Women in Local Governments



Women in Local Governments

Women’s political and socio-economic status improves when women become more involved in decision making and policy development at all levels of governance.  Through their active involvement in community work and women’s movements, local women politicians are fully aware of issues faced by women in their communities and are uniquely positioned to address them. The role of women in decision making has been addressed by various international agreements and conventions, CEDAW and the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), to name a few.

In 2009, iKNOW Politics organized an e-discussion on women in local governance. During this e-discussion participants agreed that including women in local governments is a key factor in creating gender sensitive policies and services. Participants believed that women politicians can be active advocates of women’s issues among their colleagues in the local government and vital for mainstreaming gender perspectives in policies, but nevertheless expressed the need for further research to document this.  

In this discussion, iKNOW Politics is seeking more encouraging examples from all over the world, highlighting the impact women leaders have in changing the way business is conducted in local governance such as in district, provincial and regional assemblies and local (rural and urban) councils.

  • What is the percentage of women in local assemblies and councils?  Are there any cultural or institutional barriers for women to become politically active in your community?
  • Is there a correlation between women’s political participation at the local and national level? Do you know women national leaders who started their career in local governance? Are there any specific programmes or structures in place supporting local elected women to become leaders at the national level?
  • Has your local government undertaken any gender analysis as part of comprehensive policy, programmes and service planning and delivery?
  • Does having more women in local governments lead to the creation of more gender sensitive programmes and legislation as well as empowering other women in local communities?

There are 28 Comments in this language version, More comments are available in different languages.

Use below option to post comment using Social account

susanacampari's picture

I agree with Norma, Argentina has a high participation in the houses of deputies but that is not reflected at the higher level of decision-making and management, on the other hand women politicians aren’t always especially concerned with gender issues. Having a women president for two consecutive terms did not reflect in a higher representation of women in the ministries not to mention local governments where you need to be elected and there women occupy only 9.5% of the municipalities. We’re still running short.
(original comment in Spanish)

Norma Maria Pozzo's picture

On August 11 Primaria Abiertas Simultaneas y Obligatorias PASO (Open, Mandatory and Simultaneous Primaries) elections will be held, in which the National and Provincial legislators shall be chosen to run for the legislative elections. In the National Order, there is the bicameral system with 72 senators, three from each province, whose mandates last six years and are renewed by thirds every two years (Buenos Aires, Chaco, Entre Ríos, Neuquén, Río Black, Salta, Santiago del Estero Tierra del Fuego) and the Chamber of National Deputies with 257 deputies whose mandates are renewed by halves every two years and Senators that are renewed by thirds every two years.
October 27 will hold the final legislative elections with those chosen in the Primaries. We have no problems with the female quota, our President is a woman; the problem is always the same as it is not a gender issue when there is a lack in fairness in decision making, it goes beyond a gender issue: it is an issue of capacity and political health as there is ample evidence of profound imbalances that baffle the population.

I appreciate the dissemination of this situation. We will vote, we have a good female quota but the suitability of the candidates has not been prioritized.

Baindu Massaquoi's picture

After the 2012 local council elections in Sierra Leone, there are only 18% female councilors (88/435), there is 1 female mayor (1/6) and 1 female Chairperson (1/13).

Low levels of education among women in Sierra Leone continue to be a major barrier to female political participation. There are also cultural and traditions which also serve as a barrier for women to participate in politics. The National Electoral Commission also levied high nomination fees for candidates which also had a correlation to low female participation as females clearly did not have the funds to pay the nomination fees. (le 2,000,000 = roughly $500)

Lack of adequate knowledge of legislative and policy frameworks on gender equality issues continue to be a problem for female councilors not only in the the implementation of their duties but also in developing gender sensitive programmes as well as empowering other women.

Kukase Garba's picture

The problems encountered by the women in Sierra Leone are not peculiar to them. The lack of education among the rural women and, subsequently, the lack of financial muscles make it very difficult for them to get into decision making positions. Moreover, it's impossible for them to implement or develop gender sensitive programmes that will empower women, hence the low representation of women as councilors.

dunes's picture

In my opinion, cultural and familial obstacles while important are not the only determinants. Other reasons, political, historical and social continue to play a negative role in the inclusion of women in political life.

Bourguiba and its unique party have exploited Tunisian women in order to sell his image as an emancipatory and reformist leader in introducing reforms European-style.

Although Tunisian Islamist reformers of the 19th century were the first to raise the issue of Tunisian women's emancipation and speak on their behalf, they have nevertheless worked in a political context undermined by the French colonization and general decadence.

Women's associations and partisan anti-Islamists have tried to work together in consensus but have not been able to come together to form women’s society.

All these obstacles together have finally achieved a genuine enclosure of most Tunisian women and their withdrawal within the family and private life, which comes in turn with domestic violence and exploitation.

After the revolution, a great deal of reform of the political parties should be initiated especially in terms of internal democracy and inclusion of women. It is imperative to launch an awareness campaign, provide training, and raise awareness of women in political life.

To answer your questions I have to admit that there is no correlation between the local and regional level. The only women who had a very quiet local presence, because of the repression of Ben Ali system, are the nahdhaouies. No specific programme to my knowledge is established for local elected women to become leaders at the national level.

