The Role of Political Parties in Promoting Women in Politics



The Role of Political Parties in Promoting Women in Politics


In most countries, political parties are the primary and most effective structure through which women become politically engaged and get elected. Political parties’ practices, policies, and values can have a deep impact on women’s political participation and representation. Indeed, political parties nominate candidates in local and national elections, provide campaign funding, rally voters, set policy and governance priorities, and form governments.[1]

In January 2019, globally women held just 24.3% of all parliamentary seats and 20.7% of ministerial positions.[2] Although women’s political participation and representation has increased in recent years, progress is very slow. The unequal representation of women in decision-making bodies is an obstacle to achieving gender equality in society and the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 target.

A study by International IDEA on political parties’ commitments in 33 African countries found a significant gap between parties’ written general commitments to achieving gender equality and specific measures to enforce and implement these commitments.[3] Another study focused on Latin America revealed that 30% of political parties barely refer to gender equality in their internal governance documents at all.[4]

For efforts to promote women’s equal and full political participation to be effective, they must include strategies for political parties to ensure their constitution, structures, processes, and financing are gender responsive and inclusive of all women. It is crucial that political parties encourage women’s participation and integrate gender equality issues in their policies and programmes to ensure diversity of views and no one is left behind.


iKNOW Politics and its partners are convening this e-Discussion to exchange knowledge on the role of political parties in promoting women’s political participation and representation and good practices on ways to increase and strengthen their contribution to achieving gender equality in politics and the wider society. Political party leaders and members, politicians, experts, practitioners, and researchers are invited to join the e-Discussion from 13 August to 3 September 2019. The submissions will contribute to the elaboration of a Consolidated Reply that will augment the knowledge base available on this topic.


  1. Do political parties in your country publicly express commitment to gender equality? If so, is this commitment reflected in their actions (e.g. leadership structure, candidate nominations, campaign financing, and policies)?
  2. What can political parties do to promote women’s political participation and representation within their organizations and in politics in general? What can they do to better include young women, women with disabilities, and indigenous women?
  3. Do you know of instances where political parties gained greater electoral success following the implementation of gender affirmative action measures?
  4. Violence against women in politics is a widespread phenomenon. What can political parties do to stop it? 

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[1] Ballington, J., Davis. R., Reith, M., Mitchell, L., Njoki, C., Kozma, A., Powley, E., ‘Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Guidebook to Promote Women’s Political Participation’, 2011 (NDI and UNDP):

[2] UN Women and Inter-parliamentary Union, ‘Women in Politics: 2019’:

[3] International IDEA, ‘Review of political parties’ commitments to gender equality: a study of 33 African countries’, 2012 (unpublished)

[4] Rosas, V., Llanos, B. and Garzón de la Roza, G., ‘Gender and Political Parties: Far from Parity’, 2011 (Stockholm and New York: Inter-American Development Bank and International IDEA)

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Dr. Ameena Al Rasheed's picture

It is very obvious that most of political parties, in our contemporary world would usually express interest and commitment to gender equality, from the position of being current and abiding to international human rights covenant, needless to say it was mostly expressed for courtesy and ended up paying lip service to the cause. I will explore the case of the late Sudan's revolution, where 70% of those marked on the streets of every single city and neighbourhood in the country where in fact women, and there was a reason for women to mark in millions against the previous dictatorship and Muslim Brotherhood that ruled the nation for around 30 years, as the main target during that repressive regime where in fact women. The first laws introduced in the 1989 where the public orders, that targeted women in work place, schools, universities and even streets and inside their home, decent laws were enacted to confine women to the homes, and to limit their movement and event to enforce an attire for all women, that is the hijab. Despite such an outcry from women against repressive regime that violates their right, the new forces of freedom and change the led the revolution, has paid lip services for women, as they did not take part in the negotiation table, there was no commitment from the mediators at the AU and UN level to enforce the SCR1325 on the parties, it was in fact completely ignored as the business is solely masculine and patriarchal business for these organisation and establishments.. The opposition forces, kept thanking women for taking part in the revolution, with patriarchal arrogance and ignorance and utter masculine mussels, while the world have witnessed Sudanese women leading the revolution and being the back bone of the movement in every single corner to the country, the commitment seems to wither away, by the collaboration of international organisations as well as the new opposition forces, more than that they went into proposal of 40% for women, and entered that in the peace document, with no shame or any sense of being just and of taking into consideration of the women's weight in the revolution, and what paradoxical is that all these forces where able accurately to measure the power of each and every political party in the process and to divide the seats accordingly. So once again it is a complete betrayal to women of Sudan, who suffered the most during the brutal Islamist region and who are longing for a new era that can secure their rights and end the violation and oppression.
It is very important to measure and to understand the shaky commitment of the UN and international community, as all kept silent during the process and excelled no power in forcing the parties to abide by the SCR1325 or even to consider women without whom this revolution will have had a setback and less impact in the process of toppling the dictator.
I believe it is time to have a different and alternative path for women to secure their presence and to fight against exclusion. as for the political parties there was no genuine commitment to include women, and hence, election rules need first to be build on justice and credibility in the implementation process. We know that the Sudan scenario is replicated everywhere up to this moment, and we can only say that women are surrounded with strong, formidable patriarchal norms that is even displayed with the United Nations work and commitment to empower women and to end violation of their rights.


