SNV - Netherlands Development Organisation

Annette Evertzen

April 2001



Table of contents:



1.         INTRODUCTION. 3


3.         BARRIERS. 7

4.         DECISION MAKING.. 9








6.         FINANCES. 19

7.         COMMUNICATION. 21

8.         LEGISLATION. 23






10.        CONCLUSION. 29




List of Abbrevations for Organisations:


CEMR              Council of European Municipalities and Regions

IPU                  Inter-Parliamentary Union

IULA                 International Union  of Local Authorities

NDI                  National Democratic Institute

UNCHS United Nations Centre for Human Settlements

UNDP               United Nations Development Programme

VNG                 Vereniging Nederlandse Gemeenten / Association of Municipalities in the Netherlands.






This Handbook is an overview of the literature and web sites concerning gender and governance processes, underlining strategies and best practices. Special emphasis is placed on local governance and the region of West Africa, as it serves as a base for pilot projects concerning gender and local governance in Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Albania. The Manual may be useful as well for the SNV and its partner organisations in other regions, as it forms a practical introduction to the SNV’S focal points: local governance and gender.


In SNV terms Local Governance Processes concern the processes through which local stakeholders interact in determining the local development agenda and in managing resources to implement the development priorities. SNV operates on the interface of different actors of society.

Particular attention is paid to women’s interests. Without women’s needs and interests being taken into account, without the opportunity for them to participate in and influence decision-making, development interventions and planning will not achieve sustainable results. (SNV, 1999).                                                                                            

The thinking of the Dutch Government links good governance with good policy, human rights, democratisation, decentralisation, and institution building, including state and private sector development. Good governance is defined as ‘the transparent, responsible and effective exercise of power and resources by the government, in dialogue with the population’. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000).


The scope of governance goes beyond the technical arena (the simple delivery of basic services such as Health, Water Supply, Education) and political dimensions to social empowerment, processes of collective action, collective bargaining and social expression. It includes a bottom-up process of participation in decision-making. It becomes meaningful as a system operating on democratic principles with values and practices that stress people's empowerment and participation, gender equality, legitimacy, transparency, accountability and effectiveness. The Civil Society is an important actor in this process.

The decentralisation of public authority and public functions to other levels of government gives citizens more and better opportunities to influence decision- making. It is also easier for Local Government Officials to hear and respond to the demands of local people. Decentralisation often leads to greater responsibility and responsiveness of the decentralised political bodies and to a greater interest among and participation by, the local population (Leijenaar, 1999).


With reference to gender, there are four criteria, which form the basis of good and gender-sensitive governance:

§         Participation:  equal participation in government institutions and processes, freedom of association and space for an active women’s movement.

§         Transparency: transparency and gender equity in the allocation of resources.

§         Legitimacy: legislation for gender equality and the promotion and protection of women’s rights.

§         Effectiveness: gender-sensitive policies and institutional structures.

(Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000).


Gender-sensitive local governance has the following principal objectives:

§         To increase women's participation in politics, not only in formal political structures but also civic engagement in politics.

§         To strengthen gender-awareness and capacities among both female and male politicians and civil servants.

§         To deliver services that address the specific needs and interests of women and men in the community, which requires engendered economic development, development planning and allocation of resources.

§         To create awareness of women’s rights.


In the following chapters, all these points will be dealt with. As this is meant to be a practical handbook, it is a combination of actions and best practices, taken from the available literature.


The Handbook starts with a description of the reasons for and the barriers to the participation of women in decision-making, followed by a description of action to be taken and the best practices to increase the participation of women in decision- making: women as voters and women as (candidate) politicians. Then there will be a description of actions and best practices to engender the administration and delivery system of local Governments. The chapters, which follow, deal with the finances, communication (media) and legislation. A separate chapter deals with the influence of Civil Society. An extensive and annotated Bibliography forms part of the appendixes.



Some figures:






Women MPs

(Lower  House)

Year: 2000.

Women in Local Councils


United States

        20 %   (’97)

        13 %   (’98)

           18 %   (’95)

           23 %   (’90)







        11 %

         9 %           

        36 %  

        43 %


           23 %   (’00)

             3 %   (’00)         

            23 %  (’98)

            42 %  (’00)


Burkina Faso





South Africa





         8  %   

       30  %

       25  % 

         1  %

       24  %  

       30  %  

       16  %   (’95)

       10  %  

         9  %  


          10  %   (’94)


           41  %   (‘99)


           52  %   (’99)

           18  %   (’99)

           25  %   (’99)

             6  %   (’99)

             3  %   (’99)


Sources: Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR).






Systematic integration of women augments the democratic basis, the efficiency and the quality of the activities of Local Government. If Local Government is to meet the needs of both women and men, it must build on the experiences of both women and men, through an equal representation at all levels and in all fields of decision-making, covering the wide range of responsibilities of local governments;

In order to create sustainable, equal and democratic local governments, where women and men have equal access to decision-making, equal access to services and equal treatment in these services, the gender perspective must be mainstreamed into all areas of policy making and management in local government.

International Union of Local Authorities (IULA) worldwide declaration on women in local government


Different International Conferences have emphasised the fact that women have the right to participate in political decision-making, for reasons of equality, democracy and legitimacy. ‘The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of women’s social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of both transparent and accountable government and administration, and sustainable development in all areas of life’. (UN Women’s Conference Beijing, 1995).