(translated from original comment in French)

mcnik's picture

Guinea, a country of West Africa, will hold legislative elections on September 24. This is a country where women's participation in politics is very weak. In 2010, during the presidential election, there was only a single woman candidate in the running.

For the next legislative elections, the law requires the political parties to include at least 30% of women on their electoral lists. How many political parties will meet this requirement of the Electoral Code of Guinea? How many women will be top of the list? These are the questions that a group of women journalists would like to have answered in a daily radio show that will take place over the next four months.

(translated from original comment in French)

ameena alrasheed's picture

Generally speaking, women are the minority at all levels of governance and decision-making. But in some cases, it has been shown that women are the majority in “ordinary jobs” in local administration and bureaus. What hinders women from entering into jobs at the top levels of governance is the lack of will, resources, and the lack of commitment to gender equality issues.

We are living in patriarchal societies, and women have to struggle to fit into the male dominant sphere, and this applies not only at the government level but in all institutions, and here I would like to say that the UN is no exception, in that there is full resentment against women and it does not matter how many women we put at the top to divert attention from the root of the issue. The same is happening at the government level; having the 33 % quota is no guarantee that women are effectively represented.

In my opinion we need to focus on the quality not the quantity of representation. The “UN system” is obsessed with numbers and percentage, which reflects on the mentality there and it dictates the direction taken for gender equality and the inclusion of women.

Equality may grow if you combine all the women of the middle class at the top of the ladder in a system of governance. The level and quality of women is essential and it’s important to scrutinize what agenda these women will serve. Bringing in women’s cognitive capacities in governance is essential and this can only be done by targeting rural women and women at the grass roots level.

In a UN document, one expert claims that rural women have no time to go to parliament and have other business to do.... this understanding is really harming the cause of gender equality and women’s inclusion.

Thank you

Debo's picture

Generally women lack the confidence needed to join the area of local governance. Even if they are good at voting and mobilizing people, they do not feel confident enough to hold a high position in local governance. Most of them, in the case of Senegal, for example, would rather occupy positions where they have to deal with social activities and services related to their reproductive roles. It is very difficult to get them to occupy a position in finance for example, either because men would not let them or just because they lack not only the confidence but also the skills needed.

Therefore, it is important to develop specific gender training activities to allow women to strengthen their self-esteem and provide them with the necessary skills to be able to understand such local policies, budget and so on.

Thank you

(translated from the original comment in French)

Zayury Tibaduiza's picture

In Colombia we have a "Quota Law" that would guarantee political representation and employment of women by ensuring a 30% participation. This Act has been operating for several years. Unfortunately, I believe that there are too few women in government who are knowledgeable and sensitive to the issue of gender solidarity; despite working within the State, these women have not made a big difference. Sure, this doesn’t pertain to all women who are in the government, but a lot of them, either because of envy or anger, discourage work with and for women and girls. So, is it worth a good fight so that we can all have the same opportunities if in the end the same women sabotage women’s rights?

(translated from original comment in Spanish)


In Huanuco Peru, cultural barriers still exist that devalue the work that women do. In the vast majority of local and regional governments, men are hired for leadership positions.
Now when we look at the number of women who are employed in local government, apparently they are greater in number. But when we look at the positions they hold we see they are in maintenance, cleaning, parks and gardens as well as with greater disadvantages, as they are hired for short term, and with much uncertainty. They have no social benefits and, in case of illness, they go to hospitals or medical centers with general insurance, but not through any special attention that might come from the Districts.
Also, they are exploited politically by the authorities. Over time it has been shown that women, poorly educated, rural migrants, who were unaware of their rights, and are in need of work, accept these underpaid, temporary jobs, and are even required to undertake other jobs that do not correspond to the work for which they have been employed, like, for example, participating in the parades or rallies fanning the authorities. They are required to attend as many events as desired by the authorities so as to fill up the spaces in order to make everyone believe that the mayors are popular, i.e. to ensure attendance at their events or rallies, especially when approaching election campaigns.

(original comment in Spanish)

Filipa Range Rodrigues's picture


By iKNOW Politics

On the subject of this discussion we invite you to read this document published by Sonja Greckol on Women and urban areas: The integration of a gender perspective in local governments (available only in French).

It outlines definitions, strategies and key challenges related to the integration of a gender perspective and the adoption of a budget taking into account a gender perspective. It also provides a brief overview of the initiatives developed by the cities of Ottawa and Montreal to address the issue of social gender relations and diversity at the municipal level.

This document can be used as a case study for other countries trying to improve the integration of women at the municipal level.

Filipa Range Rodrigues's picture

By iKNOW Politics

On the subject of this discussion we invite you to read the document published by International Alert, titled Promoting gender equality in the process of decentralization and local governance: Lessons from Rwanda (available only in French).

The following recommendations are aimed at improving the political participation of women and the integration of gender equality in the decentralized entities as a prerequisite for improving the socio-economic status of women. In order to effectively support this process, it is necessary to act at the individual, institutional and community level. Several actors are involved because the transformation of gender relations requires a change in attitudes and behaviors towards a more just and equitable world in which the equality of all is recognized. And improving women's participation in decision-making in decentralized entities requires that actors have, each in his field, strategies to address these challenges.

