Increasing young women’s engagement in political parties (2012-07-09 - 2012-07-30)



Increasing young women’s engagement in political parties (2012-07-09 - 2012-07-30)

How do we get more young women engaging in political parties? The Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy will be examining this question at its Copenhagen Seminar on Women in Politics in September 2012, for which a background paper will be prepared. Maryse Helbert, an expert from DIPD would like to use the iKNOW Politics platform to explore this topic and share information about positive and negative experiences. 

 Promoting and supporting young women’s engagement in politics is not without challenges. Historically, patriarchal norms, electoral system structures and male-dominated political cultures have put up barriers to young women’s participation in politics. More recently, a multiplication of approaches to political action, and a diversification of the means through which this political action happens (e.g. social media), has perhaps lowered some barriers to young women’s participation while raising others. Yet, despite these challenges and developments, promoting young women in formal politics remains crucial for the vitality of democracy.

This discussion aims to share positive experiences in recruiting more young women in political parties.

•       Who has been trying to recruit more young women in political parties and succeeded at it?

•       What programmes, strategies, approaches, methods and ideas have been successful?

Negative experiences would also be welcomed as it would give us ideas about what not to do.

We look forward to hearing your views on some/all of these questions and sharing your experiences on this important issue with our users worldwide. To submit your contributions on one or several discussion questions mentioned above, please visit our website at and register for the E-Discussion. 

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Lindy Wafula's picture

Today in Kenya, women still do not equally participate in political leadership and decision making processes as men do. The higher the positions in public services, the more the responsibilities and the less the representation of women. For a long time, women in Kenya have been sidelined from participating actively in politics. First from political party management, to elective posts and national and local governments and further in appointive positions in public service. The numbers of young women under 40 are even slimmer.

With the Constitution of Kenya (2010) a new dispensation awakens for women in politics. The Constitution promotes gender equality and empowerment of women by providing articles that promote the participation of women in political leadership and decision making. The “ not more than two thirds” principle of Article 81 of the constitution notably anchors the gains that the new laws offer to Kenyan women.

However, it is also notable that the strides to overcome ahead of the forth coming general elections in Kenya is how will the not more than two thirds principle be achieved. Different measures have been proposed but most favorable to young women politicians is the need to encourage young women politicians to engage actively in politics and run for office. One instrument to make this goal achievable is offering mentoring thus the need to promote Emerge Kenya – a program aimed at mentoring aspiring young women politicians aged 18-35.

Mentoring: This is a strategy to engage, educate and empower people develop their personal skills talents and abilities.
Empowerment: According to the UNESCO empowerment means enabling individuals or communities to take charge and make full use of their potential : knowledge, Energies, and judgment

Target Group:
The program targets young women, ages 18 to 35, who are interested elective and appointive office in the 2013 general election in Kenya. It aims to inspire young women to run for office and familiarize them with what it means to be an elected member both at for the Senate, National Assembly and County assemblies through hands-on experience. The program is partly adopted from a model earlier implemented by the National Youth Council of Switzerland.

The Objectives
1.To motivate and encourage young women to participate in political leadership
2.To reach a higher percentage of (young) women in responsible elected and appointive political positions in 2013
3.To create networks for (young) women in the public service
4.To support civic education on the abilities of women in leadership and decision making
5.To include men leaders in the promotion of women in politics
6.Top raise awareness on the issue of gender equality and empowerment of women in politics both for the mentees , mentors and the public
7.To encourage dialogue on political leadership and social justice between generations and gender
Mode of the Program
The Program will pilot in September 2012 with 50 mentoring -couples participating and will further increase the participation to 100 mentoring- couples for the period between 2013 and 2018 when Kenya holds the next general election meaning that the program will have 500 young women mentored in public office
The content of the program will include one-to –one mentoring relationship between a mentee and mentor and peer to peer mentoring amongst the mentees. The mentor will be a senior (man or a woman ) occupying a position in politics, a senior executive in civic society or trade union. Mentees are young women under 35 who have identified with political parties and are aspiring for elective and appointive positions