The participation of women in local governance is often easier to achieve than participation at the national level, because eligibility criteria are less stringent at the local level, and Local Government is closest to a woman’s sphere of life, and easier to combine with bringing up children. It can be the first level that women can break into and as such it can serve as a springboard to National Politics, by allowing them to develop capabilities and gain experiences.


Likewise, local politics can be more interesting for women as they are the people who know their community well, being the major users of space and services in the Local Community, such as water, electricity, waste disposal, health clinics, and other Social Services. They participate actively in organisations in their neighbourhood, and it is easier to involve these organisations in formal political decision-making at the local level.


The main reasons for the participation of women in (local) politics are the following:


Justice. Women constitute half of any country’s population, and therefore have the right to constitute half of the decision-making bodies. Only by having more (locally) elected women, women will feel truly represented and recognised in the democratic process. A Society where women are not part of the Political System is an unjust Society.


Efficiency. Women have different experiences and resources to bring into Politics. A Political System, which does not exploit both women’s and men’s experiences and resources, is therefore inefficient.


Diversity. In general, women and men perform different tasks and live in different economic and social conditions. Therefore they have different political interests. Having the major responsibility for reproductive activities, women have a particular interest in the allocation of local resources and services, such as water, fuel, electricity, sanitation, housing, public safety, and health services. Male politicians normally do not automatically represent women’s interests. Women’s active participation in decision-making is essential in order to ensure that women can promote and defend their specific needs and interests. They can be prime actors in promoting gender-sensitive governance that addresses the interests of both women and men and enhances access to and control over local resources for both. In some countries, women have succeeded in changing the political agenda by putting women’s issues on it (social services, child care, reproductive rights, women’s land rights, violence against women). A survey of women’s political experience, carried out by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1999 and including 187 women from 65 countries shows that 89% of the women politicians consider that they have a special responsibility to represent the needs and interests of women. (IPU, 2000).

Besides, neither men nor women form a homogeneous category. There is diversity within these categories as well, which has to be taken into account when a democratic local process is to be achieved.


Changing the Political System. More women in politics can change the Political System. Research into corruption shows that women are less likely than men to behave opportunistically, thus bringing more women into Government may have significant benefits for Society in general. (Dollar, 1999).


The Survey of the Inter-Parliamentary Union showed women’s vision of how women’s involvement in politics makes a difference: women noted a shift in political priorities and outcomes, behaviour and practices, and a broader and enriched political process (a crosscutting approach). Politics became more responsive to the people’s needs in general and to women’s needs in particular, and showed a move towards true gender equality. It led to better democracy, increased transparency and improved governance. With a more human and gender-sensitive political approach citizens got more confidence in politics. They also mentioned a change in political and parliamentary language and mores. (IPU, 2000).

The scheme below is another illustration of how women can change the Political System.



Women changing the political system:

§         Change in perception of women and men politicians as well as in the expected division of labour between men and women in any Society. How politicians are perceived can often make or break political careers. To transform capable women public figures from an exception to the norm is a thus a worthy goal.

§         Change in discourse: Discourse refers to the language, actions, means of reference, and spheres of influence, among other things. Women who participate politically and lead public lives have, in some countries, managed to impact on the way that women in general can and should be referred to. This, in part by becoming involved in areas which were traditionally seen as ‘men’s affairs’, or ‘hard politics’ (e.g. Defence, Finance, Foreign Policy), as well as insisting on redefining and prioritising ‘soft’ issues such as Welfare, Maternity Leave, and Education.

§         Change in coverage: This refers in particular to how History is written and taught, how textbooks and stories are written and read, and how media handles women in public life. It is important that the media’s own coverage be dependent on impact (which may well be considered "an important story") as opposed to simply covering women as by-products of a political process.

§         Change in policies: This includes, among other aspects, times and /or locations of meetings, speaking priorities, training measures and themes, and availability of family-friendly services. As far as the latter are concerned, it is very often assumed that day-care centres for example, are a woman’s concern, whereas children and their upbringing are a matter of importance to both parents. The Swedish Speaker of Parliament for example, was instrumental in persuading Parliamentarians to convene at times more appropriate for the needs of women MPs with family responsibilities.

§         Change in legislation: The South African context, where a new constitution was drafted with gender in mind, is an excellent example of changes in legislation. But other situations where amendments to existing laws (e.g. on Citizenship Rights, Inheritance Rights, Divorce Rights, Equal Pay Labour Rights, and so on) or the introduction of new ones take place, are also important milestones.

§         Change of institutions: The creation of specialised institutions, or setting up departments or groups within institutions, which develop, monitor and implement gender-equality within and without, are further examples. Here, what comes to mind as examples are, once again, South Africa and Uganda who created specialised women’s government departments, and in the former case, also set aside a specific budget, derived from the national budget, with monitoring mechanisms in order to review and ensure adherence. (Karam, 1999).