This document can be used as a case study for other countries trying to improve women's political participation and the integration of gender equality at the local level.

CIHAM AC's picture

Before writing my comment, I would like to celebrate the existence of this forum because it provides a global communication space needed by the women of ALL the world's governments. And not just because it gives us the ease of sharing experiences and thereby learn about the various situations faced by women in terms of political participation and access to decision-making spaces in different countries and contexts, which are not always entirely different.

In Mexico, as in many countries, gaining women’s participation is not so easy, despite the great effort that many of us, women, make not only to have our social and political rights recognized but also respected.

In this regard, in the 2012 federal elections, there was a ruling by the Electoral Tribunal which "forced" the parties to meet the gender quota for women candidates, and thus pressured the parties to grant applications for women within their parties. Some progress was made with this measure, in that it at least prevented party leaders from going out on a tangent and argue that the lack of women candidates was due to a lack of interest on their part or just having women as alternates.

This was also done in order to avoid the shameful case of the "Juanitas" (women candidates who agreed that once elected they would give up their positions to the men alternates). This was a highly publicized case in the Mexican press.

This year, elections were held in 14 states of my country. There was a change of governor in one and in the remaining 13 there was change in local congresses and city halls. The women tried to close ranks within their parties to keep their political rights from being violated and therefore aspire to public office. And not only that, they joined forces with several organisations, besides training in electoral and legal issues, with the aim that their rights not be "once again" violated.

I’ve been following the electoral process in 4 states of our country since the beginning of year and only one of them can say that they respected the gender quota, whereas in the other three there was again violations of women’s political rights violations, despite the repetitive speeches that this time the country would act in favor of women ... (PART 1)

(comments translated from the original in Spanish)

Leon's picture

From the Ica Network of Men against Violence: until we begin to change the minds of men it seems women's access to decision-making positions in the public service will be unsustainable. So we must begin to involve more men in the process of awareness and training for gender equality.
In Ica there some women mayors, but few or none are interested in working towards raising men’s awareness towards gender equality and providing training for equity and gender violence prevention. And if they are, they do so through demonstrative lectures.

(translated from original comment in Spanish)

Angelica Galiano's picture

The issue of women's active participation in decision-making, both at national and local levels, goes beyond the established law so that there is "equity", although it is true that elections results (in the case of Ecuador) in some cases have shown greater women participation than required by law. The key aspect here is not the number of female political cadres but what they represent and what their actions are, the same should be attached to the historical struggles of women in the interest of equity. In the case of local governments, gender issues and gender-based violence are not particularly part of the agenda of local representatives, seeing as these are subject to predetermination by their political parties’ agenda.

Opening debate prior to local elections is an outstanding debt in most Latin American countries. Fighting, visualizing and deciding by women for women is more than a right, it is a duty for men and women in the pursuit of equality. In the case of Quito, Ecuador, we are creating opportunities for fellow women to debate about their plans for government regarding the upcoming elections in 2014.

(translated from original comment in Spanish)

ARMIDA's picture

It is true that so far there are cultural barriers, such as women not being ready for public office or the lack of proper education in rural areas, which causes women not to participate at public levels. Moreover, it is accepted by some male leaders that although women can have good business minds and are efficient heads of households, in the public eye they appear amateurish and men then doubt that women be good candidates for political office. We need to raise women’s self-esteem and especially women's economic autonomy in order to achieve greater presence in public office. I am at the moment acting by example, always trying to raise awareness for greater political participation of women, at least in Yunguyo – Puno...

(comment translated from the original in Spanish)

MONONA's picture

I am writing from Argentina, and first I would like to thank you for the opportunity to discuss this topic.

As for the questions you pose, in order to assess the role of women in local government in our country, Argentina, we must look at how much we have advanced with our social and political rights since 1947, when the then president of Argentina, Juan Domingo Peron, signed the presidential decree granting women across the country the right to vote. This was possible through Evita’s personal struggle, who, unfortunately, little enjoyed this historical event as a terminal illness took her life. While in November 1951 there were more than 3,500,000 women suffragettes, this was a triumph not only of democracy but was also a fulfillment of an old dream of Argentinian feminists, such as Alicia Moreau de Justo, Elvira Rawson Dellepiane, poet Alfonsina Storni and Silvina Ocampo.

This created a major step in our struggle to reclaim the role of women and to achieve a higher degree of civic participation of women in society on an equal footing with men. However, this did not imply a greater participation of women in executive positions in the post-dictatorship period, because the positions had already been minimal to nonexistent.

For example, for most of the Dr. Raul Alfonsin’s government there were no women ministers, except the very end of his mandate, when he named a woman Foreign Affairs Minister. During Dr Carlos Menem’s presidency, there was one woman as Minister of Education.

In the presidency of Dr. De la Rua, there were two women in his cabinet: Social Development and Labor portfolios. By Dr Duhalde’s term there were three women accompanying him in his cabinet in Education, Social Action and Labor Ministries.

We can say that in the history of Argentina, where ministers should be counted by hundreds, only 8 women have occupied the post.

At present, we have a female President that prompted not only the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, as well as various employment, social and educational programs in different parts of the country, the national law N ° 26,485 among many other actions that have provided us with fundamental tools to enforce those extended rights.

