 07 from: http://thecommonwealth.org/media/news/women-leadership-and-participation-decision-making-commonwealth).

    [4] “Women's Role in Decision-Making Central to Progress of Humankind”. (Accessed on September 07 from: http://www.loyno.edu/twomey/womens-role-decision-making-central-progress-humankind).

    [5] Ukrainian Women’s Fund (2011). “Women’s Participation in Politics and Decision-Making in Ukraine: Strategy Paper”. Kiev, Ukraine:  Ukrainian Women’s Fund (Accessed on September 07 from: http://www.osce.org/odihr/85974?download=true). 

    [6] “Poor Rural Communities Development Project Gender Mainstreaming in China”. (Accessed on September 07 from: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTEAPREGTOPSOCDEV/Resources/12649GNChina.pdf). 

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    By Agripinner Nandhego, Programme Specialist Political Participation and Leadership, UN Women Uganda

    How do you explain the low representation of women in decision-making around the world, whether in village development committees, parliaments, governments, or intergovernmental organizations?  

    • In Uganda Negative Cultural perceptions play a big role in discouraging women from joining politics. Many people (both male & female) still believe women should not take up an active role in the public sphere. society sometimes shuns them and they get little support and encouragement. 
    • Low levels of education also deter women from participating because they may not meet the educational requirement for the positions. 
    • Sometimes lack of support from political parties discourages women from participating because they are not given space to nurture their potential and grooming into politics. 
    • There is limited space for mentoring of upcoming women leaders so they lack the skill of effectively participating in politics. 

    How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies? How can men as husbands/partners, fathers, sons, and other family members, support women’s role in political life? Share concrete examples. 

    In our traditional societies men are still valued and listened to. They are the 'gate keepers' through which you can get access to a community. They need to come out and sensitize communities on the importance of women in politics through different forums i.e as clan leaders, religious leaders, cultural leaders teachers etc.. In Uganda many civil society organizations are training men as civic educators and role models in society and in some societies it is working. UN Women has launched the He for She campaign in 2 cultural institutions (Buganda and Alur) and the message has been passed on that even these cultural leaders support women empowerment with a trickledown effect. The strategy of male champions is working even in Parliament where women who are 32% of the parliament work with male Mps to push for gender legislation. The Anti Female Genital Mutilation bill was tabled by a male MP and successfully enacted into law. 

    What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women in politics (or in women’s empowerment and gender equality)?

    One of the challenges is that men risk being sidelined by other men in society. They can be labeled 'pro women, and in extreme cases 'Anti African' because some people still believe patriarchy is a cultural thing that needs to be protected. 

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    Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Chief of ITU’s Strategic Planning and Membership Department and most senior-ranked woman at ITU, contributes to the discussion with a video interview.

     

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    Michael Møller, Director-General of UN Geneva and founder of International Gender Champions contributes to the discussion with a video interview.

     

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    Dr Khalid Koser, Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) and International Gender Champion contributes to the discussion with a video interview.