3.         BARRIERS



Women's, often heavy, workload of paid and unpaid work is a barrier to their ability to take part in decision-making. Local Government has an important role to play in providing affordable, professional and safe care services for children, older people and people with disabilities, be that directly or in partnership with the private or the voluntary sectors, and in promoting the sharing of household tasks by women and men on an equal basis. Men have the equal right and responsibility to care for their children and relatives and should be encouraged to do so.

IULA Worldwide Declaration on Women in Local Government.


As many women participate in organisations at a local level it is often thought that decentralisation is in the interest of women. But decentralisation makes the local level more important, and as that grows in importance, the male interest in it grows as well.  There are still many barriers for women, with the risk that they will not benefit in the same measure as men.


Leijenaar (1999) makes a distinction between individual and institutional factors affecting the chances of women to become involved in political decision-making. Below the factors and mechanisms are explained that put women in a disadvantaged position.


Individual factors address the extent to which individual characteristics favour political participation. In general, women are less interested in Politics; both women and men often see Politics as a man’s affair. Women have not learned to develop political capacities, because Public Sector activities are usually seen as the male domain. As a consequence, women lack confidence in their own political capabilities. Their lower level of education, professional experience, income and time available disadvantages women as compared to men.


Institutional factors related to the organisation of Society, its norms and values. By becoming politically active, women are hampered in their tasks of taking care of others and their responsibility for the household. They often lack support from their husbands or family.

Barriers in the structure of society for women are: limited access to leadership, managerial skills and training, lack of female role models and mentors, disproportional expectations, and violence against women.

The political participation of women also depends on the social and cultural climate of a country: religious and patriarchal norms and values may exclude women from public life. Andersen’s research in Tanzania (1992) showed that all female local leaders – despite internal differences – had had to fight hard in order to get an education and to conquer male resistance against their political activity. Many of them had experienced one or more divorces and today about half of the women live as single women. Accusations against female leaders of being prostitutes, witches etc. are frequent and indicate that the female leaders actually challenge some very fundamental values concerning the proper distribution of tasks and responsibilities between men and women. They challenge prevailing gender ideologies and gender identities in the area.

Women’s participation also depends on the gender equality policies within a country. The existence of women’s organisations to promote the political participation of women and to give support to elected women is very important too.


Institutional factors related to the Political System

Examples with regard to voting are:

§         Registration Procedures (cultural norms and values may prohibit women from having a photograph taken for voter registration cards or from showing their face to male officers in polling booths, preventing women from voting).

§         Voting procedures (if the elections are not secret, women may be controlled by their husbands), accessibility of polling stations (in general women are less free to move around).

§         State Education (women have less education and are usually less informed about the electoral process, the meaning of elections and the right to vote).

Examples with regard to nomination and election are:

§         In the selection criteria: the high level of education, the membership of certain professions, as well as party activism and service, are easier to deal with for men.

§         Women are not involved in systems such as patronage and clientelism; systems that bring people to decision-making positions.

§         Another important factor is the selection process and the Electoral and Political System. Important criteria in systems dealing with individual candidates (rather than party lists) are popularity with opinion leaders, the right family connections and sufficient funds. These criteria are more difficult to obtain for women.

§         Preferential voting can be an advantage for women candidates.

§         Important is whether there are specific policies to increase women’s participation (Reserved Seats, Quotas).

§         The political climate is often characterised by aggressiveness, competitiveness and discrimination or intimidation of women, discouraging many women from entering Politics or from continuing once they have become involved in Polititcs.


Women politicians are further hampered by the working conditions and by an organisational culture, which is not adapted to women’s circumstances (lack of childcare services, family leave and flexible work schedules). A 1994 study in Britain indicated that 85% of women under 45 left Local Government due to non-electoral reasons and in 63% of the cases it was due to the difficulties of balancing the demands of work and family (Donk, 1997).






This chapter contains actions and best practices to strengthen women’s participation in voting and as (candidate) politicians. These actions can be addressed by SNV by giving technical support to organisations active in these areas.





Civic / Voters’ Education

Civic (how the political process works) and voter (voting procedures) education programmes can be carried out by visiting villages and districts to explain voting rights and to inform people about the technicalities involved in exercising these rights.

Information and Education programmes tend to be more effective when they include efforts to put women’s concerns on the political agenda. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000).

Concrete actions include:

§         Adapting time and place to make them accessible to women.

§         Producing leaflets and posters. Use pictures and very simple language. ‘Much of the terminology used in print media was formal and inaccessible even to the very small proportion of the female population literate in Portuguese’ is one of the conclusions of an evaluation of the Civic Education Programme in Mozambique. (Jacobson, 1995)

§         Also use theatre plays and radio programmes to reach illiterate women.

§         Developing material that can be used in alphabetisation courses. Schools can be supported to establish a Civic Curriculum for young people.

§         Developing Training Manuals for civic educators and organise workshops for trainers.