The activities of mentoring teams
During the year of mentoring, the mentoring teams are free to engage in activities of their own choice on condition that these will fulfill the goals the mentee aims to achieve by the end of the mentoring program. Frequent one -to -one meetings are encouraged. Some of the activities that the mentoring teams can engage in include
1. Personal meetings: getting to know each other discussion about personal issues, aspirations life experiences , career etc
2. Discussion on how to organize and manage work –life balance with job, family, politics
3. Exchange information about political work and method
4. The mentor supports the mentee in certain situations such as how to structure an argument in a debate, how to engage the media, how to organize campaigns how to lead a team or an organization
5. The mentee accompanies and shadows the mentor in his or her political work (e.g conference or place of work
6. The mentor accompanies and shadows the mentee in her political work
7. Networking meeting with other gate keepers in politics, business, community work
Expected outcomes/Benefits
For mentees
1. Better career and future planning
2. Broader networks
3. Capacity building in confidence self- esteem and communication skills especially public speaking
4. More knowledge in political issues and processes
5. Possible election or appointment to public office
For mentors
1. Insight on new school of thought earned from a mentees perspective
2. Recognition of hidden personal abilities and leadership characteristics
3. Living legendary raising a new generation of leaders
For organizations
1. Broader networks
For Kenya
2. A strong structure of political leaders
3. Increase in number of women in political leadership
4. Equal participation of men and women in public service
Possible risks and challenges
1. lack of time for meetings
2. Lack of sympathy
3. Misuse of mentees to do odd assignments
4. Misuse of mentors as fundraisers

We are still seeking support to have this program launched in September 2012

MaryseHelbert's picture

Dear Lindy,
Mentoring is definitely a key initiative in giving support for young women to run for leadership positions. It is also good to mention the Switzerland initiative as it has been imitated in several countries.
While it is crucial to give support for women within party, I'd like also to know how do we reach out to young women outside party? Which kind of tool, or approaches are being used to recruit more young women?

MsGichuhi's picture

To whomever it may concern,
Speaking as a young woman myself who is politically involved, I commend Lynda Wafula's mentoring programme and to answer MaryseHelbert's question in regards to recruiting women outside the party, women within political parties should hold talks or conferences in educational institutions such as universities/colleges and even high schools specifically aimed at female students and create mailing lists where information is constantly sent out about where the politicians whereabouts and also volunteering opportunities within your respective constituencies.
We understand that politics is a male dominated arena however if we as young women were given the chance to meet the few outstanding women already within this arena , we are then empowered and more likely to engage in politics.

MaryseHelbert's picture

Reaching out to young women where they are is definitely the way to go. As states in a report done by UNIFEM, UNPD for women, "Inorder to increase space for women to have a voice in the politial, cultural, social and administrative arenas, actions needs to be taken from the household up to national politics' (Democracy with Women, for Women).

Alice in Wonderland's picture

Women should have confidence, power,guts etc; in them to voice out in the political arena.
As to young women they have to be trained because the position of the women is very heavy from the household as no.1 and to politics etc;

Mary Y. Conteh's picture

Dear all, This is Mary Yabonette Conteh, Director, Women's Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (WOCEGAR), Makeni, Sierra Leone.

My take is that there are other young people who are going into politics and are not going to any particular political party for many reasons. I am one of such person, I am 34 years old now and I'm running for the seat of the Mayoress of Makeni on 17th November 2012 regardless of my sexuality. What I want is a lot of support from you, because I am well known as an activist in advancing the rights of Lesbians and Bi-sexual.  So do you think that Political Parties and Media base their decisions on religious and cultural pratices, because the Government of Sierra Leone does not accept supporters of LGBTI rights, so please do something to see me through.  It is good that you support us.

MaryseHelbert's picture

Talking about the ideologies of political having an influence on the attitude is definitely a good point. At so many levels, sexism, homophobie and racism are at the roots of belief, social norms and discourse. And indeed, if we can help you in any way feel free to ask for some actions. 

Talking about LGBTI Rights, it is interesting to see the gap between somepolitical parties and the discourse of young generation on that issue. In many countries many young people have overall approuved the LGBTI rights while political parties are still fighting with giving the basic gay rights

Lindy Wafula's picture

One of the other initiatives i have created is the Leading ladies circles where apart from offering mentoring to young women in Politics the LLC holds breakfast meetings once every month to allow for Young women leaders in business, religious organizations, community based organizations etc to come together to a round table and share information. This circle aims to build links between young women from different walks of life to understand that politics affects our lives and wellbeing and that each individual has a role to play. E.g that those who are entreprenuers can financially support those running for office by volunteering services or giving resources. or that social entreprenuers can create initiatives that aim to solve social challenges if they can be educated by young women leaders in civic and religious societies. In turn, the outcome is a connect generation of young women leaders making a difference for all in their communities. From the Leading Ladies circle we aim to create a database or pool from where young women with merit can be drawn from for nominations nad appointments in political leadership and public service.

