Summary from the E-Discussion Forum on Financing Women in Politics (October 22-29, 2008)

Discussion Summaries

November 15, 2008

Summary from the E-Discussion Forum on Financing Women in Politics (October 22-29, 2008)

  • Launch message:

    One of the commonly-cited barriers to women’s political participation is lack of sufficient funds and in-kind contributions to campaign competitively. Women, who are frequently under-represented in business and commerce, often do not have access to the same corporate and business networks that men use to raise money. In some countries women still lack basic rights to own property, earn disproportionately lower income and have less financial independence than men. Women are also often kept outside of the existing party establishments, its professional fundraisers and political networks. In addition, women are sometimes socialized in such a way that they are reluctant to aggressively ask for money, and often lack basic fundraising skills and experience. In many countries there have been efforts to address this inequality, including skills development and targeted fundraising campaigns in support of women candidates, and reforms to political financing laws. On the other hand, women are increasingly finding new and innovative ways to raise money.

    The E-discussion aims to address the financing of women in politics on a global level, and to create a knowledge base for future recommendations and action plans. Through this e-discussion women and their supporters can share strategies, experiences and examples with one another on how to overcome this barrier and take advantage of iKNOW Politics, a premier network for women in politics. The E-Discussion will be structured around the following general questions, which can be further developed by the participants: 

    1. FUNDRAISING STRATEGIES FOR WOMEN CANDIDATES: What are some strategies that women have used effectively to raise money? What makes some women very successful fundraisers? What fundraising techniques work best in different political environments (i.e.: corporate donors, direct appeal to individuals, fundraising events, etc.)? What are some networks that women can draw upon for help in raising money? 

    2. FINANCE LAWS FOR WOMEN'S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION: What are examples of political financing legislation that has reduced financial barriers to running for office (i.e. public campaign laws, tax deductibility, child care support, media access regulations, etc.)? What has been the impact of imposing electoral spending limits, public financing of political parties or limits on donation amounts and sources? What mechanisms are in place to implement provisions of financing laws? Have there been instances when financing laws become disadvantageous for women’s political participation? How do finance laws regulate vote buying practices and their negative effects? 

    3. THE ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES: What can political parties do to remove financial barriers to women in politics? Which political party financing reforms most benefit women? When and where have gender quotas implemented by political parties been used as incentives for getting public funds? What are some examples of successful strategies championed by women’s party sections to provide women candidates with access to funding? 

    4. WOMEN'S FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE AND ACCESS TO PUBLIC OFFICE: What are the key strategies employed by women candidates to fundraise for their political campaigns? Do women have equal access to moneyed networks to fundraise for their political campaigns? What is the correlation between women’s financial dependence on men and access to public office? How do different cultural contexts influence women´s access to money in politics? To what extent does the level of support from a woman’s family impact a woman’s ability to access funds to run for office? What structural changes need to be made at different levels (i.e. politically, socially, culturally) to ensure that financial inequalities are not a barrier to women running as candidates? 

    5. WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND LOCAL ELECTIONS: What distinct strategies have been employed by women to raise money in local elections? Do women candidates running in local elections face more financial barriers than women running in national elections? What are the main finance sources for women running in local elections? What are some examples of finance laws adopted by local governments to stimulate women’s political participation?


    During the seven days of the E-Discussion, iKNOW Politics received 38 comments from its members and experts worldwide (18 in English, 18 in Spanish and 2 in French). Contributors came from over 15 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, USA, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, Kenya, Panama, Canada, Czech Republic, Morocco and Sierra Leone.