Best practices

In 1993, in Botswana the NGO Emang Basadi, ‘Stand Up Women’ launched (one year before the Election) a Political Education Project with the double aim of increasing the number of women in Parliament and Local Government, and ensuring that political party platforms would include commitments to women’s issues. In addition, a Manifesto was developed, in which they demanded that the Government and all Political Parties ensure equal participation and representation in all national and local legislative and decision-making bodies. They held ‘Voter Education Seminars’ in the political constituencies and organised campaigning and training workshops to assist women candidates. The representation of women in Parliament increased from four to 11 % after the 1994 elections. (Cited in: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2000),


Shortly before the elections all the SNV-projects in Guinea-Bissau devoted themselves to Civic Education, visiting all the groups with whom they worked, and explaining the importance of voting, the rights men and women have, and the voting procedures. They used material showing women as voters, as members of the polling stations and as candidates. In some villages, they imitated the voting procedure to let the future voters practice. The results were more women voters and fewer invalid voting-papers.


Awareness raising

Both men and women have to become aware of women’s rights to vote and the importance of active participation by women and men in political decision-making. If possible, women voters must be linked to women candidates.


Electoral system and access to voting

Organisations responsible for the logistics and technicalities of elections have to elaborate strategies to increase women’s participation in voting:

§         By setting up many different registration and polling stations, in order to make it physically possible for women to vote.

§         Guaranteeing safety of voters.

§         Guaranteeing  the possibility for women to vote separately from their husbands.

§         Adapting the registration and identification procedures, if necessary, to ensure women’s participation.





Capacity Building

Capacity building is important for women as present or future candidates. The training can help women to organise and mobilise themselves as well as facilitating networking.

§         Women can gain experience through participation in committees in their neighbourhood, or by organising themselves around income-generating activities. Development organisations can strengthen these capacities by providing training and advice.

§         Organise training courses in gender and leadership (to learn to speak in public, analyse, argue and defend their interests and to build a support network). This can serve as a springboard for a political career.

§         Organise training courses for women interested in Politics, dealing with the necessary skills and knowledge for campaigning, presentation, negotiation, and handling of the media, as well as gender-awareness and self-esteem.

§         Offer possibilities to practice these capacities in the form of work placements.

§         Pay attention to follow-up programmes for women who have already been trained.


Best practice

In South Africa, with the opportunity created by the necessity to draw up a new constitution, a massive internal and external mobilisation of intellectual and grassroots arguments has transformed governance. The multi-racial National Coalition of Women mobilised women throughout the country to state and defend their own interests - their immediate needs (infra-structure) as much as their views on geo-politics - with the chiefs and community leaders. The process of negotiation itself, in which women gained self-confidence in their differences from men as well as in their own capacity for self-expression, were empowering psychologically and politically. Large numbers of women later stood as candidates for the new Federal and State Parliaments, and large numbers were successful, making the proportion of women in State and Federal Parliaments the highest in the continent (Ashworth, 1996).



Formalised networks, on the local, regional, national and international level, can provide women with the social and financial resources necessary to take office. They also provide an opportunity for the exchange of experience, advice and mutual moral support.



Partnerships with organisations in other regions or countries are important to exchange and gain experience, and to encourage and train women candidates.


Best practice

Four Benin women’s organisations, supported by SNV, established a partnership with NBvP (Dutch organisation of rural women), supported by the Vereniging Nederlandse Gemeenten (VNG, Association of Municipalities in the Netherlands). Their third co-operation project addresses the issue of women in local governance, aiming to achieve an equal participation of women in decision-making in local governance and civil governance, both in Benin as well as in the Netherlands. The project foresees working visits in the two countries by delegations from women candidate councillors and local politicians. Innovating is the inclusion of men, because the women from Benin think that these male politicians can make an important contribution to their campaigns. The visits to both countries include training programmes, work placements and the elaboration of personal action plans. (VNG, 1999)


Conferences, seminars, etc.

Conferences and seminars are tools for discussing the theme of the importance of equal participation of men and women in Politics, and strategies to achieve this.


Best Practice

The IULA-CEMR Committee of Women Elected Representatives of Local and Regional Authorities believed that the most appropriate action strategy to improve women’s participation in Local Politics would be to provide a special forum for meetings, exchange of experiences and sharing of good practices linked to equality. IULA-CEMR thus multiplied its efforts to disseminate information on equal opportunities and local and regional authorities by using means adapted to the needs of its members: a Newsletter, Internet Site, Meetings and Working Seminars.


Supporting NGOs who organise support for women candidates

Women claim they would be more interested in running for an elected position if they could do so as an independent candidate, supported by their NGO or local community. Therefore it is important to support NGOs who provide moral, psychological and / or financial support to women candidates.


Supporting NGOs who lobby for changes in the electoral system

Measures, such as quotas or reserved seats, can have a positive effect on the selection of women candidates (although husbands or male family members can use women as their spokeswoman, as experienced in the case of India), as well as an eye-opening effect on selectors.

The combination of legislated quotas and a proportional representation Electoral System seems to provide the best opportunities for women to be elected. In Namibia, this system, combined with zebra-listing (men and women by turns) resulted in 40% women elected as Local Councillors in 1998. In Uganda, women are now guaranteed one third of Local Council seats.  IULA recommends a representation rate of no more than 60% for either men or women.


Best practice

The Plan of Action for Gender in the South Africa Development Community (SADC) (approved in 1997) identifies the achievement of thirty percent of women in decision- making by 2005. It sets the Secretariat the task of the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the Plan. The Plan is based on the premise that there is a need to go beyond simple access or increasing the numbers of women in decision-making positions. Quota must be a part of a package of measures that addresses both quantitative and qualitative issues to ensure that women not only access decision- making positions, but that they are effective participants and use their position to further transform society. Several recommendations concern the need to create gender friendly environments to facilitate the participation of women in politics (facilities, sitting times, rules, empowerment and training) as well as the establishment of institutions (for example gender machinery in government and in legislature). (Morna, 1999).



