- Women’s formal participation and representation
- Leadership and participation
- Gender-responsive budgeting
- Further resources
The participation of women and men in formal and informal decision-making structures varies greatly between countries, but is generally in favour of men. Institutional as well as cultural, economic and societal factors limit women’s opportunities and abilities to participate in decisionmaking.
Women’s low political representation is therefore often used as an indicator of gender inequality. Specifically, the ‘proportion of seats held by women in national parliament’ was chosen as one of three indicators to measure progress on MDG 3 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Women are underrepresented not only in the political sphere but also in decision-making within the private sector, at the village level and in civil society. At the local level, men usually dominate positions of power, including as religious and traditional leaders, local politicians and village elders.
Women’s representation and leadership tend to be confined to areas that are traditionally ‘feminine’ such as social welfare. Women’s representation in informal decision-making processes is often more common than their representation in formal positions and structures, but it tends to be hidden and therefore not as highly valued as it should be. In order to deepen democracy at the local, national and international level, it is important to ensure that women and men are able to participate on equal terms in both formal and informal decision-making structures.
Poor levels of participation and representation in decision-making bodies is exacerbated, for both men and women, by intersecting discriminations relating to ethnic group, socioeconomic status, religion, disability and sexual orientation.
Women’s formal participation and representation
Gender differences in formal representation can be attributed in large part to both institutional and societal constraints. The latter encompasses the social norms that make it more difficult for women to leave their traditionally domestic roles for more public roles outside of the home. Institutional constraints include barriers such as political systems that operate through rigid schedules that do not take into consideration women’s domestic responsibilities, and the type of electoral quotas used (if any).
There has been considerable international emphasis on ensuring a more equitable number of women and men in democratic institutions, through the introduction of quotas for women in many countries. There is increased acknowledgement, however, that quotas are not enough to ensure that women’s concerns are heard. Two reasons can be found for this. First, despite increased participation, women are still primarily a minority within patriarchal political systems, which means that it continues to be difficult for them to have their voices heard. Second, women politicians cannot be assumed to prioritise or even identify with the needs of other women. Class, race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and disabilities are some of the many differences that can divide women.
Nonetheless, quotas can have an impact on society’s perceptions of women, with increasing acceptance of women as leaders reported in some instances (Beaman et al., 2009). There is growing recognition that combining quotas with skills development in leadership and capacity building can have a stronger impact and strengthen the opportunities for women’s voice.
Clots-Figueras, I. (2007). ‘Are Female Leaders Good for Education? Evidence from India’ Working Paper 07-73, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
This paper finds that, in India, increasing female political representation increases the probability that an individual will attain primary education in urban areas, but not in rural areas, and not in the study sample as a whole. The difference between rural and urban areas may be explained by female politicians investing more in education where women can gain more benefit from it, or by educational investments being more visible to voters in urban areas.
Beaman, L. et al. (2009). ‘Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias’, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 124, no. 4, pp. 1497-1540
This paper uses data from Indian village councils to show that ten years of quotas for women leaders make it more likely for women to stand for and win council positions. They show that prior exposure to a female leader leads to changes in voter attitudes and improves perceptions of female leader effectiveness. The second generations of women standing for election are much more liked by voters and experience much less bias.
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Waring, M. (2011). ‘Women in Politics and Aid Effectiveness: an Aid to Evaluation of MDG3’, A think piece commissioned by AusAID’s Office of Development Effectiveness
This paper reviews MDG 3 in the context of AusAID and the Asia-Pacific region. The paper discusses the range of concepts in MDG 3 commentary, empowerment, leadership and governance, and the challenges of effectiveness reporting. Country case studies demonstrate that political representation is not an adequate measure to reflect women’s empowerment and gender equality. Finally, suggestions are made which encourage more flexible approaches to capture successful interventions across a range of activities which are better related to the diversity of women’s roles in leadership, empowerment and governance.
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Wang, V. (2013). Women Changing Policy Outcomes: Learning from Pro-women Legislation in the Ugandan Parliament. In Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 41, pp. 113-121). Pergamon.
What makes a difference to pro-women policy outcomes? This peer-reviewed journal article examines Uganda, which has recently increased the number of female legislators. While the increased number of women in Parliament has contributed to pro-women policies, other important factors include the role of the women’s caucus in Parliament, the support of male legislators, and relationships between female legislators and actors in civil society and the aid community. This article shows that increasing the number of women in parliament is not enough to create pro-women policies, but that there also needs to be an enabling environment.
