Domestic and external pressures to increase the number of women in formal politics have started to bear fruit over the past 20 years. Overall, this has led to a greater presence of women in
elected, appointed, and recruited positions in public bodies, and to their rise to senior positions in these settings, to a lesser extent. A significant amount of rigorous research has analysed women’s access to these positions, the constraints and enablers they experience once there, and their political action in office. Within this literature however, available evidence is scarce when the focus turns to analysing support that external aid actors have provided women leaders in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This annotated bibliography maps a selection of references available on this issue, following a rapid review of the academic, practitioner, and policy literature (this makes it subject to limitations – see the methodology section for details).
The selected references show that aid donors have implemented, or supported the implementation of, several main types of interventions. They typically address one or several of four aspects: women leaders themselves, men leaders in formal politics, political institutions, and the links between women leaders and broader movements for women’s rights. The types of interventions most frequently undertaken include:
- Capacity-building for women leaders, in women-only or mixed settings. This can address the specific skills of their leadership position (e.g. being a parliamentarian), broader political skills (e.g. leadership, negotiation), or substantive issues in their work (e.g. the object of a piece of legislation).
- Networking for mutual support or mentorship, primarily among women but also with men.
- Establishing and developing sustained women-focused institutions, such as women’s caucuses and gender equality committees in parliaments.
- Working with the formal political bodies where women are leaders, to make these bodies gender-responsive. A variety of interventions are referenced under this, such as:
- changing the procedures and cultures of the bodies women belong to;
- gender mainstreaming processes, e.g. internal gender audits;
- providing adequate support staff;
- providing the right facilities;
- mobilising men allies;
- sanctioning abuse and violence in politics, including when it targets women.
- Working with political parties, which are defined across the literature as a major factor determining women’s effectiveness, even once women are elected.
Evidence on the effectiveness of interventions and its factors appears to be patchy, mixed, and biased towards reporting positive results. It also seems skewed towards national-level politics,
and towards countries with lesser levels of violence and States with stronger capacities. Results appear to depend on the quality of programming, but also on factors such as the formal and
informal political context and political economy in which women operate. Among frequent recommendations on effectively helping women leaders, aid actors are urged to: combine several types of interventions; make support structures and practices an integral part of domestic institutions over the long term; help make political bodies gender-responsive, and connect women leaders to broader movements for women’s rights and gender equality.
The rest of this report is structured as follows. Section 2 describes the state of knowledge. Section 4 presents references that are reviews of the evidence base and of available data. Section 5 presents references that discuss the various interventions and approaches donors have adopted. Section 6 focuses on references (including reviews) that discuss support to women leaders in adverse contexts, such as war, high levels of violence, post-war periods, and States with weak capacities. Section 2 summarises the methodology used for this rapid review.
In sections 4 to 6, the core references are presented first. These were selected for their high relevance, the strength of their methodology, and the geographical and thematic breadth of their
coverage (see section 2 for details). In the summaries of the key findings from each core reference, any bolding of text was done by the author of the present report. Core references are then followed by a few suggestions of further reading, drawn from the pool of highly relevant references with broad thematic and geographic coverage.
In addition, it is worth noting that a number of successful interventions to support women leaders in formal politics did not involve foreign aid, and instead resulted from domestic dynamics and mobilisations. References analysing the successes and limitations of such domestic developments are presented in section 7. This section also lists additional references with narrower geographic or thematic scopes and some that have less systematic or strong methodologies but whose results are highly relevant to the issue.