    Discussion Summary

    Fundraising strategies for women candidates

    Understand donor motivations

    The first step in fundraising is to understand why people donate to campaigns. Kate Coyne-McCoy suggests that there are different categories of donors with varying motives for giving, and that candidates need to be strategic in approaching these groups – for instance, approach friends and family first and wait to approach large businesses until you have established your credibility, and design specific targeted messages to each group: 

    “First, people give because they benefit in some way from the giving. There are four circles of benefit; the personal circle is the first. People in the personal circle are your family and friends, your close neighbors, your classmates… The second circle of benefit is the ideological circle. These are the people who share your values or positions on a cause… The next circle of benefit is the axe to grind circle. The people in this circle don’t give a hoot about you they dislike the other guy- your opponent…The last circle of benefit is the power circle. People in this circle are powerful and desire to protect their assets, usually their economic assets.” []

    Lissy Moskowitz goes one step further in suggesting that women donate money for different reasons than men:

    “female candidates should focus on mobilizing women donors for fundraising due to the rationale women donors use when contributing, namely, impact of elected official, inspiring role models information for making informed decisions, inclusion in decisions on use of funds and lastly interaction with other actors” [Fundraising by women from women]

    Make use of new technologies

    Several participants advised prospective candidates to make use of new technologies such as internet and powerpoint:

    Raymicha from Peru says “to campaign with a banner on the internet is surely cheaper than a television ad. Moreover, it would be necessary to divide target audiences and create different campaigns.” [Financing for women candidates/Financiamiento para candidatas]

    Silvia Way agrees: “The idea simplifies costs and time. In addition, there are companies that are already working with this...”

    [Women’s participation in local governments…/Participación de las mujeres en los gobiernos locales…]

    Gloria Young promotes the use of visual aids in fundraising and states that the main purpose is to either project in power point or record in video a testament of what the women leader has accomplished and especially her goals if elected. [Creative ways to finance campaigns for women/Formas creativas de financiamiento de campañas para mujeres]

    Ask for money

    The hardest part about fundraising is the fact that women are sometimes socialized to believe that asking for what they want is too brazen. For example, Kate Coyne-McCoy of Emily’s List provided an anecdote about a young girl whose mother chastises her for inviting herself to a friend’s house for dinner in order to demonstrate how this socialization impacts women’s comfort level with fundraising. She writes:

    “I am going to suggest that not only are you going to invite yourself to dinner, but when you get there, you are going to ASK FOR MONEY! It is unnatural, especially for women. It goes against everything ingrained in our make-up. We are terrific givers, but we are not good askers. If we want to change the world by serving in elected office- we had better improve… In the beginning you will stumble and have bad days- just keep going. Ask as many times, as many ways for as much money as possible. Until women start to ask, they can’t win. And if woman can’t win, we can’t change the world. From where I stand- the world needs a lot of change.” [Fundraising strategies]

    Awa Fall Diop outlines the consequences of women’s insecurity in political campaigning:

    “There have been cases where women have been nominated as candidates, but they gave up their nominations in the election process because these women are taught not to lead and to make public speeches. Even if some of these women have strong personalities and have needed profiles, they do not like to compete against men as they fear that they are not good enough.” [Procédure de désignation des candidat(e)s et financement]

    Francisca Alvarez Pretelt suggests that women should draw on their own creativity to raise money for political campaigns:

    “the creativity we have in stretching our household resources to meet our needs, should be translated to political campaigns. …we have had dinners with male and female friends where we charge per participant, hold raffles…” [Raising funds for political campaigns/Recaudar fondos para la campaña política]

    Martha Barriga mentions an example of entities working for the promotion of women candidacies:

    “Equal Voice is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that promotes the election of women to public offices at the local, state and federal level… The Canadian Women Voters Congress is another nonpartisan organization that promotes the election of women.” [The Latin American and Canadian experience/La experiencia latinoamericana y canadiense]

    Timing is everything

    Several participants discussed the idea that fundraising campaigns work best when they are started early – long before the actual campaign begins. Gitonga writes:

    “From my experience working with women in politics in Kenya, I learned that for any fundraising strategy to succeed, TIME is everything. This especially applies to women in developing countries...In essence, women in developing countries, especially Africa, MUST lay the ground work very early, that requires a clear vision for at least a whole election term.”[Time bound fundraising]

    Nurgul Djanaeva writes

    “One thing to share - importance of the long term approach. We have started raising funds for women candidates long before the elections… It was and is one of the challenging processes, but we hope that in future it will lead not only to collected significant amount of funds, but to creating long term voters' commitment to certain women candidates.” [Fundraising strategies for women candidates -Kyrgyzstan]