Databases seem to be a very effective tool to fight for equal participation for women and men.

§         Setting up a database with statistics helps to make the unequal participation of women more visible. Men are more willing to concern themselves with women’s questions if they are convinced that there really is a problem, and statistics can help to convince them. IULA will initiate a project of original empirical research and statistical compilations that will provide an accurate assessment of the status of women in local governance. This information constitutes one of the most important tools for implementing policies of positive action.

§         Setting up a database with names and profiles of women candidates for decision-making posts in (local) government, political parties, organisations and committees serves as a resource for women who will gain (more) experience, as well as for organisations who will increase the participation of women.

§         A collection of data on how women politicians have managed to make a difference through their legislature will be very helpful for other women politicians.


Best practice

Women from the Nordic countries have demonstrated that highlighting the disparity between women and men, by publishing statistics, is helpful in opening the debate on parity democracy. (Dahlerup in Karam,1999)





The profile of the female Local Councillors in Burkina Faso shows that 66% are literate and the majority (54%) has a salaried job. The majority also gained experience in women’s organisations. The women Councillors were elected for their dynamism and capacity to organise and mobilise. However, as Councillors they are not sure about their roles and tasks.

A needs-assessment showed they would like to be trained in:

§         Gender-sensitive planning

§         Relations with women’s organisation

§         Identification and strengthening of local recourses available for women’s promotion

§         Decision-making capacities and self-confidence.

(Commission Nationale de la Décentralisation, 1996).

Like the women Councillors in Burkina Faso the women’s leaders in Benin are married women with children. They have organising and negotiating capacities, and often are literate. But they lack self-confidence as well. (Vrancken, 1999).

Therefore, supporting women Councillors is very important.


Capacity Building

Once elected, women need to make their voices heard. One of the problems that many women politicians face is that they are not allocated time in discussions and debates and they are not given the opportunity to sit on key committees and occupy key positions.

§         Promote training in leadership, focusing on topics such as debating, negotiating and conflict management, teambuilding and management of change.

§         Promote training on technical issues, especially legal support: knowledge of how the legislature works, written and unwritten codes, procedures and mechanisms for conducting a political agenda.

§         Promote training in communication, information technology and networking.

§         Help build the self-confidence and self-assessment skills of women and make them familiar with fulfilling a public role, partly as a way of persuading other women to enter politics.


Best practice

The Municipal Management Training Programme (MMTP) ‘Women in Local Governance’ is a training programme, which at the same time serves as a partnership programme between African and Dutch women in decision-making bodies.  It aims to strengthen the position of women participants by exchanging experience and knowledge, transferring knowledge in specific policy fields, training in presentation and communication techniques, and discussion strategies.

The MMTP contains two parts: a central course of one week, together with the other interns, and an internship of two weeks in a Dutch host municipality. The participants work on an assignment that focuses on the elaboration of an awareness raising plan/strategy to involve women in their own municipality in local government or raise their attention and interests for local governance issues. (VNG, 2000).


As a part of the training programme for Indian women elected at the local level, these women were taken to visit the seat of the State Government, and the Legislative Assembly. They were amazed at the Council Chamber. They saw where the Speaker sat and conducted the proceedings. They saw where the Chief Minister and the Leader of the Opposition sat for the debates. This was an immensely empowering experience. In meetings in their GPs, they often ended an argument, especially with men, with: ‘What do you know? Have you seen the Vidhana Soudha? I have!’  (Vyasulu, 1999).


Conferences, Seminars, Exchanges

Participation in conferences, etc. is an important and motivating tool to learn from each other, to gain self-confidence and to establish relations (networking).

§         Promote exchanges between women politicians at the local, regional, national and international level.

§         Promote exchanges between civil society and women politicians.


Stakeholder Involvement in Policy Development

Special efforts should be made to include minority or marginalised groups in policy

consultations. In many countries, grassroots women and their organisations form the

backbone of the productive sector but are frequently and easily overlooked in the formulation of such plans.

Steps to involve them should include:

Workshops at the community level, such that women’s situations and time constraints are taken into consideration;

Support to women’s organisations and local NGOs in the form of resources, capacity development and advocacy skills;

Use of local languages;

Use of participatory processes and networking; and

Ongoing collaboration with NGOs active at the local level.

The involvement of a broad range of stakeholders at the very early stages of the policy development process should help to overcome some of the problems associated with earlier attempts to integrate women in mainstream development plans – namely that the integration of women led to an ‘add-on’ approach to existing policy frameworks rather than a critical analysis of the political, social and institutional framework that underpinned gender inequality and a recognition of the need for transformative policy initiatives. (The Commonwealth, 1999).



Men often have their own networks, or male clubs. Or they meet each other in pubs or restaurants. It is important that women form their own networks as well to discuss women’s issues.

IULA foresees the provision of an International ‘Women in Local Government Network’ based on personal and electronic communication. This would serve as a means of interaction between the members of IULA, highlighting best practices and programmes implemented.

