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Promoting Gender Equity in the Democratic Process: Women’s Path to Political Participation and Decisionmaking

By highlighting issues surrounding governance and civil society, the PROWID projects pointed to various ways in which women can be integrated into the democratization process.

The first section of this report establishes a framework in which this can be achieved, including discussions of several elements organized under three central topics: political culture, civil society, and government institutions. The structure and outcomes of 14 PROWID projects in the field are summarized to elucidate these aspects and how best to foster women’s participation in the democratic process, in particular regarding the tools and strategies that can be applied to promote participatory values, practices, and institutions.

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In countries around the world, movements to establish democratic forms of government increasingly influence international affairs and development strategies. Organizations and community groups are continuously finding ways to promote “good governance” that support and respect the voices and interests of a range of citizens. As detailed in this synthesis paper, the full involvement of women in political and economic arenas is also gaining ground as a legitimate goal, as well as a litmus test of the degree to which democracy has been attained.

By highlighting issues surrounding governance and civil society, the PROWID projects pointed to various ways in which women can be integrated into the democratization process. The first section of this report establishes a framework in which this can be achieved, including discussions of several elements organized under three central topics: political culture, civil society, and government institutions. The structure and outcomes of 14 PROWID projects in the field are summarized to elucidate these aspects.

A democratic political culture functions and is critical to the advancement of women, primarily because it encourages political consciousness and action. Consequently, as political alliances are formed and information is shared, power relations within society and the political arena shift, allowing previously marginalized groups (such as women) to identify and fight for their goals. When this point is reached, the social capital (i.e., the relationships, institutions, and norms that facilitate cooperation among various groups) of a country is enhanced, and democracy can then gain a stronger foothold.

A vibrant civil society is a prerequisite of democracy. By building constituencies around particular political concerns, civil society ensures that a range of citizens and interests can gain access to political systems. Civil society actors, in particular politically conscious organizations and individuals, also contribute to the development of political skills on the part of constituents, a necessary component if citizen participation is to be firmly established and remain a consistent factor in political life.

The nature of political culture and the role of civil society in a given context is determined in part by government institutions, such as legislatures, ministries, judicial entities, and local agencies. Such institutions make up a realm in which civil society actors can work to fulfill their political goals and in which policymakers and political leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the democratization process. Importantly, institutions provide a basis for judging government accountability with regard to responsibilities to citizens and the creation of conditions that catalyze and reinforce both political activity and empowerment by groups of citizens.

The PROWID projects considered in this paper underscore the many channels that are available to women pursuing political involvement. As a democratic political culture expands worldwide, it is increasingly important to examine how women—and often the institutions to which they belong—take on new roles and identities, develop new skills, claim individual and collective rights, participate in public decisionmaking processes, and establish an equal footing with  their male counterparts. The PROWID project generated a deeper understanding of the reasons for women’s exclusion from civic life and about how best to foster their participation in democratic process, in particular regarding the tools and strategies that can be applied to promote participatory values, practices, and institutions.

The lasting impact of women’s increased mobilization and political participation will ultimately be seen at the level of the individual as women everywhere gain a heightened political consciousness and come to believe in the possibility of transformation. At the national level, the political discourse will be altered to the point at which gender issues will be a shared concern of a broad spectrum of political groups. In the long run, the broader the participation in the democratic discourse, the more likely it will be that a society’s development choices will reflect the needs and concerns of all its citizens.

The following recommendations for program planning and implementation are subdivided into three broad categories:

Tools and Strategies to Foster and Strengthen Women’s Participation:

  • Support policy analysis activities.
  • Promote human rights education.
  • Continue skill building and support for women in public office.
  • Use advocacy training as a means to understand and challenge inequitable societal structures.

Power of the Collective Voice and Experience:

  • Facilitate the development of diverse networks for women’s groups.
  • Support institutional capacity building.
  • Create forums for women to exchange ideas and reflect on their experiences.
  • Develop a written record for other organizations.

Credibility as a Vital Asset:

  • Create and widely disseminate a credible body of information.
  • Collect gender-disaggregated information as a powerful tool for monitoring and assessing women’s progress.

The following are lessons that come from collective project experiences:

  • Sustainable development requires women’s active participation in public decisionmaking.
  • Political consciousness results from critical thinking.
  • Small steps provide the foundation for enduring social change.

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