In the province where I live, there is no past history of women governors, the most we had was a female Vice-governor, provincial and national MPs and women councilors. The ministerial cabinet members are mostly men, with women being relegated to the Ministries of Education or Culture or, if lucky, Health.

Neither at the local level (municipality) do we have a history of women in executive positions, only as part of the Secretariats or as members of the local legislature, called "councilors", but they do not exceed the 25% of the elected total.

And all this despite the existence of female quota, which is in force in our country, meaning that all cases are taken as "maximum" and not as "minimum" when placing allow women on the candidate lists.

In the upcoming primary elections in Argentina, August 11, which will be open, simultaneous and obligatory, called PASO, I will participate as a pre-candidate for the city council. The advertising guidelines to disseminate the National Law projects that are required to give a free space to all participants, were not approved at the provincial and local levels, which reduced our financial tools necessary for any political campaign, forcing us to sharpen our wits in order to raise funds and apply them to the campaign.

Finally, beyond this reality, I await with hope a new dawn where women can be included in all activities of life by our decisions and activities so that we can finally overcome the obstacles that have been historically imposed on us women over the years.

My warm and respectful greetings.

(translated from the original comment in Spanish)

linda-vlga's picture

It is both wonderful and sobering to hear our issues are shared all around the world. In Australia, we share many of these issues and challenges for women getting to local government identified by other commentators.

Just sharing our good news in Victoria, a state of Australia which has 79 local governments: In 2011, the VLGA commenced a Victoria wide project to increase the numbers and diversity of women candidates, supported by the Victorian government and local governments. We had fabulous partnerships with community organizations and the media as well. Following the October 2012 elections, women now make up 34% of elected councilors, and for the first time, every single local government has a woman elected, two all-time records for us.

However, we still have ten councils where there is only one woman. We are now working to get resources for the 2016 elections so we can keep up the good work. We know that if we stop, gender equity goes backwards. Be interested to hear more thoughts and new ideas.

Think women for local government http://thinkwomenlg.org.au/
Now you’re a councillor http://nyac.org.au/
Victorian Local Government Women's Charter http://www.vlga.org.au/About_Us/Supported_Networks/Women_s_Participation...

Victorian resources:
A Gender Agenda - a toolkit for women candidates http://www.vlga.org.au/Resources/Library/A_Gender_Agenda__4th_edition___...

Jerusaambira's picture

The inclusion of women in political offices is still being faced with resistance. In Kenya, both the local and national governments have just the minimum number, a third, as stipulated in the constitution. Although the constitution says 'not more than two thirds from the same gender' there is a spirited effort to keep women in the 'third'. The result is that women continue to remain voiceless.

Our local governments have been replaced by county governments. The number of women remain minimal, a third of the total. Their representation therefore is not likely to help improve the socioeconomic status of women since they do not have the vote. For example, we have a marriage bill waiting to be debated by the national assembly. This bill endeavors to give women more rights in marriage. The male members from both the government and opposition side are opposed to the bill. The women in the house are less than 100 out of 349. It follows therefore that the bill will not see the light of day.

Women's participation in decision making at both local and national level is hampered by the fact that most of the women are nominated and therefore are supposed to pursue the agenda of the parties that nominated them. This explains why here in Kenya we do not have women who have risen to national political position from the local level. Those at national level just started there by being nominated by political parties, though a few have been elected by the constituents, again after being sponsored by political parties. Now we have women in counties, but again most of them are nominated by political parties, which makes them voiceless and therefore play a very minimal role in decision making.

I must point out that in Kenya there is no culture or institution that prevents women form participating in politics. The problem amongst women is lack of education, which keep us to poor. The majority of women in Kenya do not own property; it is the husbands who own property, so the problem of decision making starts right from the family level. I.e. You do not own anything and so you cannot decide on how family affairs should be run.

There is no system that brings the rural uneducated woman and the urban educated woman together. This gap has made it difficult for women to be adequately represented at the different levels of government since the women, although the majority, will vote for the men who they frequently see in the villages. Until we have adequate representation of women in governments, the plight of a woman cannot change.

amy oyekunle's picture

In Nigeria, there are no clear cultural or institutional barriers that hinder women from participating in local governance. However, despite the absence of these barriers women are still poorly represented in local governance in many states of Nigeria. Where they exist they are either vice-chairpersons or administrative officers within the office.

Women’s lack of representation at the local government level is a mirror of what exist at the federal and state levels of government. Sadly, women represent 6% in political representation in Nigeria. Women’s rights organisations/groups have been trying to change this for a long time. One of the current strategies (in the run-up to 2015 general elections) is to work strategically within the different political parties to ensure that women are clearly represented (at least 30%) of the board of executives. This has been difficult and continuously met with a lot of resistance within the political parties. We are however, recommending that the Electoral Committee (INEC) change the electoral policies to reflect this.

The organisation I work with (KIND) has been training women in political participation for over 8 years and one of the issues we meet is that women that contest at local level sometimes are not very conscious of the issues they need to work with. Another issue is that many women don’t agree to start at the local level because they are of the erroneous opinion that the local level is for ‘mad people’ (not my words). They would rather begin at the state or federal levels. While this in itself is not bad particularly if the woman has what it takes to succeed at the state or federal levels we usually encourage them to begin locally and work their way to the top.