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Barriers to women’s election
Institutional, socioeconomic and cultural barriers limit women’s effective participation in democratic elections. Politics is often viewed, by both men and women, as a male domain where women will struggle to make a contribution. In addition, party politics tends to be dominated by men, making it more difficult for women to get on party lists for election. Women’s representation and leadership therefore tend to be more at the grassroots level and in social welfare positions.
Even where women have been able to secure office, they continue to face additional challenges compared to their male counterparts. These include both male and female opposition, inexperience of the political domain and low confidence. In addition, many women politicians find that it can be difficult to balance their public responsibilities with their domestic roles.
In order to get elected, many female candidates choose to downplay the fact that they are concerned with ‘women’s issues’, for fear this may alienate male voters. It has been argued that, in order to reverse this negative cycle, there must be a significant number of women in positions of power before these issues will feature on the agenda.
In some cases, particularly in fragile contexts, women may face intimidation or threats in running for office. This is primarily due to the fact that men or local customary authorities may feel that this threatens the traditional male hierarchy or patriarchal order.
Huffer, E. (2006). ‘Chapter 1: Desk Review of the Factors Which Enable and Constrain the Advancement of Women’s Political Representation in Forum Island Countries’ in Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), A Woman’s Place is in the House – the House of Parliament: Research to Advance Women’s Political Representation in Forum Island Countries, PIFS, Fiji
The Pacific Forum Island Countries have formally recognised that the participation of women in political decision-making needs to be enhanced. However, the political advancement of women remains constrained by both institutional and attitudinal factors. Addressing these problems requires regional and national approaches.
Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU). (2008). ‘Equality in Politics: A Survey of Women and Men in Parliaments’, Reports and Documents No. 24, IPU, Geneva
This paper presents the results of a survey (2006-2008) on how parliamentarians are working to attain gender equality in national politics. Respondents identified four factors as most influential in creating a more gender-sensitive parliament: 1) the support of the ruling party in parliament; 2) the work of parliamentary committees; 3) the work of cross-party networks of women; and 4) the rules that govern the functioning of parliament.
Approaches to increasing women’s democratic participation
A number of strategies have been popular among governments and donors to try to encourage more women into politics. These include training women for political candidacy, providing funding or capacity building on fundraising for women candidates, and including women as election monitors. Mobilising female voters is also considered important to get women elected into office and to deepen democracy. Gendered civic awareness and separate polling booths for women are some of the strategies that have been adopted.
Globally, fewer than 19% of national parliamentarians are women (WDR). Quota systems have been used in a number of countries to advance the representation of women. These have taken various forms, including sandwiching of party lists and reserved seats. While this has increased the number of women in political positions, they remain a minority in most countries. There is mixed evidence that quotas have resulted in issues of concern to many women, such as childcare and health care, featuring more prominently on the agenda. More analysis is needed in this area.
Ballington, J. et al. (2011). ‘Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guide to Promote Women’s Political Participation’, United Nations Development Programme and National Democratic Institute
This UNDP and NDI guide contains guidelines on increasing women’s political empowerment, organised by electoral period, and aimed at members of political parties, civil society organisations and gender equality activists. It draws on 20 case studies of party activities and provides concise and targeted options for political party reform. The most effective strategies to increase women’s participation in political parties combine reforms to political institutions with targeted support to women party activists within and outside party structures, female candidates and elected officials.
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Tadros, M. (2011). ‘Women Engaging Politically: Beyond Magic Bullets and Motorways’, Pathways Policy Paper, Pathways of Women’s Empowerment RPC, Brighton
This paper draws on over eight country case studies to analyse the possibilities and limitations of mainstream approaches, such as quotas, to strengthening women’s access to political power. It finds that any quota law needs to be complemented by other interventions to ensure that it has a positive social transformative impact. Further, concepts of and support for women’s political empowerment need to be based more on women’s ongoing networks of support and influence and less on preelection moments or international ‘blueprints’.
Krook, M. L. and Norris, P. (2014), Beyond Quotas: Strategies to Promote Gender Equality in Elected Office. Political Studies, 62: 2–20.
Apart from quotas, what works for increasing gender equality in politics? Evidence from around the world suggests that the main barriers to women’s increased election are political, rather than social, economic or cultural. There is a vast range of strategies used to increase gender equality, and the diversity of these measures points to a wide array of creative solutions, engaging a variety of actors. The article presents a range of policy solutions and examples of interventions.
