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Feminist flags waving during the closing march at the Association for Women’s Right in Developments, AWID, conference in Istanbul 2012. Hundreds of women's rights organisations from all over the world participated in the event. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Christina Hagner.
Feminist flags waving during the closing march at the Association for Women’s Right in Developments, AWID, conference in Istanbul 2012. Hundreds of women's rights organisations from all over the world participated in the event. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Christina Hagner.

Increase women's power

Democracy is a prerequisite for long-term stability and peace. Democracy requires commitment from citizens and should in turn ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. It rests on the fact that those who have the power to determine over people’s lives and society at large are supported by the majority of these citizens, and that they in turn represent their people.

If some groups in society are denied a public voice or are kept away from decision-making processes, democracy fails. In most parts of the world, men hold the positions of power in government and parliament, the private sector and within the international community. Women make up half the world’s population, but their average representation in parliamentary assemblies is no more than 22.7 percent (2016).  When such a large proportion of the population is denied access to parliamentary power, it amounts to more than just marginalisation and discrimination – it highlights fundamental system errors. This can also have severe consequences for the stability of society, since research shows that armed conflicts are more common in countries with a low representation of women in parliament (Rehn & Sirleaf, 2002:116 – Women, War, Peace: Progress of the World’s Women Vol.1 New York, UNIFEM) In other words, striving for equality is an effective way of working towards peace.

Smear campaigns and threats

Often it is traditional, patriarchal values that stand in the way of women’s political participation. Politics is considered a male domain and those women who do try to get involved in political work are often exposed to threats and slander. The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s report Equal Power – Lasting Peace (2012) shows that these kind of smear campaigns and defamation tactics are common in all types of armed conflicts and post-conflict situations. This shows that the formal right for women to participate in elections is clearly not enough. Structures must be changed to enable women to establish themselves and become fully accepted within the system.

In almost all political structures, the biggest obstacle preventing women from becoming eligible for decision-making positions are the political parties. If women are to reach these positions, the nomination processes within the parties have to change. Quotas can be an effective way to ensure equal gender representation, since they compensate for the structural inequalities that women face. However, this depends on how they are implemented of course. (Dalerup Drude, 2002, Quotas – A Jump to Equality? The Need for International Comparisons of the Use of Electoral Quotas to Obtain Equal Political Citizenship for Women)

Peace agreements determine the future

Following a war, the peace agreement is often used as a basis for the new constitution. Research shows that the exclusion of women from peace negotiations means that issues concerning political power are not addressed from a gender perspective in the new constitution. In this way, the skewed distribution of power thereby also gets cemented in the post-conflict society. A case in point is the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the Dayton Agreement – you can read more about this in our publication entitled Engendering the Peace Process.

An independent civil society is crucial to ensure women’s participation in society, politics and peace processes. That is the reason why Kvinna till Kvinna supports women’s civil society organisations in conflict regions. Many of these organisations are also working directly with women’s political participation, as for example Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia and the recent “Rien sans les femmes” movement in DR Congo.

Economic power

Two thirds of the world’s work is done by women, but they receive ten percent of the world’s income and own just one percent of the world’s property (World Bank’s World Development Indicators). Poverty is a major hindrance to people becoming involved in politics. In addition to focusing people’s thoughts and actions on providing for their family’s basic needs, being a political candidate requires extra financial resources to pay for fees and campaign costs. For many women this alone makes it impossible for them to run for office.

Economic factors are also hampering women’s opportunities to become self-sufficient. Many societies are governed by traditional values, where women are tasked with taking care of the home and the family. In such an environment there is little chance of women getting an education or a job. An inability to sustain oneself means that one does not have power over one’s own life. This in turn means that one will not have the possibility to decide whether or not to join a civil society organisation or to go into politics.

Educating women about human rights, organising vocational training to help women to become self-sufficient and fighting against laws prohibiting women from inheriting or owning property, are just some of the areas that Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisations are involved in to increase the opportunities for women to gain power and influence in their communities.

Updated in: 2016-08-22