Women’s civil and political participation
Womankind supports women to become decision makers and take on positions of authority in their communities and countries.
Throughout the world, the power relations that shape social, political, economic and cultural life prevent women from participating fully in all areas of their lives, whether it’s in the home, or in the public arena. Whilst women’s dedicated efforts to challenge the status quo have allowed more women to reach positions of power in recent years:
- women continue to be under-represented in all areas of decision-making, such as religion, the media, culture and the law
- women still face significant barriers to their full and equal participation in the structures and institutions which govern their lives.
Womankind seeks to empower women to overcome the obstacles which prevent them from participating on an equal footing with men, through a combination of education, training, networking and lobbying.
- What do we mean by women’s civil and political participation?
- What are the obstacles to women’s civil and political participation?
- What is Womankind doing to tackle these barriers and to promote women’s civil and political participation?
- How does this fit with Womankind’s work to reduce violence against women?
Women’s civil and political participation is women’s ability to participate equally with men, at all levels, and in all aspects of public and political life and decision-making. It extends to other arenas, such as family life, cultural and social affairs and the economy.
So, whether it’s deciding how the household income is spent or determining how the country is run, Womankind believes that women have the right to an equal say in all matters that have an impact on their lives. This right is enshrined in a number of human rights instruments, as well as in national constitutions and laws.
Several human rights mechanisms outline the nature of women’s civil and political rights and the steps required to promote greater equality between women and men in this area:
- The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
- The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- The Beijing Platform for Action , the principal international action plan on women’s rights. The section on women in power and decision-making states that the empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of women’s social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of both transparent and accountable government and administration and sustainable development in all areas of life.
Women’s participation in public life and decision-making depends on several factors, including:
- an awareness of their rights and how to claim them
- access to information about laws, policies and the institutions and structures which govern their lives
- confidence, self-esteem and the skills to challenge and confront existing power structures
- support networks and positive role models
- an enabling environment, meaning a political, legal, economic and cultural climate that allows women to engage in decision-making processes in an effective way.
What are the obstacles to women’s civil and political participation?
There are a number of factors which constrain women’s participation in public life and decision-making, including:
- economic dependency and a lack of adequate financial resources
- illiteracy and limited access to education and the same work opportunities as men
- discriminatory cultural and social attitudes and negative stereotypes perpetuated in the family and in public life
- burden of responsibilities in the home
- intimidation, harassment and violence
- lack of access to information
What is Womankind doing to tackle these barriers and to promote women’s civil and political participation?
Women around the world have demonstrated the huge contribution they can make when given the opportunity to sit in public office or to lead the work of community and informal organisations. Womankind supports the efforts of women, including the most marginalised, such as indigenous women, to challenge their unequal status with men and to bring the issues of concern to them to the decision-making table.
In Afghanistan we provide training in basic health and literacy skills and human rights education to give women the practical skills they need to move out of poverty and to take part in the development of their communities and countries. We also support the lobbying of decision-makers to increase women’s representation at all levels of government.
In Zimbabwe, our partner WIPSU helps women to stand in local and national elections and continues to provide support, training and information once they are elected.
In Ethiopia, our partner KMG encourages women to become community spokespeople and trainers. This means that communities come to accept women in positions of authority and creates opportunities for them to take on formal political roles.
How does this fit with Womankind’s work to reduce violence against women?
The issues of violence against women and women’s participation in political and civil life are closely linked. Violence against women acts as a barrier to women’s participation in decision-making, whether it’s in the home or in the community.
- Domestic violence can affect the mental health of women and cause low self-esteem, anxiety and fear, which hampers their ability to travel outside the home and to get involved in public life.
- Women’s isolation from public life contributes to increased violence.
- Increased participation in community groups and social networks decreases women’s vulnerability to violence by helping them find solutions such as legal protection, counselling and advice.
- However, many women experience a backlash of violence when they become more active politically – either at home from partners who feel threatened – or from political or community opponents
Womankind’s work to promote civil and political participation therefore seeks to complement the work that we do to reduce violence against women so as to maximise the impact and longer-term benefits for women.