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Globally, women are underrepresented in decision-making, not only in the political sphere, but also within the private sector, at the village level and in civil society organisations. This low participation is due to social norms which dictate their domestic roles and often leave them with limited time. Leadership and participation, especially in the political sphere, is often viewed as an area where men have superior knowledge. Traditional and religious leadership positions tend to be dominated by men. This is particularly problematic as these leaders are sometimes called upon by states to adjudicate disputes, especially in transitional justice situations, and can thus limit women’s access to justice if they adhere to gender inequitable social norms.
Women’s leadership positions tend to be confined to organisations set up by and for women. However, as recent DLP research on women’s coalitions in Jordan, Egypt and South Africa has shown, existing or prior networks can facilitate the emergence of coalitions around new issues, for or against change (Van Notten, 2010).
Women often have informal roles of influence, recognition and power within the community – as mothers, teachers, volunteers, entrepreneurs, as well as community leaders. Women’s informal leadership (known as ‘quiet leadership’ in the Pacific) often has a focus on community service, but these leadership skills can be harnessed and formalised to give women political and formal decisionmaking power.
UNIFEM. (2008). ‘Chapter 1: Who Answers to Women?’, in Progress of the World’s Women 2008/9: Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability’, UNIFEM, New York
How can accountability systems become more gender-responsive? This introductory chapter examines how women, including the most excluded women, are strengthening their capacity to identify accountability gaps and call for redress. The MDGs and other international commitments to women will only be met if gender-responsive accountability systems are put in place both nationally and internationally.
Hoare, J. and Gell, F. (eds). (2009). ‘Women’s Leadership and Participation: Case studies on learning for action’, Oxfam, Rugby
This book brings together lessons and experience in building up women’s involvement from Oxfam GB and its partners. The book illustrates methodological approaches and learning points, covering a range of issues from women’s participation in national elections to female decision-making in community livelihood initiatives. It is a process of long-term change.
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Van Notten, I. (2010). ‘Leadership, Integrity and Women’s Coalitions’, Mid-term workshop, Cape Town 25-26 May 2010. Developmental Leadership Program, Background Paper Number 7.
This paper summarises lessons from a DLP workshop in Cape Town. It presents emerging findings on which factors influence the emergence of women’s coalitions and leadership.
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Civil society participation
Civil society is often forgotten as a gendered domain. This can be partly attributed to failure to incorporate the household as a unit of analysis, and consequently forgetting to acknowledge the domestic responsibilities of women which impact on their time and energy to engage outside of the household.
To understand participation in civil society it is important to look beyond a simple gender analysis and to incorporate an analysis of intersecting inequalities. Understanding which women and men are participating might reveal certain groups of men as being able to participate less than other groups of women. Actions can then be taken to particularly consult these hard-to-reach groups for programme interventions.
Howell, J. (2007). ‘Gender and Civil Society: Time for Cross-Border Dialogue’ in Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 415-436.
This article suggests a framework for thinking about the gendered nature of civil society. The framework involves four sites of power – family, civil society, state, and market – that are infused and interconnected by a circuit of gender relations. This circuit comprises culturally specific roles, identities, norms and values that delineate men and women as socially distinct beings. Conceptualising gender relations as a circuit frees it from any essentially given location. The article argues that civil society and feminist theorists should engage in cross-border dialogue.
Agarwal, B. (2009). ‘Does Women’s Proportional Strength Affect their Participation? Governing Local Forests in South Asia’ in World Development vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 98–112.
This paper examines community forest institutions in India and Nepal to assess the impact of increasing women’s participation in local decision-making bodies. Its findings support popular assertions that women’s effectiveness in such forums depends on their numerical strength and that the proportion for such effectiveness is around a third. However, while women’s greater presence is critical, this is not enough. Other factors – such as the individual skill and attributes of decisionmaking members – help make that presence effective.
Strolovitch, D.Z., & Townsend-Bell, E. (2013). Sex, Gender and Civil Society. In Waylen, G., Celis, K., Kantola, J., & Weldon, L. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics. Oxford University Press.
How does gender structure civil society and how does civil society empower and disempower women? This book chapter provides broad introductions to both concepts. It examines how the relationship varies across contexts, with a particular focus on Latin America and the USA. It emphasises the burden of community volunteerism placed on women, and the underlying gendered assumptions of civil society.
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Horn, J. (2013). Gender and Social Movements: Overview report. BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack. Brighton: IDS.
Social movements – led by feminist, women’s and gender justice activists and movements – have been pivotal in demanding, making and sustaining changes to gendered injustice. This report makes the case for engaging with questions of women’s rights and transforming gender power relations across social movements committed to progressive visions of society. It draws on effective and promising strategies and reflects on challenges from existing movement practice. It incorporates both social movement theory and experience and analysis from social justice activists from across the world.
