Promoting women participation in local governance

Project Description


The evaluation of the MDGs has shown that there is progress in promoting women in leadership position. Despite the progress, there is a lack of female representation in local governance is an overarching concern across the African continent. This is due in part to institutionalized gender roles in many societies which discourage and inhibit female participation in governance. As one of Africa’s underutilized resources, increasing female political participation, representation and influence is key to achieving many of the developmental goals set for Africa.

Intersectionality is a concept that is integral to the promotion of women’s rights. It emphasizes the need to consider multiple facets of discrimination and disempowerment faced by women and encourages policy- and decision-makers to consider each facet of their work. Furthermore, gendered perceptions of leadership and decision-making frequently argue that women are incapable of taking leadership roles. This lack of representation is damaging both to the effectiveness of policies aimed to empower women, but also to the strength of the cause as a whole.

For these reasons, promoting the participation of women in decision making and leadership was an important aim of many of the NEPAD Spanish Fund (NSF) for African Women Empowerment projects. The objective was to increase the presence and visibility of women in leadership and decision-making processes at all levels of democratic governance and other spheres of leadership in Africa.

Success Stories and Case Studies

The following two projects outline the success that was achieved in promoting women participation in local governance.

GenderLinks, Namibia: Cascading the Centres of Excellence (COE) for gender mainstreaming in local government in Namibia

The GenderLinks project in Namibia achieved excellent results in promoting the participation of women in local governance. The overall objective of the project was to promote women’s equal representation, and gender mainstreaming in local government through the development of Centres of Excellence (CoEs) for the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

These CoEs actively increased female participation in local government by developing the capacities of potential female candidates to stand in local elections. The CoEs provided tangible improvements in female representation in local governance in Namibia and actively fulfilled the human capital need for women in government. This project addressed many common barriers faced by potential candidates through civic engagement and the provision of campaign financing. These measures show that empowering women to empower themselves by reducing the barriers to entry into the political sphere is a successful mechanism to improve female participation in local governance.  

Further initiatives that were addressed included gender policies; action plans and campaigns to end gender violence; interventions to enhance women’s economic empowerment and disaster management. Although the programme targeted local government in general, the main beneficiaries were the women in the target localities whose lives have been changed by improved, more inclusive service delivery. The following success stories demonstrate the positive impact GenderLinks had on improving women representation at local governance level in Namibia:

Women leaders make a difference in Arandis town council

The deputy mayor is a woman. We think it is a milestone in terms of gender mainstreaming. We are also fortunate to have the chief executive officer (CEO) who is a woman. There are 2 women and 2 men in management. When you talk about women to women, women tend to understand better. It is the only Council so far that has set aside a gender budget as they call it, in a sum of N$ 30.000.00 for events related to 16 days and other related matters to violence at the town. Before Gender Links came in 2009 we had less representation of women. In previous years it was 2 women to 5 men out of 7 councillors. Currently, we are 4 women to 3 men in the council”. Women were also introduced to the policies that were in place in the government. The way society treated women and the traditional norms and beliefs kept women out of leadership responsibility. “Our upbringing as women also creates a challenge for taking up leadership positions. We have a gender committee consisting of stakeholders from the community. They represent the different organizations. After the meeting, the representatives go back to their organizations to give feedback and implement activities.

The voices of the women are now heard. More women are empowered and awareness is created within the community. People have started realising that empowering women makes GBV decrease in the community. Also when you involve women as key players in policy making then their issues are heard and they are more visible”. There are now more women in leadership positions on the ratio of 4 to 3 and more women are standing up for their rights in the communities. The cases of rape have reduced. The committee looks at what can be done to reduce GBV such as street naming, street lighting, and making sure that minors are not used in child labour. Those types of issues are detected and we make sure we address them. Women started understanding laws that are in place and they started being part of decision making. We have taken up leadership roles and are key players”.