§         Stimulate and facilitate cross-party caucuses of women politicians at all levels, to work across party lines and help each other in learning the rules of the game, strengthen their position by representing a potential voting bloc with regard to women’s issues, and / or by organising themselves outside the legislative body.

§         Stimulate the establishing of links with women’s organisations to bridge civil society and state. As women governors at the local level often come from more wealthy families or the new elite, it is important to link them with grassroots women, to decrease social differentiation and polarisation between different groups of women.

§         Provide access to Internet in order to network with other organisations.


Best practice

Lobbying through ‘Gender Dialogues’.

In Uganda, the Women’s Caucus organised a series of so-called Gender Dialogues to which they invited men and other non-caucus members, such as experts in particular issues at stake. The dialogues were given a high profile and were always followed by a reception. This ensured a good turnout for discussion. It appeared that more and more male delegates wanted to be associated with these events. The women often agreed with these non-members to advance the arguments to their colleagues and to move the Caucus amendment. Whenever a position was taken in the Dialogue, a brochure was issued to all Assembly Delegates to inform them and lobby to seek support. According to the Women’s Caucus the Gender Dialogues have been an innovative and successful tool that they have used to build consensus and for lobbying. (United Nations Development Programme, 2000),



Promote partnerships between politicians and women in decision-making bodies of different countries.


Access to information

Support elected women by providing them with helpful information in the exercise of their political function.

§         Provide research support on technical and legal matters to women politicians.

§         Give women practical information about the current situation vis-à-vis the condition, position, and the political participation of women throughout the world, and about any research being carried out in this regard.

§         Set up information systems (use of the Internet) and databases (see above).


Moral support

The lack of a support base can lead to women politicians becoming despondent and even withdrawing from politics, thus reinstating the status quo. Women’s organisations and networks are essential in providing this support.

§         Provide women with support from interest groups within the political process, as a type of political mentor system, or create another system of mentoring for inexperienced women politicians.

§         Provide women with support from a reference group or institution that will act as a support base and as a pressure group for women’s issues.


Best practice

Women in Panchayati Raj (local government) in India who have been supported and nurtured by NGOs and those who have been involved in larger people's movements have gained a more 'assertive' stance, which gives them an edge over other women in the local government. (Poornima & Vinod Vyasulu. 1999).





The current Local Government area is extremely discouraging for women Councillors. Local Government presents a hostile, alienating, male dominated environment. Women feel continuously marginalised, stereotyped, taken for granted and experience little understanding or support (Donk, 1997). To attain engendered governance, men have to give space to women and to work together with them. Training and orientation of men plays an important role in the engendering of governance.


Gender training

In addition to training especially for women politicians, training for both men and women is also important.

§         Organise joint training sessions, in which both can discuss the importance of gender issues and of parity and non-discriminatory working relationships in Government.  Male politicians can become more aware of women’s and gender issues. Women are encouraged to address their areas of interest and to network with male colleagues.

§         Introduce (or develop) training for women and men politicians simultaneously and encourage the sharing of experiences and lessons learned among men and women politicians.


Conferences, Seminars, Exchanges, Networking, Partnerships

If the women concerned feel this is desirable, all these tools can include men. They should aim at including men in the future if it is not desirable at the present time.

The gender dialogues in Uganda and the partnerships between Benin and the Netherlands, described above, are good examples of men dedicating themselves to lobby for gender and women’s issues.








Women have the right to equal access to the services of local governments, as well as the right to be treated equally in these services and to be able to influence the initiation, development, management and monitoring of services. The provision of services such as education, welfare and other social services by local governments, should aim to see women and men as equally responsible for matters related both to the family and to public life, and avoid perpetuating stereotypes of women and men;

Women have the equal right to sound environmental living conditions, housing, water distribution and sanitation facilities, as well as to affordable public transportation. Women's needs and living conditions must be made visible and taken into account at all times in planning;

Women have the right to equal access to the territory and geographical space of local governments, ranging from the right to own land, to the right to move freely and without fear in public spaces and on public transport;

Local government has a role to play in ensuring the reproductive rights of women and the rights of women to freedom from domestic violence and other forms of physical, psychological and sexual violence and abuse.

IULA Worldwide Declaration on Women in Local Government.


Women spend more of their time in the village and its neighbourhood than men, usually being responsible for the household, taking care of others and the community management. They have a vested interest in safe water, sewerage, sanitation, refuse services, fuel, and health services. Thus the conditions in which services are delivered are important issues for women. For example: as the main users of water, women are well qualified to advise on the choice of pumps, where to run the waterlines and to place the standpipes, so as to avoid basic design flaws disadvantaging women and children. Women also take responsibility for the maintenance of such services, for example, cleaning and sweeping around community water pumps and standpipes, collecting contributions, and organising for repair of equipment (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements - UNCHS,199?).


Socio-economic development is mainly directed at poverty eradication. Given the fact that the majority of people living in impoverished conditions are women, it is critical that Local Government focuses its interventions specifically on women. (Donk, 1997).