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Much of women’s activism has been channelled through women’s organisations, often mobilised around issues of particular concern to women. Women’s organisations which work against patriarchal domination are often termed women’s rights organisations. While women’s rights organisations have had significant impact on a number of occasions, such as the women’s peacebuilding movement in Liberia, women’s groups often struggle to access funding and their scope for action is therefore often limited. The competition for scarce resources is also often a barrier to women’s groups working cooperatively together.
Nazneen, S. and Sultan, M. (2010). ‘Reciprocity, Distancing, and Opportunistic Overtures: Women’s Organisations Negotiating Legitimacy and Space in Bangladesh’, IDS Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 70-78
This article examines how three Bangladeshi women’s organisations mobilised individuals and negotiated with political parties, state bureaucracy and civil society allies to achieve gender justice goals. Findings highlight the importance of targeted engagement of supporters and allies (so as to mobilise individuals beyond the organisations’ own memberships), and of framing issues in a noncontentious way. The use of personal networks can open up new forums for advocacy, but relying on these networks is a risk to sustainability. Ineffective engagement with political parties can reduce orgnisations’ influence. Strategies for empowering women need to take account of the role played by such organisations and to support them more actively.
Mukhopadhyay, M. And Eyben, R. et al. (2011). ‘ Rights and Resources: The Effects of External Financing on Organising for Women’s Rights’ Royal Tropical Institute and Pathways of Women’s Empowerment
Under which conditions does external financing to women’s rights organisations have a positive impact on women’s empowerment? Under which conditions can women’s organising be successful without such support? Six case studies from Ghana and five from Bangladesh provide examples. The report finds that personal drive and leadership are important for success. Donors’ interest in funding WROs resulted in formalising and expanding organisations, but has also perhaps co-opted the autonomy of WROs. WROs’ social legitimacy is an important part of their identity and contributes to success.
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Interest in gender-responsive budgeting grew in the 1990s, alongside a more general interest in budget work within civil society (Budlender, 2005). It is driven by the premise that government policies, expenditure and revenue have different outcomes for women and men, girls and boys (and different groups of women and men, girls and boys). Such groups are distinct and have different needs and interests. Gender-responsive budget initiatives provide for assessment of the differing outcomes for different groups. The aim is not to establish separate budgets to address gender concerns, but to ensure that government budgets are allocated in an equitable way that satisfies the most pressing needs of individuals and groups (Budlender and Hewitt, 2003).
Gender-responsive budgeting is not an isolated event, but an important aspect of gender mainstreaming and more effective public financial management. It focuses not only on the content of budgets, but also on the underlying policy process, in particular inclusiveness, transparency and accountability. Participatory budgeting initiatives have become a relevant aid instrument for gender-responsive budgeting and for the more general participation of civil society in budgetary processes.
Gender-responsive budgeting requires a significant shift in thinking and practice in the way that budgets are designed and implemented. It involves ambitious initiatives such as opening up the budget process to a wider group of stakeholders, prioritising equality, and acknowledging the care economy.
Elson, D. (2006). ‘Budgeting for Women’s Rights: Monitoring Government Budgets for Compliance with CEDAW’, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), New York
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) imposes obligations on governments with respect to gender equality and non-discrimination. What implications do these obligations have for government budgets? How can gender budget analysis help in monitoring compliance with CEDAW? This report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) establishes a framework for the analysis of budgets from a gender equality perspective. Taking a rights-based approach, it shows how budget analysis can help monitor CEDAW compliance and how CEDAW can establish criteria for gender equality in budgets.
Holvoet, N., 2006, ‘Gender Budgeting: Its Usefulness in Programme-based Approaches to Aid’, EC Gender Help Desk, European Commission, Brussels
How can gender budgeting contribute to more effective programme-based approaches? This paper discusses gender budgeting and its usefulness in the context of new aid instruments. It highlights how gender budgeting may be used by both partner countries and donors to make programmebased approaches more gender-sensitive, and how this can contribute to more effective and more efficient development and to greater gender equality.
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Budlender, D. (2005). ‘Expectations versus Realities in Gender-Responsive Budget Initiatives’, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva
This paper attempts to bring some realism into the discussion, planning and assessment of these initiatives. The paper also stresses that different initiatives have different objectives and different outcomes – depending on context, who is involved, and many other factors.
Budlender, D. (2009). Ten-Country Overview Report. Integrating Gender-Responsive Budgeting into the Aid Effectiveness Agenda. UNIFEM.