MaryseHelbert's picture

Lindy again very good point

In some way, two of the basic approaches in to getting more young women involve in politics is mentoring and exchange of experiences. And well done Lindy, the initiative called 'Breakfast meeting" sounds fabulous. I'd love to be at those meetings and listen to what they have to say

Indra Biseswar's picture

We all know it is important and good for women to be active in politics. We have taken the first steps. But encouraging our daughters to take more interest in politics is a daunting task.

It is all about the phase society is in. If society becomes more open to accepting women in politics, then that will be reflected in education and employment of women. This will consequently lead to curricula change aiming to awaken female students' interest in the field. legal reforms can follow suit. It is a process.

In Ethiopia, many daring middle aged women took part in the 2005 national elections as independent candidates. They refused to join the existing male political dominated parties fearing co-optation. Despite losing in the elections, they did not give up their ambitions and took again part in the 2010 national elections. This time they received also training from some NGO's in the issues around elections. Again many lost (considering the difficult political regime in the country). These women are fighters and struggle despite all odds against male chauvinism that does not see politics fit for women.

For older women it is also different as they are more daring and(sometimes) taken more serious than young girls. I did not encounter young women daring to go into politics. It could also be related to the repressive political regime that does not allow for opposition.

However, the main issue is that you cannot ask, tell or train women to do something. It has to come from them. They may need a little push and support. Not every young women wants to be a politician or an activist.

Discussion fora should include them and reach out to share information and experiences. Those are the best methods to get young women interested. Use of social media is an effective tool in this in urban areas. School discussion platforms focusing on women's political roles and ambitions can also be encouraged as extra curricular activities.

In the prime medium, the home (the family), parents have to move the nurturing roles of their daughters from the domestic to the public. Girls have to belief that it is acceptable and that they are capable.

I have a daughter, just turning 18, who is reasonably outspoken on a few issues and takes often part in school debates. Perhaps this can trigger her interest for political office in the future. It is a long process that cannot be done overnight.

MaryseHelbert's picture

Trying to get into politics and avoiding Political Parties is a hard one as Parties are the bridges between society and government. However, doing it it to avoid cooptation is also  a very brave.

In Sweden or in Finland, a coalition of women as an independent, temporal political party was put into place to put more women in decision-making positions.

amy oyekunle's picture

Dear All,

My name is Amy Oyekunle and I work with the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), a non-governmental organization based in Lagos that works primarily in Nigeria in the areas of leadership development for young women and on collaborative projects aimed at removing barriers to women’s public participation and ending violence against women.

In 2006/7, working with a coalition of 15 NGOs, KIND began a campaign called 30 by 11 (now 30 by 15) to secure favourable rules for women representation in politics and decision-making. The model was simply to identify and train women on political education and provide pipelines for younger women through our mentoring programme. The mentoring programme is pretty much the same as Lindy’s. Where an established female politician/leader is paired up with a younger woman (between 18 – 28 years) interested in politics.

What we did is we went to 3 major universities in 3-geo-political zones. We focused on universities for two reasons.
• First, we felt that universities were the best platforms for young women to begin their political career (through student union bodies etc).
• Second, it was a good opportunity to follow-up and monitor after the trainings they received whereas outside might prove much more difficult.

Our experience was quite informative. What we found was:

• Young women though interested are very wary about politics (not news) specifically
• Those young women who have managed to begin and continue active politics outside university need more support
• Young women need more platforms within the party structure. However, their inexperience and sex continues to pose major obstacles for them.
• Young women need more political education. In one instance, a young lady was told she could not contest for a certain position until she was 28 or more. This was not true of course. But unfortunately, she had believed them.
• Politics for many still is a very expensive venture – young women don’t have that kind of finances. Our solution was to add support into our campaign – linking women to the finances. Because let’s face it ‘Money talks and .........walks’ or at least Until the type of politics or political scenario changes. Which we hope it will and are working towards this.

Sadly, political party structures are not necessarily willing to engage women beyond the roles of women leaders. Recently, donors are focusing funding on working with political parties to ensure women’s equitable representation. At a meeting I participated in Abuja, suggestions included making political parties understand the need to actively involve women beyond the usual positions and engendering their manifestos. Another suggestion was to push for a law that enjoins political parties to have at least 35% women’s representation on party structures.

This is something that I feel if actively followed in addition to all the other models might create that change however small we are all longing for.