Women and men use and experience their environment in different ways. This has important implications for the ways in which villages and cities are planned and managed. An engendered approach to local development seeks to ensure that both women and men have equal access to and control over the resources and services. Secondly, it aims to support a more accountable, participatory and empowering local development practice through a gender sensitive approach to the way in which organisations in the public, private and community sectors are constructed and interact. A process of consultation, which involves both women and men, is a critical element for participatory development. Finally, it increases the effectiveness of policy, planning and management by providing practitioners with the tools to integrate a gender perspective into their activities. The integration of a gender approach into policy, planning and management of human settlements will make local development not only more equitable but also more effective. (UNCHS, 199?)


A Gender Perspective on Government Policies, Plans and Programmes is concerned with:

§         Women’s involvement, concerns, needs, aspirations as well as those of men;

§         The differential outcomes of policies, plans and projects on women, men and children;

§         Assessing to whom financial and other quantitative and qualitative benefits accrue and in what ways;

§         Eliminating discrimination and taking positive action to achieve equal outcomes;

§         Differences among women;

§         Possible alliances which can be formed between women and men to address inequality;

§         The process of gender planning.  (The Commonwealth, 1999).


To effectively address issues of gender equality in the service delivery of Local Government, broad awareness, knowledge and political commitment need to be achieved. A series of research interviews among South African policy makers showed that many did not have a concrete enough understanding of gender issues in general. Whilst many believed that they were working towards addressing gender inequity, few could actually substantiate how they went about doing so. The same goes for gender planning; almost all the 70 planners of the sample saw themselves as gender-conscious planners, but many were not able to explain how they translated their gender consciousness into practical activities, and 67% acknowledged that they had not heard the term gender planning before. The same Author argues that advisors on gender planning are often not expected to have had any formal training, it is assumed that being a woman is a sufficient qualification to work in a gender-specific way. (Watson, 1999).


In order to optimally allocate and manage scarce resources, information is needed that enables municipalities to know who needs what resources, when and where. A clear understanding of the reality of a municipal area is a vital first step in identifying and addressing women’s specific needs. Gender disaggregated information is a key tool ensuring that women – as the majority of the population, and comprising the majority of the poor and marginalised – receive a fair share of resources. The value of gender disaggregated data lies in visibly showing the difference between men and women. If information is not being collected in a way that enables the differences between men and women to be clearly stated, it is likely that the specific gender needs and interests of women will be given less attention – if not ignored completely. (Donk, 1997). Thus engendering the way in which human settlements are conceptualised, in which data is collected and analysed and in which development is monitored, is a critical part of diagnosis. (UNHCS, 199?).


Some important ways to increase gender awareness and knowledge of local civil servants are described below[1].



§         Training in gender to learn about gender-sensitive delivery.

§         Training in gender planning: gender roles identification, gender needs assessments, the utilisation of gender disaggregated data and intersectoral planning.


Best practice

The system of Community Development Society (CDS) practised in Kerala (India) is based on a participatory bottom-up planning approach, whereby the prioritisation and decision-making are delegated to the poor. The approach contains three levels:

The Neighbourhood Committee prepares the micro plan based on the felt needs of the community,

These plans are consolidated into a 'mini plan' at ward level,

Several mini plans are integrated into a town level plan of action by the CDS with assistance from the Municipal Officials.

The whole process focuses on improving the quality of life for women and children.

The communities themselves identified the poor families, with the help of a ‘Poverty Index’. They were organised legitimately through the representation of their women. The network of community structures of the poor, linked to local self government with decentralised power to plan, implement and monitor the urban poverty alleviation programme, made the poor the "stake holder".

The CDS model is already replicated in all the 58 towns and in one entire rural district of the State. In this way about 55,000 community women volunteers are directly participating in the development process. It has influenced the State Government to prepare a massive community based poverty eradication programme. (UNHCR: Best practices database).




For female civil servants networking with women politicians and grassroots women is very important to bridge the differences and to lobby for gender and women’s issues.



Partnerships between civil servants in other countries can increase gender awareness and provide them with the skills to apply this knowledge. It is desirable to identify areas where women predominate as users of services, and to determine whether these could be selected as areas of co-operation.


Best Practice

Pilot project gender. This project, in which three to five Dutch municipalities will participate, intends to give recommendations about the mainstreaming of gender in International Policy with partnership municipalities. The Dutch municipalities will give special attention to gender in the policy of their own municipality and in the international collaboration with their partner municipality. They will report and analyse their experiences, culminating in an exchange of experiences between the Dutch municipalities. After three years they will produce a Final Report with recommendations, which will be discussed in a National Meeting with Dutch municipalities, representatives of women’s organisations and other interested parties.

There is a link between this activity and the MMTP: women from partner municipalities of the pilot project gender will participate in the MMTP Women in Local Governance. (VNG)



Gender audits appear to be useful instruments to assess the level of gender sensitivity of administration and delivery systems. SNV has gained experience with gender-audits in collaboration with the Gender & Development Training Centre. It may be a good idea to organise a pilot study, as has been applied to some SNV programmes, with a Local Government. Local Governments that volunteer to take part in gender audits and are willing to take improvement measures to achieve the agreed objectives, can be encouraged, by being offered funds or technical assistance.


Supporting engendering Local Governments

Local Governments willing to participate in engendering their politics can be encouraged by:

§         The supply of useful information.