One of the challenges affecting women in government is their infinitely small numbers to enable them to develop and push for legislature that are gender sensitive. But where possible they have been able to provide programmes that focus on certain elements of women’s empowerment such as women’s income generation and maternal health.

imar86's picture

Gender Equality, especially in local government and its mechanisms, is the first step to recognizing that government is by the people and for the people. And when we use the word ‘people’ it comprises both male and female. It’s important that, in the local governments, gender sensitive policies and approaches be adopted in order to facilitate and encourage women.
Finally, without women’s participation local governments cannot healthily grow as a family. Because they missed this one important element!

hmolette's picture

We live in a world where some are not seen as full citizens, we judge each other on the differences, instead of valuing what each uniquely brings to the discussion to solve social issues.

We need to embrace our unique intrinsic creative value, and figure out a ways to integrate difference for value-added people-centric social impacting innovation and change.

Muehlenbeck's picture

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been working to increase the number and effectiveness of women in political life around the world for over 25 years. NDI has supported women as they run for local office, organize around local policy issues, and connect with national leaders to collaborate and coordinate efforts. Women’s participation at the local level is important as many believe that that if more women serve at the local level, the number elected at the national level will increase because the “pool” of qualified and willing candidates will also increase. There is also strong evidence that women elected to office tend to emphasize issues that reflect the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities. From policies impacting schools to street lights to access to clean drinking water, many women are particularly attracted to local office as the issues often decided at the regional or local level tend to be more salient for women’s daily lives. Here are some encouraging examples of women’s political participation and leadership at the local level in Bangladesh, Mexico, Mali and Albania. 

Traditional gender roles are often a barrier to women’s political participation and leadership in Bangladesh. In order to increase women’s status and power at both the local and national levels, an initiative led by the Bangladesh Alliance for Women Leadership (BDAWL) and supported by NDI compiled the resumes and biographical information of 134 women leaders for a directory, “Who’s Who: Bangladeshi Women at a Glance”. The reference book celebrates the achievements of women in powerful political and societal positions, inspires women who are seeking similar roles in the future, and demonstrates the capacity of Bangladeshi women in all sectors. It also contains information on women voters, candidates and parliamentarians, as well as women elected to local government and a gender analysis of the past three elections. To learn more:

In Mexico, NDI has worked with women at the municipal level in Mexico to develop the skills needed to win mayoral races. As of 2011, the number of women mayors throughout the country averaged 5.5 percent, with some areas having even lower percentages. To address this gap in women’s political leadership, 50 women activists from all registered political parties participated in a six-month Academy for Future Women Mayors in Michoacán. The participants were selected in proportion with their party representation in the state legislature and gained skills to campaign for local office. Of the participants, 15 ran for office after completing the academy. To learn more about the Future Women Mayors academy program:

Additionally, women have had success securing seats in the national legislature through a coalition-led advocacy campaign that called for the passage of reforms by Mexico’s federal election commission. The success of the national level campaign resulted in a toolkit developed by NDI and the National Institute for Women (Instituto Nacional de Mujeres, INMUJERES) called “2% and More Women in Politics: An Advocacy Experience to Share” that details how to organize an advocacy campaign. Now, women are using these same tools and strategies to establish rules at the state level, where women only account for 6.1 percent of the Mexico’s 2,400 municipal presidents in 2013. The state of Sinaloa is an early example of the success of this advocacy guide. The 2% guide was presented in Sinaloa in November 2012, where the president of the State Electoral Council (CEE) publicly pledged to propose new regulations for state political party funding for women. The launch was followed by a day-long session for participants to learn about advocacy tools and develop an advocacy plan. After implementing the advocacy plan, the CEE unanimously approved reforms for monitoring implementation of the 5 percent earmark for state political party funding for women. To read more:

Women leaders in Mali face several challenges at the local and national level of politics, including demonstrating that they can govern on the same level as their male counterparts. As of 2010, women only made up 17 percent of local elected officials in Mali. In order for women municipal councilors to strengthen their public speaking skills and engagement with constituents, issue forums were organized in seven regions and administrative districts - Koulikoro, Kayes, Nioro, Mopti, Djenne, Bandiagara, and Kita. These forums were attended by representatives of labor unions, youth groups, women’s associations and government organizations and they worked to identify priority issues and solutions. In addition to these forums, interactive radio programs and televised policy debates were developed and broadcast throughout Mali that presented positive images of women's leadership capacities. To learn more about the Koulikoro forum:

In Albania, NDI has worked to support women activists from across the political spectrum in partnership with its local civic partner, the Women’s Network for Equality in Decision Making. The network is a multi-partisan coalition that works to make the political process more inclusive of and responsive to women. To increase women’s participation as candidates and campaign managers in Albania’s 2011 local elections, NDI organized “Developing Women’s Political Leadership,” a 10-month program on campaign management, messaging and advocacy. A key component of the program was the design of an advocacy campaign. One participant from Erseke, a small town in southeastern Albania, successfully implemented her campaign and lobbied the Erseke mayor to provide space in the town market for women to sell their handicrafts and also secured “tax-free” status for these women entrepreneurs.

