There is no silver bullet solution to how to achieve inclusive political leadership and representative participation of women. Quotas are commonly applied, but is this enough? HELVETAS’ experience shows that quotas help establish a minimal quantitative benchmark. However more people-centred and inclusive processes are required for achieving meaningful and sustainable qualitative long-term change and sharing of leadership roles between men and women in their family, social, economic and political spheres.
HELVETAS’ women empowerment activities around the globe
In Albania, HELVETAS collaborates with an informal network of women in politics committed to training and coaching women leaders. The project also provides small grants to women seeking a political career to improve their education and political knowledge as well as public speaking and debating skills, among others.
In Bhutan, the organisation supports building confidence and trust among female and male voters to elect women, where factors such as traditional societal and cultural norms challenge the prospects of of women seeking and filling political representation.
In Bolivia, it engages with and encourages men to be empowered and in turn support and promote the empowerment of women to actively participate and take decision-making roles in local community development planning and affairs.
In Ethiopia, HELVETAS works with women’s civil society organisations and local councils, relying on peer-led training of trainers whereby knowledge and skills are shared between established women leaders and leaders in training. The approach is particularly useful for outreaching to more rural and difficult to access areas.
In Laos, the organisation collaborates with the Commission on the Advancement of Women, with branches and focal persons across the country. It strengthens their capacities and resources to outreach and promote women’s rights and empowerment in towns and villages across Laos’ sixteen provinces and one prefecture.
In Myanmar, HELVETAS empowers rural female and male youth to be capacitated and co-operate on matters related to their own community development. They are also trained on inclusive leadership and participatory decision making. This already instils mutual respect and valuing each other’s abilities and contributions early on, while also developing leadership and decision-making skills for the future. Community leaders and elders are appreciative, and recognise the benefits,
“When talking about women’s political empowerment, we often focus on national level, and on numbers only (such as the number of women in a national parliament). To me, political empowerment of women in rural areas is just as important. Local politics directly affect everyday lives. Therefore, empowered women in local politics have the power to improve women’s lives. Let’s remember: Political empowerment of women is not only about numbers, but includes all, representation, voice and influence, on all levels and in all policy matters.” Mrs. Ursula Keller, Gender Focal Person
The above is only a snapshot of some of HELVETAS’ interventions designed to promote more equal and equitable leadership and decision-making for and by women. Nevertheless, what we have learnt and continue to strive for in achieving meaningful, legitimate and sustainable women’s political empowerment is that entry points and leverages can be diverse, whether institutional, social or sectoral, and that both men and women in and out of leadership positions, citizens and politicians, at local and national levels, need to be empowered to want it, support it and realise it, through education, coaching, exchange, confidence and alliance building, and access to resources and spaces for active and balanced participation. Quantity is only part of the short-term equation. Quality ensures the long-term solution.
Gender and Social Equity Advisor/Coordinator
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation