Strengthening democracy through women participation in leadership

Many studies have shown that democracy and good governance provide an essential foundation for the sustainable social and economic development of a country. Experience also shows that the healthiest and most resilient democracies are typically those which have high rates of citizen participation in the democratic process, and where there is accountability and transparency in governance. But there is something else – democracy also needs to be inclusive. The democratic process must create space for all voices to be heard, including women, marginalised groups, people living with disability and others. Inclusivity helps to ensure that the country benefits from the knowledge and ideas of all its people and avoids the risks of conflicts due to exclusion.

Over the past 5 years, the Government of Rwanda and the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) have been implementing a programme aimed at strengthening Rwanda’s democracy, and increasing citizen participation in political and decision-making processes. This programme, aptly named Deepening Democracy through Strengthening Citizen Participation and Accountable Governance (or DDAG for short), has contributed to strengthening many of the key institutions of democracy and, in the process, has helped to lay a strong foundation for Rwanda’s future development. 

The objectives of the DDAG programme are threefold: a) to deepen democracy through increased citizen participation in governance; b) to support elections, the media sector, and evidence-based governance and decision-making; and c) to promote meaningful female participation in all levels of government, and create space for women in politics.
One key activity in the DDAG programme has focussed on political empowerment of women. These sessions, organized by the National Consultative Forum of Political Organizations (NFPO) and UNDP, aim to empower women to, among other things, participate in the leadership of their political parties, execute successful elections campaigns, and acquire the skills and networks necessary to secure party nomination to run as candidates. Through these sessions, women learn practical skills which make them more competitive in party leadership competitions.
The sessions also strengthen the capacities of these women to effectively network and build alliances. As a direct result of the DDAG programme, women’s wings are active in nine out of the eleven major political parties in Rwanda, and this number is growing. At a later stage, the programme supports elected women to be effective legislators in Parliament.The last training sessions were held between April and June 2018 and involved 357 female participants. This list of remarkable women included persons from a wide range of backgrounds, including women involved in their local communities and others who were preparing to run as political candidates in the September 2018 parliamentary elections. Training activities included debates on key issues facing Rwanda, as well as detailed information sessions on the electoral process. In addition to the 357 women, 220 men also took part in the training, including many high-ranking officials in political parties. This was a key part of the strategy to ensure that gender equality was not seen as a women’s issue, but as something important for males in the political system as well. Creating alliance with men in promoting gender equality has been a key accelerator of the gender equality agenda
Good democracy requires good representation. It is not sufficient to simply increase the number of women in politics as a token of diversity and inclusion; it is important to promote the substantive contribution of men and women in the transformational journey of Rwanda. The process is no longer about quotas to be filled. While it is vital to have gender equity, it is equally important to ensure competence and ability. DDAG is seeking to ensure both: better representation of women, and better representation by women. Progressively, and through partnership, we can help to strengthen democracy and improve the lives of everyone in Rwanda.

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