In addition to political leadership training, NDI and the Albanian Women’s Network have also supported campaign work around local and national issues. Through research and surveys, the Women’s Network discovered that Albanian women lack information about detecting and preventing breast and cervical cancers, and that many local health offices did not have sufficient resources for addressing these health issues. As a result of these findings, the Women’s Network launched a campaign to educate women and decision-makers about women’s health issues and advocate for increased funding for medical treatment and equipment. Coalition members lobbied officials at the local and regional level, and the national presence of the Women’s Network was leveraged to address national leaders. Through these efforts, educational materials reached thousands of women in Albania and the regional hospital director and the deputy mayor in the city of Pogradec committed to providing free Pap tests for local women. To learn more about this campaign: http://www.ndi.org/Albanian_Women_Claim_Voice

María Eugenia Rojas Valverde's picture

Bolivian women’s rights are ensured in the legal system, but this has usually no effect in real life nor represents stability and institutionalization of public policies for gender issues. In March 2009, the National Plan for Equal Opportunities “Women Building a New Bolivia for a Better Life " was approved and enforced the recognition of women's contribution to national development as well as "equal opportunities to access services, full participation in decision-making, equitable distribution of financial resources, technology and property, establishing the conditions for a life free from gender-based violence".

Despite legislative actions, the condition and status of Bolivian women remains disadvantageous in comparison to men. They continue to receive less wages for equal jobs and generally they get jobs lacking stability and that are classified as low profile. In sum, although their rights are guaranteed in the constitution and in several laws, the implementation of "affirmative actions and proposed mechanisms" is needed in order to ensure equality so that women can continue contributing to national development and the strengthening of democracy.

This is especially relevant at the local level, where women exert a key role in the access and provision of municipal services. Also, at this level, women make an enormous contribution to the political, economic and sociological efforts.

Also, Law No. 2028 on Municipalities and Sustainable Human Development provides powers for "mainstreaming gender equity in the design, definition and implementation of policies, plans, programs and municipal projects." More recently, the new Constitution enshrines equal rights for men and women in Bolivia, which shall be applied by the state and civil society institutions.

All this despite the fact that in Bolivia there have been changes in the political culture of women and, as pointed out by a survey, the image of the devoted wife and mother is no longer attractive to Bolivian women since the priority for most of them has shifted to work while motherhood and/or marriage are no longer the only issue. For women, the local sphere has some pending issues to address. As pointed out by several studies, the presence and collective actions conducted by women within the local sphere are absolutely relevant. To conclude this point, we can say that the local sphere and the empowerment of women represent both opportunities and challenges.

So in this strategic context, violence is more recognizable visible, such as domestic violence and / or sexual violence, which constitute a latent problem in the private sphere; no less important but least known and recognized are the forms of political violence occurring in local public spheres and especially against women candidates and elected in their exercise of public functions or sub-national levels in Bolivia (and proven in other LAC countries too). On the other hand the forms of political violence is often sexual in nature perpetrated by a political partner when the woman is a good candidate or by a higher ranking colleague, but this can be differentiated by sector and scope - public policies / party / elections. In both cases, private or public violence, the result is the same; battered and abused women suffering physical and psychological damage.

In 2000, for the first time in Bolivia there was a formal complaint from a woman who was working at a local government suffering discrimination. Only in 2003, all cases (more than 40 complaints by then) were investigated and the information duly filed. These first reports in Bolivia are the basis for determining the violation of the principle of equality that demands and requires a balanced participation of both sexes in all spheres of public and private life, free from violence. Although there is recognition of equality from a formal point, it does not mean that there is real equality. The disappearance of all discriminatory factors in the constitutions of so-called democratic countries is not sufficient to eliminate the inequalities between men and women in different spheres of society. Reality has shown that the disadvantages found in women and the stereotypes rooted in society cannot be eliminated only with laws. Women have conquered and achieved formal equality, but not real equality. Policies serve to correct or compensate situations of inequality and discrimination.

Another factor is related to the use of women as political instruments. In the continuing disputes for political power, women are used as instruments for the realization of a variety of targets without recognizing their work and promoting women leaders to positions of higher responsibility. In this sense, it is common that women are actively involved in a variety of political activities such as protest marches, rallies or campaigns, but despite this involvement, they do not occupy the most important positions within the political organizations they belong to, except for rare and notable exceptions.

On the other hand, there is a great "Apathy of Women in Political Matters". Moreover, women in politics have themselves stated that there is some apathy on the part of women when they are asked to participate in politics. Although this behavior can be related to poor political practices which are affecting women negatively, it is necessary to explore other reasons why women are inclined to economic, social or cultural jobs rather than to politics and governance.

(original and full comment in Spanish)

roxanasilvach's picture

In Ecuador, the Constitution has marked a milestone in the protection of priority groups, as it horizontally integrated inclusion policies for these groups into all state functions. In my case, as National Electoral Adviser, I have contributed towards the establishment of affirmative action in the electoral arena. The National Electoral Council established the Commission for Inclusion on November 1, 2012, with the aim of generating inputs that allow the Council to take the necessary measures in order to ensure the incorporation of equal rights into sectors traditionally discriminated against, and with a focus on gender. However, despite the laws in the country that require joint and alternating male/female lists (50/50) along with initiatives that promote the political participation of women, women's effective participation in local governments across the country is still very understated ... For example, while there are 14 female mayors (6.33%) the number of male mayors is 206 (93.67%). And the same trend is observed in the districts (2 against 21) and parishes (858 against 3107).