    Earning Trust

    Olfa Tantawi addressed the fundraising challenge by focusing on building trust with the voters and within the party. She suggests that women can, under certain circumstances, find themselves at an advantage once they have earned the trust of party leaders:

    “If there is a gender bias in a community then addressing this bias by stressing the quality of education, knowledge, experience, wide connections, good reputation...etc is one key. Another, is simply to address interests.... when a woman earns the trust and the high respect of the party leaders and colleagues, she is usually stronger then any rival candidate, suddenly gender becomes at this point an advantage, an added value, it would be to them like getting two in one, a trust worthy candidate, with all the advantages of a male colleague who is also, a woman.”[A gender blind strategy is perhaps the best strategy for all]

    Another participant cautioned against women mimicking men’s political style of trading favors: 

    “We women cannot keep repeating the same schemes and models to ask for campaign funds that men have always used, particularly their way of compromising themselves with influential sectors or people in order to “return the favor” once they win.”[/

    Finance Laws for Womens Political Participation:

    Tax exemptions, public funding and incentives:

    Several participants discussed the legislative frameworks in their region on political party financing, including the need for access to public broadcasting, tax exemptions for campaign expenses, tax deductions for donors, electoral spending limits, and equitable allocation of public funding, including earmarking funds for training of women.

    Aleida Ferreyra mentioned the 1990 Law for the Promotion of the Social Equality of Women in Costa Rica which “calls on political parties to increase the number of women candidates, and to set aside funds to train women and promote their participation.”

    Ferreyra also points to Law 60 of the Electoral Code in Panama which “stipulates that parties use at least 25 percent of public funds for capacity development, out of which at least 10 percent should go to women.”

    Gloria Young adds that in Panama: 

    “…indirect subsidies… include right to use, equality of conditions, and public media administered by the government in order to disseminate information, as well as “public opinion programs, debates and any political event. They also give rights to a tax exemption for importing up to five vehicles and sound equipments. They entail the right to a free telephone line for offices in the provinces and a 50% discount on electricity each province’s headquarters. They can also carry out fundraising activities without having to pay taxes for official seals that would otherwise cut a percentage from these activities’ earnings. The goods that are imported to be raffled are also free of import taxes. On the other hand, contributors can annually deduct up to US$10,000 donated to political parties or candidates for elected office from their income tax declaration.”[/

    Sonja Lokar points to the success of women’s lobby groups in the Balkans in achieving gender quotas and suggests that by continuing to fund such women’s movements similar successes could be achieved on political financing: 

    “Parties do have open and hidden rules of financial participation of the candidates competing for the eligible places. The more eligible is the place, the higher is the sum to be paid by the candidate. Women, especially the ones with the ideas of gender equality and transformative politics mostly do not have this kind of money… the possible remedy for this problem I see is in the thorough, legally regulated democratization of parliamentary parties… The spending for party campaigns should be thoroughly limited and really monitored and the breaches severely punished… This means that we need a law on political partiers which earmarks a part of the party budget allocated to the party from the public money, to be used for the vigorous, democratic and autonomous functioning of the women’s party organizations and political empowerment and capacity building of women party members…. All candidates on the comparably eligible places should get the same amount of financial support from the party. Free of charge space in public media should be fairly distributed by the law between female and male candidates of each party.” []

    Delia Ferreira Rubio warns that laws regarding public funding can have a different impact depending on the social and political context. She warns against using “universal recipes”: 

    “The same tool can produce different effects when applied in different contexts. For example, in France and New Caledonia a similar system was applied based on punishing political parties that did not have an equal number of men and women candidates in their jurisdictions. The electoral system is uninominal in both cases; however, the type of political parties and their economic strength vary notably. In France, where the political parties are economically solid, the system did not achieve the intended objective. In New Caledonia, on the other hand, the system proved effective in bringing about greater gender equality. One of the determining factors in this result was that the political parties in New Caledonia are poorer and thus more sensitive to different kinds of economic incentives…” [/]

    Lowering the cost of running:

    Several participants put forward solutions that would lower the financial cost of political candidacy. This includes lowering or eliminating the fees required to run for election, providing remuneration for political office, and placing spending limits on campaigns.