Woman politician driving change in Keetmanshoop Municipal Council

“It was in 2010 when Sarry came to establish the CoE that our eyes opened to know the difference between sex and gender. I only concentrated on women and somewhere somehow I sidelined men. I managed to bring in a woman in the finance. Fortunately, when Sarry came I was already there and it was not difficult to get political buy-in right from the beginning. We are now 3 women in the council. I think the whole thing is that culture plays a big role in keeping us women hostage in certain areas. There is a saying a woman does not whistle and once she does it then something is wrong with her. It is only a man who is supposed to do that because it is a man’s thing. For the first time, we have a gender policy and budget to support gender mainstreaming. And now as I am speaking we have a budget for 2012 – 2014. Sarry also taught us how to keep data. The most important thing is how to monitor and evaluate. We need to see if what we are doing is working or if we should change the course of action. A lot of things are happening now. Before we were concentrating more on HIV and AIDS issues but now with this gender mainstreaming action plan we try to combine issues including GBV. For us, it is a very big change. Now we have an action plan, we have a budget, we have a gender champion, and we can go out to the communities to talk about gender issues. What has changed is that a lot of people now understand gender issues. We are able to get women in the council. In the past when we call people for meetings the turnout was low and people were not participating. But this has changed dramatically. We are now using media, a local radio station

Outjo Municipal Council Namibia

Outjo has a gender aware mayor who, by supporting women in Outjo, make them realise their full potential and the need to be at the forefront of society. As stated by him, if you don’t know your constitutional rights life can be difficult because anyone can abuse you. You must not allow your rights to be infringed. The council did not know the term gender mainstreaming before Gender Links (GL) came. We were sitting in darkness. GL opened the eyes of the people that women can take up leadership positions in the community. There was no involvement of the council in gender based violence activities within the town. Now we are knowledgeable about gender mainstreaming. We also accepted that women are partners and are equal before the law. The women gained some sort of self-esteem after GL trained us. It is only after GL came in 2009 that we had the first woman mayor in 2010. The council is now very gender sensitive when it comes to allocating positions. We have 2 female and 5 male councillors. We have a gender action plan which is budgeted. The council allocates N$30,000 every year towards gender mainstreaming. For example, we send women councillors to workshops and seminars every year. We cover their costs such as allowances and transport. We expect the women councillors to gain knowledge which they share with women in the community upon their return.

The critical part of our gender action plan was lighting the streets in the informal areas where GBV crimes take place. We did streetlights and high mask lights. We have also realized that the police station is too far from the residential areas. We took the initiative of building a police station in the community.

Life has changed very drastically in my community. Women didn’t have confidence in the past but one can observe when we organize community meetings that they are participating. Some of them are also taking leading roles within the community.”

CRUDAN (Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria): Capacity strengthening of CSOs and Women leaders in governance issues in Nigeria for gender equity and justice and reduced discrimination against women

The CRUDAN (Christian Rural and Urban Development Association of Nigeria) project is another outstanding example of a successful intervention of the NEPAD Spanish Fund in promoting the participation, representation and influence of women in local governance.

The project successfully increased the involvement of women leaders in governance across Nigeria, particularly at the local government level, as well as increased progress toward gender equality, women empowerment and access to a gender aware judicial system. This was achieved by engaging with 660 stakeholders, including 152 women leaders, 56 women and 36 men from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), 212 religious and traditional leaders and 180 politicians.

Interventions included capacity training and change monitoring workshops for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs); a conference on gender issues for women leaders; convening a women’s forum with 366 participants; convening a lawmakers’ forum and a seminar for traditional and religious leaders on the role of women leaders in governance; and the distribution of 43,750 IEC gender-related documents.

Monitoring visits to women leaders across Nigeria established that a further 27,799 men and 118,415 women were reached through trickle-down training. A particularly successful outcome was the formation in 2013 of the Gender Protection Network (GPN). The impact analysis of the project indicated a marked increase in the involvement of women in governance issues at family, community, organisational and state level.  

The basis for the success of this project relates to :

The sensitization seminar that was held for traditional and religious leaders in Bayelsa State, whereupon a link was established with the key political party (PDP) in the state. The project team was included in a week-long tour to all the 8 Local Government Areas in the State. During this tour, the project team was given the opportunity to share the key objectives of the project and the expected role of the stakeholders in the community in subsequent elections.  In the process, about 9,000 women and other stakeholders were reached.

As part of their contribution to the project, the monthly live Radio-TV program in Ogun State regularly discussed gender policies related to different sectors in the state. The 89 Gender Equality Clubs that were established in public primary and secondary schools in the South-South, South-East, and South-West States ensured that boys and girls were enlightened on gender issues through debates, quiz competitions and the electronic media. The Gender Protection Network inaugurated in Port Harcourt as a platform for gender advocacy was later also adopted by other geopolitical zones with zonal and state coordinators. Many of the statements made by stakeholders when visited provide a positive indication of the success of the project. Some of these were: 

“… in our Church and CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) as a whole in Oyo State, we believe in equality, as it is in the Holy Bible. God recognises everyone as an individual, not as either a male or a female. There are verses and chapters in the Holy Bible that encourage everyone to aspire to their God given potential as an individual, and not as either male or female, so we are fully in support of this project. Like here, in CAN, we have women members who are Bishops and you know that that is, one the highest ranking religious leader’s position in the Church administration…” CAN President Representative & Area Coordinating Pastor, of Christ Apostolic Church Adamasingba, Ibadan.