MaryseHelbert's picture

Thank you so much for your contribution Amy

In order to meaningfully increased the number of young women in politics, political parties have to be pushed on several levels. First of all, party structures have to be profoundly  changed in order to have women in decision-making position. They also have to be pushed to to put a real women's friendly agenda on the political agenda. Outside their structure, they have to reach out to young women in order to convince them to engage in politics and offer them real opportunities to run for election. And indeed, Amy, real opportunities mean also financial support. Within the women's unit, mentoring, training, discussion, support has to be available to young women.

CRosario's picture

I just read an article by Julie Zeilinger, a university student in New York City, about why women of her generation shy away from leadership. You can find the article here: Why Millennial Women Do Not Want To Lead, Forbes.

The concepts she brought out are relevant in other country contexts and within the political sphere as well. She says:

Ultimately, women equate leadership with perfection in a way that men don’t. Men are generally taught that perfection is not a necessary component of success, that, in fact, they can fail miserably – even commit felonies — and still bounce back to power. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule (like Martha Stewart’s bounce back to power after incarceration, for instance) but largely, men are taught they are entitled to leadership in a way women are not.

So, why don’t women want to lead? The answer is in the pages of the magazines we read and now even in the news coverage of the political debates we watch, which promote cultural standards that destroy women’s confidence and prescribe unattainable standards in all areas of our lives. In order for women to lead – for women to want to lead, to feel that we are capable of leading – we need to redefine leadership altogether. We need to define leadership not as perfection but as intelligence, honesty and doing the right thing. It is also essential that we question and change a society that sets the standard for achievement impossibly high for women and upsettingly low for men.

In the United States there are pressures on young women to be beautiful and thin, and those with ambition are seeking to "have it all" meaning be a successful wife and mother while staying fit engaging in volunteer work and having a career. Men on the other hand, seek success in their careers in order to be a good provider, which is where they often feel their role as a husband and father ends. In many countries around the world women are seen as the virtue of the family, expected to hold up the values of the family above her own ambitions. In a world where girls are taught different priorities from boys why would they want to get involved in the scandal-ridden world of politics? Doing so would only make achieving the impossible ideals set out for them even more difficult.

I think there are things political parties can do to change this culture. Punishing corruption within their ranks instead of looking the other way or giving meaningless penalties for transgressions might go a long way to change the conception of what it means to be a political leader. Parties can also lead with their actions, promoting deserving women into leadership positions based on merit, not family or financial connections, and hold up these real women as role models for young women to aspire toward.

The author of the article also calls out the media point blank for their role in tearing down powerful women by putting more emphasis on their appearance than their capacity and achievements. Political parties obviously have no control over the media, but they can come to the aid of these women by expressing dissatisfaction with the media outlets that publish these stories and making it known that they will only grant interviews etc. to outlets that give fair treatment to all party members in their coverage. There are obviously a lot of implications to consider, but this kind of strategy could be implemented in phases or even based on personal relationships that parties have with media outlets.

I believe that the first wave of feminists, today's current powerful women, had to adapt to operating in a man's world to reach the pinnacles of their careers (the case the author draws of the overly sexualized Sarah Palin versus the super tough Hillary Clinton demonstrates this point). Hopefully the women who have succeeded within that structure will see it a their responsibility to change the culture of politics (and business, etc.) so that the women coming up behind them can help contribute to a more gender mainstreamed and family friendly environment, and we can start to tear down some of these invisible barriers that policies can't or won't address.

srana1's picture

The factors that inhibit the participation of young women’s engagement in developing countries like Nepal can be attributed to both socio-cultural and political structures that benefit men.
To elaborate in the specific context of South Asia, the expected role of women is to look after the house, cook, and take care of the family and children. This applies irrespective of if women are educated or are working in the same way as men.
Being involved in politics in this part of the world would mean that women have to be ready to work even in odd hours like early mornings or late nights or weekends which make it really difficult for women to manage.
The practice of staying in an extended family which most South Asians follow also acts as a barrier for women to be in politics. A woman has to be subservient not only to her husband but his whole family and their needs. The control over her thoughts and activities are as much part of the social reality as are day and night.
For most families, it would be unacceptable for their daughter-in-law to participate in politics as it is not seen as a regular and harmless career choice like a teacher or a banker. So even families who will accept women working in a regular office will object to them being active in politics.
Hence, in this part of the world, for most women being in politics is actually a choice between having a family or a career. It is really almost impossible to have both unless the husband or his family is already involved in politics or a few exceptions here and there. Not surprisingly, most women have found it difficult to choose politics at the cost of choosing a steady family life.
In terms of political structures, most political parties are male-dominated. Hence, activities of political parties do not take into consideration needs or sensibilities of women. This is one of the reasons why a significant number of women do not find politics as fascinating or feel that they could contribute positively.
In the present context when the voices for inclusion of women have increased, women are treated as mere symbols, just to prove that there are enough women in the party. Their sensibilities are never taken seriously by the parties’ decision-making body which is mostly dominated by men. It has become a great barrier for many women to participate.
It is difficult to think of short-term solutions that will yield results. Gender awareness activities or campaigns targeting men could be useful so that all men are aware about structures that put women at a disadvantaged position and learn to act with that knowledge. Most men are not even aware about injustices inherent in the socio-cultural and political structures. Gender should be a part of the curriculum in school itself (like a moral science class) so that both men and women are aware about structural barriers for women to participate in politics or any other field and work together to remove them.