    Nurgul Asylbekova points out that Kyrgyzstan recently eliminated mandatory deposits for political candidates in local elections, and Eva Heizlarova similarly applauds the fact that the Czech Republic has no registration fees. But Aminata Kasse from Burkina Faso warns that although there may not be formal entry fees, in some cases there are nonetheless hidden fees levied by political parties: 

    “even if laws and procedures for nominating candidates do not stipulate any fees, parties consider material and financial capacities of candidates. For some parties (in Senegal and Burkina Faso) each position on the nomination list corresponds to a sum of money the candidate must pay to the party.” []

    Anita Vandenbeld advocates for spending limits on political campaigns as a means of reducing the cost of running and relays how women MPs in Canada were able to effectively lobby for legislated limits on party nomination campaigns: 

    “Nomination campaigns – which previously ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in a “safe” seat, are now limited to between $10,000 - $20,000. This is a strong example of how concerted efforts of women parliamentarians can impact legislation.” ]

    The Role of Political Parties:

    Incentives and strategies for parties

    Several contributions refer to financial incentives to political parties to place women higher on the party lists. Mona Lena Krook writes that the Moroccan government has recently pledged to provide funding to the party that elect the most female candidates in upcoming local elections.

    Audrey McLaughlin mentioned Trust Funds established by parties to cover expenses that women face, including child care, clothing, etc. She mentions that contributions to this fund are eligible for a charitable donation receipt which can be used as an income tax deduction.

    Eva Heizlarova refers to an example of a party that offers financial incentives to the local organizations that show the greatest annual increase in the number of women members.

    Awa Fall Diop le Lun points to an example where such incentives do not exist: 

    “in Senegal, party financing is not regulated by laws and the government does not provide any financial support to political parties. Due to this, the political parties have obscure funding, which, in its turn, leads to nominal representation of women in parties.” []

    Party lists and political financing

    Several contributions to the discussion on financing linked this to the issue of quotas. Francisca Alvarez suggests that quota laws are a necessary pre-curser to discussing financing: 

    “Though financing is a very important strategy, establishing quotas for parties, so that the lists have an equal number of men and women has become necessary in order to prevent women from being pushed into ruts that are impossible to get out of.” [/]

    On the other hand, Gloria Young suggests that in Panama the existence of quotas has kept women outside the regular party campaign machinery and therefore made it more difficult to fundraise: 

    “The quota law is tightly linked to the issue of campaign financing as it doesn’t work in practice and women continue to face a double disadvantage: the quota law does not serve to bring them into the men’s electoral machinery and women don’t have access to the financing required to campaign with real possibilities of winning.”[/

    Allocation of funds within parties

    Several participants discussed the need for equitable allocation of internal party resources between men and women, in particular with regard to access to training programs. However most admit that implementation is dependent on the parties themselves. M en E. Reyes Tépach M., concludes that in Mexico: 

    “…The quota system will guarantee that during the 2009 elections, at least 40% of women candidates will be financed with public funds... However, it is the party’s leading body that will make the decision on how these resources are assigned…”[]

    On training for women, as a means to empower and strengthen their capacities for electoral competition, Gloria Young highlights the case of the Panamanian Party in Panama: 

    “…according to the statutes, 30% of the total amount for training must be dedicated only to women through the National Secretary for Women, which has a powerful structure within the party. This training becomes the spearhead for women in times of electoral campaigns, in order to acquire more important tools that allow them to have benefits in a campaign… The issue is that parties do not promote this training or design formative actions on their own in order to involve all the members, even though they separately send the Electoral Court the list of men and women who were trained…”[/