I am a long-time campaign consultant in the US, where, in my experience, both major political parties are roadblocks rather than gateways for women candidates. It's gotten better, but there are still some big challenges, especially in the South and states like Florida where the population skews older:
(1) Both parties often are captives of the Good Old Boys - depending upon the demographic of the area - and women are viewed as the workers, not the leaders.
(2) Rather than recruit women for seats they could win, women are more likely to be the sacrificial lambs, who will lose but the party can say "Look, we recruited a woman!"
(3) While running for Congress - and winning - does not always require climbing the ladder from local to state to Washington, women who have succeeded at the municipal and legislative levels do not always get party support for higher races. Party infrastructures rarely get involved in local races - many of them are nonpartisan.
(4) Money remains a factor; while women DO contribute to political parties, too often the larger amounts come from wealthy men and the proliferation of business PACs.
(5) Clearly, international research shows that establishing party quotas leads to more women in office, but it is highly unlikely that the U.S. could or would do that.
Sadly, I am not optimistic about changing the U.S. party system, which is in such turmoil these days. But we need to continue to support the women's groups and issue-based organizations that have also become influential players in elections.

Noa Balf's picture

1. Women politicians in Israel experience systemic institutional tokenization and marginalization. My research shows that women politicians in Israel do not have access to the same pathways towards political leadership that men politicians do. Based on a quantitative analysis of Israeli legislation, I find that as women parliament members gain seniority within the legislature they become “gender experts” and legislate almost exclusively on issues we can largely categorize as “women’s issues.” Such legislation deals primarily with issues of motherhood and labor force participation as well as sexual assault and abuse. Senior politicians usually gain political clout and are thus sought after as useful political partners and co-sponsors for legislative proposals. In the Israeli case, senior women Knesset members are only asked to co-sponsor by junior women Knesset Members on gender-related bills. The singular nature of legislative focus among women Knesset Members is explained by bias of their male colleagues and political parties and not their policy preferences. As a result, women politicians in Israel are stymied within political institutions and are also replaceable by other women candidates contributing to women politicians high turnover rate. They are unable to progress within their parties and become more universal candidates with broad legislative agendas.

Editor's picture

Contribution posted on behalf of  Sekar Panuluh, Indonesia.

Indonesia general elections were held on 17th April 2019,  there were five separate ballots: one for president and vice president, one for the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR RI), one for the regional representative board (DPD), one for the provincial people’s assembly (DPRD Provinsi), and one for the regional or municipal people’s assembly (DPRD Kota/Kabupaten). Indonesian government has tried to increase women’s inclusion, primarily during legislative elections. This effort has been reinforced in several bills to ensure affirmative actions on women participating in politics since. For example the Bills No.10 Year 2008 demands for minimum 30% quota of women candidates in every level of legislative election. It is clear then that every party no matter what should make sure that they can meet this requirement, otherwise they will be disqualified.

This legislative term has seen  the highest number of women since reformation period 20,5% of equals to 118 women seats out of 575 seats, compared to the last two elections in 2009 that was only covered 18,4% or equals to 101 seats and even that number was decline in 2014 election that was only elected 97 women or equals to 17,6%. After this 2019 election, Nasdem is the only party that has elected women MP over 30% as it ideally mandated on the Bills. Following Nasdem on top three, are PPP Party and Golkar Party.

On the contrary, Gerindra Party has the lowest rate of elected women MP and other 2 parties following with same percentage are Demokrat Party, and PAN. Compared to 2014 legislative election, most of parties have gained  higher percentages of elected women MP. There are only 2 party that have decreased percentage significantly, which are Demokrat Party and PAN.

In 2014 legislative election, out of 33 provinces, there were 7 provinces with no elected women candidates  (Bangka Belitung, Riau, Riau Islands, Bali, North Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, West Sulawesi, Papua, and West Papua). On the other hand, there were 5 provinces that gained 50% or more elected women candidates (Bengkulu, West Sulawesi, North Sulawesi, North Maluku, and Maluku).

In the current political landscape we can assess that there is 51,85% of new runner candidates represented within the institutions. Mostly, the new runner candidates are related to elites of the party or local government leaders.