The figures speak for themselves; local participation of Ecuadorian women does not go beyond 22%, so I can argue that in local, everyday life, women are relegated to roles specific to the private sphere, with little involvement in the public sphere or even less in politics.

In this debate I would like to pose some questions: Is affirmative action required from the start, such as quotas or mandatory seats for women, to ensure women’s political representation at the local level? Is it sufficient to encourage women to participate? Or what causes have you identified in your countries to explain the low participation of women at the local level?

Roxana Silva Ch.
Ecuador's National Electoral Advisor
(translated from the original in Spanish)

massolo's picture

In Latin America there are approximately 16,400 municipalities and only 10.6% are governed by a female Mayor. Few are those that manage to get to the government of their country's capital cities, as is the current case in Lima, Peru, and Santiago, Chile, where, for the first time in local history, they have a female Mayor. The increasing number of female mayors in the region is so slow that it would take 30 years to reach a "critical mass" of female mayors to decrease the huge gender inequality, according to the document prepared by the Area of Gender UNDP Regional Center "How far have we come? An analysis of women's political participation in sub-national governments in Latin America and the Caribbean", which I recommend and you can find at www.americalatinagenera.org as well as in the iKNOW Politics library. This document provides information and analysis of the issues that is discussed in this forum.

Moreover, we have seen a great breakthrough in the presence of women in councilor positions, largely thanks to the implementation of quotas in municipal elections. For example, Costa Rica has reached 49%, almost parity, in Bolivia 43%, and in Mexico 37%, according to the document cited above. In these positions, and others brought by local elections, testimonies and analyzes recorded similar patterns of obstacles and resistance to the exercise of women’s political rights, but I would like to particularly emphasize the biggest obstacle represented by the political parties, whose logic and practices discourage, manipulate and despise women who aspire to participate in municipal elective office.

The struggle for local political power is fierce and unrelenting, and women have a lot to lose in terms of personal, familial, emotional, moral and physical costs immersed in electoral competition, which men do not have to face since they are accustomed to dominating the political power. The proximity of the local government does not guarantee women at all facilities and opportunities to exercise their political rights of representation and authority. But since the world city is a "Pandora's box" of diversity, heterogeneity and surprises, we find some cases, perhaps unique, such as that of the female Mayor of the municipality of Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador, who has been re-elected 8 times to run the municipality, and today is the first woman to co-chair the American Federation of Municipalities, Cities and Associations (FLACMA).

Generally, municipalities are not used by women as a springboard for greater access to positions of political power, such as a deputy, senator, governor, minister, or even President, as men have used it successfully, but we still know very little about the political trajectories that follow the former female mayors, female councilors, etc… The only information I know of is of the former female Mayor from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who is now currently the Minister of Culture for President Dilma Rousseff.

We need a lot more research and dissemination of experiences and backgrounds of women who have participated and participate in elections and municipal elective office. I applaud the initiative of this forum in highlighting the public debate on gender issues related to local governments.

Best regards, Alejandra Massolo
Consultant on Gender Equality and Local Governments
Neuquén, Argentina
(translated from the original in Spanish)

Fran's picture

The forum addresses an important issue regarding equality for all in governance. Unfortunately, the examples given bring up the failings of a quota system in governance because of corruption, cronyism, etc. In their report, posted to this website, “Electoral Politics, Making Quotas Work for Women”, Homa Hoodfar and Mona Tajali make an excellent point early on with regards to the quota system in Egypt, though flawed, at the time of writing. Even with the negative impact of corruption, the quotas remain an historical foothold for the future. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This inherent corruption, or that of any system, also proves, in my opinion, another important, though uncomfortable point: That as humans placed anywhere on the gender spectrum, we are all equally capable of corruption.

However, I strongly believe quotas are necessary at this point in history. Perhaps, in some sense, the issue is being approached from the wrong direction. As Karl Popper put it, “…most men drawn to power are mediocre, at best. “ The question should not be, ultimately, how do we get good people to rule, but rather, how do we control those in power. It has always been the people who have the power, yet we are conditioned through propaganda, as in the west, or by fear of the possibility of a very real violence. How does one engage a population to vigilant oversight of its leaders?

Finally, with regard once again to a quota system. We are all of the same Earth, with equal parts dust and of the divine. Systems of governance should have a place for all on the gender spectrum. This includes transgendered women and men and so-called gender non-conforming. Until complete inclusion becomes the norm, systems like this must be put in place, not only in governance but throughout our social mechanism. If there are no rights for ‘the least of these’ our perceived rights are merely privilege. I would like to leave this place better for my children, and theirs. I am not optimistic, as Dr. West says, but I have hope.

Thank you

francisca's picture

Are there cultural or institutional barriers that prevent women from becoming politically active in your community?

Yes, there are! The glass ceiling "is the name given to an invisible ceiling in women's careers, difficult to cross, that prevents us from moving forward. This ceiling is invisible because there are no laws or established social codes or devices visible to impose such restrictions on women, but it is built on the basis of other characteristics which, by their invisibility, are difficult to detect. "

It is also often called a "sticky floor" that unites the forces that keeps many women trapped at the base of the economic pyramid.