MaryseHelbert's picture

Dear Shrishti,

The double, triple and even quadruple burden that women have to bear is as you rightly say a real problem in women's life. And it does not leave a lot of opportunities to participate in social change, which in fine contributes to the status quo. As the report done by UNIFEM/UNDEF (2008) states, 'in order to fully increase space for women to have a voice in the politics, cultural, social and administrative arenas, actions need to be taken from the household up to national politics.

And as you rightly point out, it countries are not able to lift the burden off the shoulders of women, there may not be much point in allocating them seats in politics. However, we have to start somewhere. Social change has to be pushed for on so many levels but has to be done. Small steps can lead to big steps. School as you say is crucial in breaking barriers and teaching new norms. Initiatives in school have already been put into place to teach children to respect each other. In Australia, it is part of the overall program to end domestic violence. Respecting each other can be associated with giving each other a chance to express political opinions, engaging in politics and ease women's burden.

iKNOW Politics's picture

I have very few happy experiences with regard to the accession of young women in politics in my country the DRC.Several obstacles are at the base of this State deplorable: there is notably traditional stereotypes that women is underestimated, the difficulty faced by those who are to emerge despite their combativeness, the low purchasing power of the woman who does not weigh the same as fellow man, disgust of the political practices that are contrary to moralitypolitical instability and the uncertain future that this trade Regent. In short, young women are not ready to embark on this adventure where their next day is hypothetical. My faith, most young women come as participating in political demonstrations. Those who are trying to give are soon discouraged lack of coaching and business that allow them to move properly without being the lover of good Samaritans. Several negative experiences were experienced by women as push you the abandonment see you give disgust.

It is discrimination within the political parties that favour some members in place and place, in terms of benefits, while all have the same status. Women, as they are not always capable of hitting bats, they are often victims. However, alongside the men, we must learn to do policy women to change humanity.

Thank you. I pause here to today all

Régine AYOWA

Amboufei Diana Engenembe's picture

In order to improve and increase young women political participation or involvement in political domain, the awareness and training programme is proposed to take place at all level.

Participants will be drawn from all regions who will be encouraged to participate thus representing their constituencies.

The obstacles and hindrances to young women or women participation will be identified, analysed and proposals made towards overcoming these obstacles.

The challenges posed by these political intervention will be discussed so as to overcome the fears that the participants may have. Above all, the economic challenges are enormous. Young women will need to chat out strategies of overcoming them. also the young women should adequately be educated on the electoral process, their civic representation, rights and political leadership including campaign strategies.

If these methods are implemented, we will have an increased of young women engaging in political parties.

Positive Experiences

- To encourage the increase engagement and participation of young women in political parties, we should give them post of responsibilities such as:National Chairperson, Secretary General, Regional Coordinators, District Chairperson

- Identify women interested or aspiring for political leadership at all level

- Organise for each of the level workshops

Negative Experiences

- Young women in Cameroon at large are poorly represented in parliament and municipal structures and participate less in decision-making process.

- Access to power strutures and decision-making especially Municipal and parliamentary structures are by election and appointment, an excercise in which young women are hardly privilege in the selection. this gender gap is deeply rooted in

1. Young women ignorance in the electoral process

2. Young women ignorance on their political rights which has relegated their participation in politics and they remain as hand clappers and cooks during political jamborees 

3. Institutionalized negative cultural practices which project mainly men.

4. Various forms of cultural norms and taboos.

5. Underdeveloped leadership skills in young women and the fear of taking risks.