Other than gender balance representative in the parliamentary position, affirmative actions are also pushed in political party, especially in party structure at national level (Dewan Pimpinan Pusat). Three revisions on the Bill on Political Party after reformation era, are specifically addressing how political party should accommodate women participation on strategic position at national level. The Bill on Political Parties No 31 Year 2002 is trying to accommodate women in party management structure, yet it is not well translated into details. Bill on Political Parties No 2 Year 2008 is describing affirmative actions in more detail, asserting 30% of women position both in party management structure and party formation, in national level down to municipal level. While the Bill on Political Parties No. 2 Year 2011 requires political party to consider 30% of women in the party recruitment process.

Political parties are taking actions in order to support and strengthen women's capacity in parties and parliament, for example:

- Women's empowerment unit in cooperation with Training unit in PDIP have conducted several training for capacity building for women cadres in the party. However, since there is no permanent women's organization, this training is not continuous agenda and offered in limited seats. In most cases, party and its women empowerment unit was more focused to react and celebrate  specific events, for example Women's Day, Mother's Day, Children's Day, Pancasila Birthday, and so on.

- For the upcoming parliamentary term, there are around 7 women from Fatayat (young women's organization of Nahdhatul Ulama/largest Islam organization who holds traditional and pro-pluralist Islam views)--its chairwomen is a newly elected MP. These women are planning to gather to boost the agenda on women and gender inclusion.

- All parties are conducting a series of training for their newly elected MP called parliamentary school. These training are usually held before the new parliament were sworn. For some parties, women's empowerment issues are also included in the training curriculum, as matter of fact some of them even held a separate training targeted only for upcoming women MP.

It is important to find gaps in terms or women empowerment in the political parties in Indonesia. There are several barriers for women to thrive in political parties, let alone as a member of parliament. For example, there are no stable women's wing organization in parties (as it seen in several parties, the lack of funding to support women's forum in political parties (as it seen in most parties), or there is lack of background knowledge from the women MP in their duties to fight for women's equality issues.

Editor's picture

Contribution posted on behalf of Tayo Agunbiade, Nigeria.

1. In Nigeria, all the political  parties make pronouncements on their commitment  to gender equality. They do this overlooking the fact that within their leadership structures, women do not hold any positions apart the familiar 'woman leader'.  There is a great gap between  what they profess and the reality. None of the major parties live up to the recommendation of the 2008 Electoral  Reform Committee of 20 per cent of women in  governing boards of political parties.

The posts of Chairman, Vice Chairman etc are the exclusive preserve for men. This cuts across all the prominent  and major parties. As a result , Nigerian women are relegated to a post which focuses on mobilisation for rallies, distribution of resources such as food, fabric, entertainment (singing and dancing)  and fund raising.

This discrimination keeps women at the bottom level of the party hierarchy  and outside of the circles where decisions are being made on candidate nomination/ selection.

There's a historical  perspective to the attitude  and behaviour  of Nigeria's  political parties which dates back to 1922 when the principle of elective representation was introduced by the British colonial government.  A rash of gendered colonial policies ensured that women were barred from voting and contesting. Hence, the first wave of political  parties were set up  from a male- oriented perspective.  They created women's wings for entertainment,  welfare and fund-raising and rally attendance.

The second wave of political parties including the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC), Action Group ( AG) and Northern People's Congress (NPC) etc all had male officers in their National Executive Committes and Central Working Committees.  Again, women were mostly relegated to the women wings; while a few made it to the EXCOS, but were  a small minority in a male- dominated realm.

By the time, the next wave of political parties were formed in the 1970s, the trend was cast in stone , and the leadership structures were spheres for men , with only a handful of women appointed as women leaders.

The actions of the political parties up to the most recent election cycle in Nigeria, belies their manifesto declaration on gender equality. The handful of female legislators in the national and sub-national  legislature also testifies to the insincerity about women's political participation and representation in Nigeria.

2. I think a change in the laws will be the best way to ensure  political parties are inclusive of young women, women living with disabilities. The electoral law must be reformed to mandate political parties  produce inclusive nomination lists. Reforms must include sanctions  for parties that violate the laws to present a gender friendly list of candidates,  one in which, no gender will outnumber the other.

I don't think the political parties on their own,  will change the culture,  but a mass movement can push for legislative reform, though bearing in mind there is no female parliamentary force to push for this change either. Nonetheless,  legal reforms are the way forward. Working with Male allies will go along way too.

4. Violence against women in politics occurs with impunity.  The 2019 election cycle witnessed female politicians face sexual harassment in return for votes; a contestant in Edo State reported in the media that she was asked for sexual favours in return for votes by men; while a former chairman was assassinated on election day in Rivers State. I think parties have to imbue into members that politics is not a do or die affair. We need to review the winner takes all approach to politics, as this will douse the tension and desperation.  As a matter of fact, public office should not be about perks and access to unlimited resources,  but about service. Political  parties should speak in one voice to advocate for zero tolerance for violence in the political  space and write this into their constitutions. Perpetrators should be expelled and handed over to the security agencies. 