These research reports (one composite report and 10 country reports) have been generated as part of a three-year UNIFEM programme. The programme seeks to demonstrate how GRB tools and strategies contribute to enhancing a positive impact on gender equality of aid provided in the form of General Budget Support, and the opportunities for enhancing accountability to gender equality in aid effectiveness.
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Gender-responsive revenue generation
Much of the literature and work on gender-responsive budgeting focuses on the expenditure side (in particular, assessing the gender-specific effects of general government expenditure). The application of gender budgeting on the revenue side has been less defined. In order to get a full understanding of the income and gender impacts of government fiscal policy, however, taxation must be analysed alongside expenditure to reveal and address gender biases. The goal of gender revenue analysis is to: ‘identify and monitor the flow of sufficient financial resources so that gender equity is achieved in revenue generation and women and men, and girls and boys, benefit equally from programmes and services’ (Barnett and Grown, 2004: 1).
Barnett, K. and Grown, C. (2004). ‘Gender Impacts of Government Revenue Collection: The Case of Taxation’, Commonwealth Secretariat, London
Efforts to integrate a gender perspective into public budgeting decisions have been taking place for almost 20 years, and analysts and activists are increasingly interested in using gender revenue analysis as a tool for advancing gender equality. What are the gendered impacts of government fiscal policy? Can gender concerns be adequately integrated into economic policy? This paper reviews the literature on the gender dimensions of taxation and the implications for tax policy in developing countries.
Involvement of non-state actors
The involvement of actors from outside the government executive in gender-responsive budgeting is important in supporting such work and in sustaining momentum for fiscal policy transformation and implementation. Gender budget work carried out within parliament and civil society can include research and efforts to influence the allocations of government money. This contributes to broader objectives of transparency, accountability and civic participation. Collaboration between civil society and parliament can also be effective in promoting support for and implementation of genderresponsive budgeting initiatives. Further, gender-responsive budgeting can be adopted not only by government, but also by nongovernmental organisations, foundations, and other private sector organisations.
Budlender, D., 2002, ‘Gender Budgets: What’s in it for NGOs?’, Gender and Development, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 82-87
What are the benefits of non-governmental involvement in gender budget initiatives? This paper argues that performing gender budget work outside government can contribute to broad objectives such as democratic governance, transparency, accountability and civic participation. Even if an NGO carries out gender budget work in isolation from government, which may contribute minimally to changes in budget allocations, such work can make a difference in other ways. In addition to undertaking gender budget work as a stand-alone activity, NGOs can incorporate gender budget analysis and advocacy as a tool in their existing programmes.
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Quinn, S. (2009). ‘Gender Budgeting: Practical Implementation’, Handbook, Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs, Council of Europe, Strasbourg
The handbook discusses a three-stage process in the mainstreaming of gender budgeting: analysis, restructuring of budgets to achieve gender equality outcomes, and working systematically to embed gender within all budgetary processes.
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Budlender, D. (2004). ‘Budgeting to Fulfill International Gender and Human Rights Commitments’, UNIFEM, Zimbabwe
How can national budgets be monitored to assess their contribution to fulfilling international gender and human rights commitments? As part of its work supporting the gender analysis of budgets in Southern Africa, UNIFEM designed a tool to support this process. It illustrates how various international instruments aimed at achieving gender equality can be used to evaluate gender responsive budgets.
Budlender, D. and Hewitt, G. (2003). Engendering Budgets: A Practitioner’s Guide to Understanding and Implementing Gender-Responsive Budgets, Commonwealth Secretariat, London
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Schneider, K. (2006). ‘Manual for Training on Gender Responsive Budgeting’, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), formerly GTZ
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UNFPA and UNIFEM. (2006). ‘Gender Responsive Budgeting and Women’s Reproductive Rights: A Resource Pack’, UNFPA, UNIFEM, New York
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Randzio-Plath, C. et al. (2010). ‘Gender Budgeting and Democratic Governance: Experience from Africa and Europe’, Workshop of African and European Civil Society Organisations in Bonn This workshop report provides case studies of gender budgeting from Uganda, South Africa and Austria. It also provides a general discussion on links between gender budgeting and good governance and (gender) democracy; and on challenges to implementing gender budgeting work.
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- Haider, H. (2011). ‘Effects of Political Quotas for Women’, GSDRC Helpdesk Report, GSDRC, Birmingham
- Gender: Budgets and the economy on Eldis
- GSDRC Topic Guide on Political Systems: sections on gender and participation, women in parliament and women in political parties
- National Democratic Institute
- International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA)
- Pathways of Women’s Empowerment RPC
- ACE Electoral Knowledge Network
- Governance and Political Participation on Eldis