    Carlos Alberto Baena suggests the need for “The diversification of legal sources of financing, stemming from widespread acknowledgement of the multi-faceted nature of politics. As society comes to see politics as more than just electoral activity, there will be more and more allies for ongoing financing of political activities…” [Political financing: Colombia’s experience/Una experiencia en Colombia]

    Unintended Consequences

    Mona Lena Krook points to two cases – France and Nigeria – as a warning against unintended consequences of financing reforms, suggesting that reforms be designed in a way that does not permit 'escape clauses' or 'backlash' effects.” She points out that in Nigeria the elimination of registration fees for women has actually given parties an excuse not to nominate women because it showed they are “less committed”. Mona Lena Krook also discusses the use of financial penalties in France, which are largely ignored by the larger parties who are more financially secure: 

    “The amount of revenue lost by the two major parties was not small, amounting to a loss of millions of euros each year, but evidently, both parties felt that nominating men would enable them to win more seats (their perception, and one that has been disproved by the available research on this topic). As a result, the proportion of women elected in 2002 increased just one point, from 11% to 12%.”[]

    Women’s Financial Independence and Access to Public Office:

    Remuneration of public office

    Eva M. Hejzlarova points out that in the Czech Republic there is a correlation between whether a political post is paid and the number of women elected: 

    “the decision on paid and unpaid political positions is up to local or regional board of representatives but as the salary for the politicians goes from the town or region budget the number of paid positions is limited. This is - in my opinion - one of the reasons the number of women in local politics (especially small villages and towns) is much higher than the percentage of women in the parliament.”[]

    Links with constituents

    Priya Chattier emphasizes the need for candidates to have strong links with their constituents in order to be able to fundraise: 

    “The vast majority of women candidates do not live in their electorates, and have failed to build a constituency support base… despite the lack of funds, women employ a number of campaign strategies to reach out to their constituencies. Rallies, village-to-village visits and public meetings are held, as well as sensitization workshops for campaign teams. Media is an important strategy that women candidates need to use effectively and proactively.”[]

    Private and Public spheres

    Several participants addressed the dichotomy of private and public spheres, and the male monopoly on the public sphere as a unique challenge for women. Marcela Macias raise the duality between her personal and professional life, stating that “while being a political representative, I still take care of my family and do not abandon my “domestic” day or my business activities…” (From Ecuador/Desde Ecuador)

    Domy Conde highlights how the male-dominated political culture impacts women candidates: 

    “In the case of Bolivia…women’s participation in politics continues to be a closed area, accessible only to power groups, family clans and caudillo political parties. In the latter, the philosophy is submit yourself submissively and obey the vertical command of the leader, who is generally a man. If you choose not to, you isolate yourself and conserve your dignity. For this reason many of us women who work voluntarily do it in the framework of “community vision.”[/

    Women’s Participation in Local Governments and Local Elections:

    Changing attitudes and building communities

    Piper Stege Nelson point out that in many communities, the political culture does not lend itself to fundraising, but by building communities and working with other women this can be overcome: 

    “…in local elections in Sierra Leone, and in many other countries, constituents do not expect to give money to the campaign of the candidate. Rather, constituents (and chiefs and local businesses and clubs, etc) expect to RECEIVE money from the candidate. In Sierra Leone, this practice is called “shake hands” and it is particularly cumbersome for the women candidates who traditionally have even less campaign money to spend than their male counterparts.” However what can counter this is to enable these “women to educate their constituents and to raise money by creating a network of supporters… when all of these women come together, there is a group of 100 women ready to contribute their time, their support and their money to the campaign”.[]

    Similarly, Silvia Way shares the experience of her community pointing out that in “… San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru, which is a local government, there is no law on financing because it simply isn’t convenient or isn’t seen as important since they want to continue in power...The most common forms of financing seen are through organizing community activities, company donations, etc.”

    (Women's participation in local elections/La participación de la mujer en las elecciones locales).