Editor's picture

Contribution posted on behalf of Alexis Wesula, Student in Kenya.

I stress on Kenya's politics because the western world seems to be much more outspoken and open to scrutiny and analysis than our system. Sometimes I imagine if our government was opened up for the kind of monitoring and reporting it might collapse all together. As a woman I have a hard time even engaging in civic debate with peers, with elders it is unthinkable and rude of me to suggest it. This could be a good place for the political parties to start. Young women want a voice in policy making and civic discussions but are afraid. Perhaps if the parties invested in platforms where we could freely do so we would contribute meaningfully to tough issues like unemployment, technology and society today..

I agree with what the two respondents in the comments had to say. A lot of it rings true in our political landscape too.  Except for the fact that we did get a law passed and a seat in every county for a women representative. The impact was not at all what was intended. The elected women became a source of ridicule and failed to address the issues of grassroot community women. Their campaigns felt like a beauty contest and the seat has become more and more unpopular others pushing for its removal.

In an NDI research exercise 'A study on financing practices in 22 countries', they touched on the difficulties of transport being the chief expenditure of most political parties in sub-saharan countries. Our poor infrastructure makes politics a poor career choice for many women who are handicapped by mobility. Many campaign participants travel for long hours with scanty resources to reach electorates. 

Within their own organizations political parties could boost professionalism and accountability to attract women in their working force. The informal decision making processes and sham budgets make them unattractive to any workforce for that matter. In my opinion more capacity building and mentorship programs for women would lead to a seamless initiation into the political arena. Not just seats we are ill-prepared for.

Editor's picture

Contribution posted on behalf of Akua Dansua, former Minister of Youth and Sports (first female to occupy the post to date) and former Ambassador of Ghana to Germany.

The introductory statement to this e-discussion aptly captures the reality in many countries as far as the subject matter is concerned. While I commend countries that are doing well in promoting women in politics, there is need for marked improvement in countries that unfortunately are lagging behind with a multi-sectoral approach and the active involvement of women themselves in addressing the situation in these countries.

Q1. All political parties in Ghana publicly express their commitment to gender equality in politics but do not walk their talk when it comes to the actualisation of this so called commitment. This is because powerful leadership positions such as those of the chairman, general secretary , finance committee and other important decision-making committees of the parties are occupied mostly by men with few women some of who tend to be protégés of these powerful men. There have been situations where women with better credentials who could do the jobs better contested these positions and lost because the men would not be comfortable having such women in leadership positions and doing things right in the parties. Also in Ghana,  the “ first past the post”  electoral system  in use  does not favour women unlike other electoral systems that do.. Under this system, it is difficult for many qualified and competent women to contest elective positions on fair platform with men who are better endowed in terms of funding and other campaign logistics. Also in Ghana , the   state does not fund  political parties to also oblige these  parties to field and support a fair number of female candidates even though the Constitution guarantees equal rights for all Ghanaians. We need an Affirmative Action Law and other supporting legislation to support women in their fight against discrimination in all spheres of life, which unfortunately are yet  to be passed after over 16 years of advocacy. It is however refreshing that women groups and other stakeholders including the media are currently piling pressure on government to pass the law with the urgency it deserves.

Q2. Unfortunately until the Affirmative Action Law  and other enabling legislation  are passed together with electoral and campaign funding laws which will compel political parties to give women, including young women, women with disabilities and indigenous women more access in the political space, the status quo will not change much. In the meantime, the media, women and the international community should continue to advocate for the passage of the Affirmative Action Law as well as electoral reforms which will improve the situation of women in politics and other spheres of life in Ghana.

Q3. Rwanda in Africa, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands among others have made electoral successes due to Affirmative Action and Electoral Laws which grant fair access and encourage the participation of women in the political process. These are examples worthy of emulation by countries lagging in this area.

Q4. Violence against women in politics is a reality in Ghana as well and is perpetuated in various forms beginning from denial of access, sexual harassment and denial of campaign funding among others. I wonder if the parties are willing and interested in stopping these things because the status quo tends to favour men in leadership and in the party mainstream.

It will take a multifaceted approach involving women and womens groups, Parliament, the media and religious and social groups supportive of affirmative action for women and most importantly the UN, AU and ECOWAS to continue to advocate for a change in the status quo. Also naming and shaming perpetrators and using the “@metoo” movements and organising empowerment programmes for women and particularly young women to prepare them for leadership positions are key to change the situation in Ghana and in countries with similar experiences.