We are in total support of this project because it is perfectly in line with what we are already doing here, as evidence that this chiefdom is women-friendly, there is a seat reserved for women in the council of chiefs in this kingdom … HRH Dr J.D. Sule Abenga (JP), TER MAKURDI, Benue State.” (North Central)

Women themselves were excited about the project as attested by the following comments made:

Being a woman leader in my community, I have always had the burden of ensuring that our female children do not go through what we went through. But I never had any clues to overcoming the challenge. This workshop through the formation of the “12-12-12 Network” seems to be the way out. I pray we should all work together to see our dream come true in due course”-Mrs. Isayinka, LEO Community in Ibadan, Oyo State.

 “For me, this is the first time I have attended a workshop like this, even though I am a teacher in Osun State. This has given me the insight to encourage my female students to be more focused and determined to be successful. I was not aware of the concepts of gender. Truly, it is an eye-opener. I appreciate the convener of the workshop. I shall use the information I got here in my school and among other women in my church.”-Mrs. M.C. Ogunwuyi, Islau-Deen High School, Osogbo, Osun State.

I used to think we shall always continue to have male-folk dominating politics. I didn’t see any ray of hope. When I was invited for this workshop, I didn’t want to come because I felt it is impossible to have women in substantive elective positions. Having heard people speak about what they are doing in their states and local governments, mosques and churches,  I think I should contribute my quota too. And I am determined to be an advocate of women empowerment. There must be a shift from what it used to be, once we can have a common front. I am glad we have a “12-12-12 Network”. CRUDAN should help us to ensure it doesn’t die.”- Mrs Tejumade Idris, Powerline Area, Osogbo, Osun State.

Key Lessons Learned from the Projects that Promoted the Participation of Women in Local Governance

Sensitise women to better understand their leadership and decision-making roles

If women are effectively sensitised, they will better understand their leadership and decision-making roles, and this will ensure that they participate more effectively in politics and governance. It was further argued that when women’s awareness is raised on gender policies and human rights in general, it strengthens their resolve to pursue their rights in all spheres of life. It was specifically found that political advancement of rural women requires a change in behaviour with regard to women’s own sense of identity and that it is also important to provide women with adequate and accessible role models and examples of women leaders.

Effective advocacy is very important for changing negative perceptions about women’s participation in decision-making and leadership

A number of projects highlighted the importance of effective advocacy to ensure that women are accepted in decision-making and leadership positions. These efforts are further reinforced if traditional and religious leaders support such advocacy, if Community Based Organisations (CBOs) are involved, and if there is a good collaboration between the public and private spheres. Building awareness of gender issues further changes the negative perceptions about women’s involvement in politics. It was further observed that women tend to be more proactive and participative when men advocate for their participation in decision-making and leadership. There is a need for more dialogue forums, especially at the community level, and information education materials to promote the role of women in leadership and decision-making processes. It is further crucial to change attitudes and the behavior of political parties to ensure that they effectively address gender equality.

Provide leadership and decision-making training for women

Adequate training should be provided to assist women to take up leadership and decision-making roles and thereby broaden the pool of candidates for such positions. Such training should further incorporate modules that will equip women leaders with the skills to develop strategies and action plans in the political arena. Projects highlighted the importance of decentralised training at the village level to ensure that a wider range and number of women benefit from such interventions. A further observation was that literacy is a necessary foundation to ensure that women effectively participate and benefit from any intervention provided.

Adopt laws and/or policies that require equitable representation of women on decision-making bodies

Adopting laws and/or policies that require equitable representation of women on decision-making bodies is a powerful means of empowering women. Political parties should further adopt measures, including internal quotas, to ensure that women are proportionately represented in local offices and on electoral rolls. It was found that the adoption of laws reserving a number of seats for women on decision-making bodies greatly helped in motivating women to accept the nomination.

Strengthen the political leadership of rural women

It is important to strengthen the political leadership of rural women to ensure country-wide gender equality.  This can be achieved by establishing a central core of women leaders with common interests and then set up a federated organisation of the women leaders at a national level.