The famous glass ceiling that prevents women from achieving professional goals for which they are ready seems invisible, but statistics show that it does exists; it is an enigmatic term, secret, undetectable, but its results are real and quantifiable: there are no women at the executive levels of organizations.

Over the past two decades, women's participation in different fields of expertise was extended, including traditionally male occupations, such as in science and technology. What seems more difficult to achieve, however, is a fair share of women in management positions. Equality at work remains an illusion. The gender perspective has shown that neither the strong increase in the level of education nor a wide participation of women in the labor market has led to a proportional increase in power and decision–making positions.

Although the concept has been used to analyze the careers of women who were highly qualified in their work thanks to their higher education and training, but could not move up in their career because they were blocked by the so-called glass ceiling, this metaphor quickly spread to describe barriers to the advancement of minorities in general due to race, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc…

According to figures from a study by the ILO, "Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women in Management" by Linda Wirth, issued in May 2001, it was noted that:

• Women only occupy from 1 to 3 percent of top executive positions in the world's largest companies.
• Only 8 countries have a woman as head of state.
• Women make up 13 percent of the world's parliamentarians and 21 countries have a woman as vice-president or holding the second highest office in the state.
• Although women account for nearly 40 percent of the members of trade unions, women represent only 1 percent of union leaders.
• The "wage gap" goes from 10 to 30 percent at the expense of women, even in countries that are more advanced in terms of gender equality.
• That women work more than men in almost all countries and that women continue to do the majority of unpaid work.

The glass ceiling is constructed on the basis of traits that are difficult to detect, the reason why it is not seen and therefore called ‘glass’. This invisible barrier appears when women get near the top of the corporate hierarchy and the opportunity to advance their career to positions of managerial and executive level is blocked.


Research has cited various obstacles to women's access to positions of decision:

• The hierarchical industry structures with men occupying nearly all decision making positions. The principle of cooptation (designate someone by choice and not by rules or merit) is to blame for many of these positions.
• The predominant training of women in ‘caring’ positions is contradictory with the male working world where human bonds are characterized by a maximum of rationality and affections brought into play by cold emotions: emotional distance, indifference, etc…
• The work of many professional women in traditionally male positions is more inquisitively observed than their male counterparts; a level of "excellence" is required of them.
• Stereotypes: Some of those that make up the "glass ceiling" are formulated as follows: "women fear positions of power", "women are not interested in positions of responsibility", "women cannot deal with difficult situations requiring authority and power "... These stereotypes have multiple consequences: first, they make women "ineligible" for positions requiring authority and the exercise of power. In addition, there are women who take these stereotypes to heart, repeating them almost without question and as if they were election results themselves. However, it is also true that there are groups of more innovative women that admit there is a conflict and face it with increasingly varied resources when occupying these jobs.
• Similarly, there is no underestimating the impact that stereotypes have on women’s orientation (either imposed by the family or the educational system)
• The double burden: it is known that professional women are juggling to balance work outside the home with domestic chores, often by themselves.
• Self-confidence: the lack of female role models to identify with causes insecurity and fear of lack of capacity when accessing workplaces traditionally held by men.
• Yet there is a significant majority of women conscious and restless with this problem (not only in the media but in any economic sector). So there is enough pressure to identify and promote different forms of social organization fairer.

Is there a correlation between women’s political participation at the local and national level? Do you know women national leaders who started their career in local governance? Are there any specific programmes or structures in place supporting local elected women to become leaders at the national level?

This correlation exists because usually these women begin their political participation at the local level. This is where they present themselves as leaders and, through their political parties, make the transition to the departmental and / or national level. Their political beginnings are often linked to the social life of their neighborhoods, parishes and other local areas.

Democratic Leadership Schools provide training specifically for women for political participation. The vast majority of its training is for secretary programmes for The Gender Equality of Women organization in different regions of the country, as well as for NGOs working with women and, in recent years (16 or so) the High Council for Equity Women was created, whose purpose is empowerment, political participation and the establishment of public policies with that purpose.

It should be noted that some women's organizations’ goals include promoting the awareness of 'gender’ in women and in their respective political participation in different areas of decision making.

Has your local government undertaken any gender analysis as part of comprehensive policy, programmes and service planning and delivery?

Three (3) years ago, the municipal administration presented and approved to the City Council an agreement to create a TABLE OF GENDER EQUALITY FOR WOMEN, annexed to the City Council for Social Policy (COMPOS), to discuss, analyze, decide and propose positive action in favor of women in the municipality. The Public Policy for women is also currently being developed.

Does having more women in local governments lead to the creation of more gender sensitive programmes and legislation as well as empowering other women in local communities?

DEFINITELY YES, especially at the national level. We have passed many laws in favor of women: National Policy for Women's Equality, Presidential Office for Equality of Women in Congress, there is a women's caucus (constituted by the different parliamentary parties to legislate in favor of Colombian women). The same occurs for women at the departmental level of government; however, this is NOT the case at the local level due to lack of awareness and gender agendas of the women who occupy these positions as well as because local political parties are not interested in women’s empowerment.

(translated from the original in Spanish)