    During the course of the e-discussion, participants reflected on various strategies that would help to remove financial barriers to women running for elections. Some of these barriers were identified as closed political cultures, socialization of women not to ask for what they want and an assumption in parts of the world that politicians should be doing favors for constituents, not the other way around. One participant even pointed to quotas as a barrier to fundraising for women because it keeps them outside of the political machinery. Some remedies for these problems include publicly funded training for women, party trust funds for women candidates, and changes to electoral law. Some samples of legislative frameworks include: tax exemptions for campaign expenses; tax deductions for campaign contributions; spending limits for election campaigns; equitable access to public broadcasters; equitable allocation of public funding within political parties; eliminating registration fees for political candidates; and incentives and penalties for political parties to nominate more women. However, participants cautioned that there is no universal legislative framework that works in all cases, and some reforms may in fact have unintended consequences. For instance, financial penalties on political parties do not work as well with parties that are already well financed. Other participants provided advice to women on how to fundraise effectively. This includes starting the fundraising campaign well before the election; understanding the different kinds of donors and their motivations for giving, targeting women donors, using new technologies such as the internet, and simply having the confidence to ask for money. To read the full transcript of the discussion, please click here.


    We would like to thank the following contributors to the discussion:

    Francisca Alvarez Pretelt, President Colombia Women Citizens Union Rionegro Section

    Carlos Alberto Baena López, President of the MIRA Political Movement, Colombia

    Martha Barriga, UN-INSTRAW

    Susana Campari, Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Dra. Domy Conde Guarachi, Bolivia

    Delia Ferreira Rubio, President Citizen Power Administration Council, Argentina

    Marcela Macias, Ecuador

    M en E. Reyes Tépach M., Congressional Researcher, Mexico

    Raymicha, Peru

    Silvia Way, Peru

    Gloria Young, President of the Panama Association for Congresswomen (APARLEXPA)

    Piper Stege Nelson, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs

    Eva M. Hejzlarova, Forum 50 %, The Czech Republic

    Priya Chattier, UNIFEM Pacific

    Mona Lena Krook, Washington University in St. Louis

    Nurgul Djanaeva, Forum of Women's NGOs of Kyrgyzstan

    Audrey McLaughlin, Canada

    Anita Vandenbeld, Project Manager iKNOW Politics

    Sonja Lokar, Slovenia

    Aleida Ferreyra, UNDP

    Lissy Moskowitz, Women's Campaign Forum / Foundation

    Olfa Tantawi, The American University in Cairo

    Kate Coyne-McCoy, Emily’s List

    Recommended Resources in English 

    - Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns. (recommended: Chapter 2 and Chapter 9). International IDEA. 2003. /en/learn/knowledge-resources/guide-training-material/funding-political-parties-and-election-campaigns-0

  • Fundraising Tactics for Women. Author: Mary Pieschek . International Republican Institute (IRI). 2006.
  • Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns in the Americas. International IDEA and OAS. 2005. /en/learn/knowledge-resources/report-white-paper/funding-political-parties-and-election-campaigns
  • Women Candidates and Campaign Finance. Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO). 2007.
  • Money in Politics: A Study of Party Financing Practices in 22 Countries. NDI. 2005. /en/learn/knowledge-resources/case-study/money-politics-study-party-financing-practices-22-countries
  • Grassroots Giving. International Republic Institute (IRI). 2006.
  • Tips for Meeting with Your Elected Representative. Women's Edge Coalition. 2004.
  • Years of Democracy: Riding the Wave? Women’s Political Participation in Latin America. International IDEA. 2008. /en/learn/knowledge-resources/report-white-paper/thirty-years-democracy-riding-wave-womens-political
  • Women and Local Self Governance In An Indian Context. WEDO. /en/learn/knowledge-resources/report-white-paper/women-and-local-self-governance-indian-context
  • Women's Campaign Manual. National Democratic Institute (NDI). 1997.
  • Political Campaign Planning Manual: A Step by Step Guide to Winning Elections. Author: Brian O'Day. NDI. 2003.
  • Increasing Women's Political Participation in Guyana, Trainer’s Manual: Campaign Skills. NDI. 2004.
  • Fundraising for Change: A Practical Guide for Women’s Rights Organizations. Global Fund for Women.



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