§         The supply of technical assistance.

§         Financial support.

§         Articles about their good practice in newspapers.

§         Awards.





Women have an equal right to employment in Local Government and equality in recruitment procedures. As employees in Local Government women and men have the right to equal pay, equal access to benefits, promotion and training, as well as the right to equal working conditions and treatment in the evaluation of their work.

IULA Worldwide Declaration on Women in Local Government


The employment structure of the administration and delivery system is usually strongly stratified, with women predominating in traditionally female and lower-powered jobs. This means that the working structure is overwhelmingly male, which affects women Councillors in their dealings with Local Authority bureaucrats; the culture can prove daunting. The masculine rationale and competitive structures of the bureaucracy and the lack of support for women’s issues from a male-dominated institution have meant that women’s initiatives have been hindered. ‘The current position as regards women in Local Government is not encouraging. Poor levels of representation, inadequate investigation into the ways in which gender issues can be addressed at the local level, and an overwhelmingly male local bureaucracy do not augur well for gender-sensitive Local Government’, (Robinson, 1995).

Getting women into the mainstream of public office and the bureaucracy is a vital part of engendering local governance. Although the presence of women in public office does not in itself guarantee that the interests of other women will be represented, their presence has a symbolic and practical value: they serve as important role models, which may permit and inspire other women to involve themselves in local governance. Furthermore, they have particular experiences, knowledge and relationships to the local environment to share with men. They have proved themselves to be effective change agents in the neighbourhoods, which they know intimately and on which they have strong views and invaluable suggestions, which can be discussed in the workplace. This experience and expertise should be drawn upon. (Beall, 1996).


Programme activities can provide training and assistance that will enhance the status of individual women who exercise leadership within the administration or the civil society.

Furthermore, women civil servants need to mobilise and network. Contacts with other civil servants as well as with civil society (women’s groups and women NGOs) are essential.

Partnerships are another way of supporting the women employees in public office.

At the administrative level, targets can be introduced to increase the numerical representation of women, especially at middle and senior management levels. This should be specified in affirmative action policies and could be linked to clear criteria and support systems.



6.         FINANCES



All budgets are about politics. All politics are ultimately about who controls budgets.

Budgets look neutral with regard to gender, but the differentials become manifest largely at the operational level when the allocations are translated into deliveries. Many studies show that women use their money for the well being of their family, whereas men use it above all things for their personal well being. Consequently, allocation of resources to women may benefit a wider development scope in which the interests of women and men are served in a more balanced way. In some countries methods have been developed to analyse budgets or to let citizens participate in the decision-making process.


Gender budget

A gender analysis of budgets can contribute to an increased transparency of government budgets, it can make visible what resources and services are allocated to what sectors, and who benefits.

The analysis of budgets  started in Australia, where it was unsuccessful because it was only an exercise by the government; it lacked pressure and interest from outside. In South Africa, the initiative started in 1993 and was far more successful, being a product of both the Government and Parliamentarians and non-governmental organisations. The civil servants provided data, the NGO carried out operational advocacy, and the Parliamentarians lobbied.


In 1998, pilot research on Local Government budgets was undertaken. The Women’s Budget Initiative plans to produce a book on Local Government for local councillors.


After its success, similar initiatives were started in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. In Uganda, women Parliamentarians started to learn about the macro-economic framework (the language of economists and budget planners, how budget priorities are set, how allocations are determined and funds spent). Their next step was making a difference in determining the budgetary priorities and making this public. They found out that the decision-making around the allocation of resources is a highly undemocratic process, in which only 6 to 8 powerful persons are involved (including persons from the IMF and World Bank).



Best practice

The South African Women’s Budget Project examines the whole of the government budgets to determine its differential impacts on women and men, girls and boys.

The gender budget analysis incorporates three aspects:

Gender-specific targeted projects.

Expenditure on government employees; in particular the gender distribution of public servants at the decision-making level.

Mainstream expenditures; the remaining expenditures, not covered by the first two categories, to determine who actually receives funds and who benefits, both directly and indirectly. An example is the allocation of resources to education: the Women’s budget examines all the different forms of education (pre-school education, primary, secondary and tertiary education, adult basic education) and the impact of the expenditure in these forms to boys and girls.

It includes the household level: the care economy (for instance medical insurance) and the reproductive economy (such as the provision of childcare).

The Women’s Budget also examines donor-funded activities to determine their gender advocacy role and their impact on government funded activities. The fact that donor-funded activities favour gender-sensitive programmes may trigger negative effects: gender-related activities may end up not being covered by government funds because of the expectation that donor funding will cover them. (UNDP, 2000).


Tools for a Gender Analysis of the National Budget

The following tools can be used to incorporate gender issues in the national budgetary process:


1.         Gender-Aware Policy Appraisal. This is an analytical approach that involves examining the policies of different ministries and programmes by paying attention to the implicit and explicit gender issues involved. It questions the assumption that policies are 'gender neutral' in their effects and asks instead: "In what ways are the policies and their associated resource allocations likely to reduce or increase gender inequalities?"

2.         Gender-Disaggregated Beneficiary Assessment of Public Service Delivery and Budget Priorities. This is developed on the basis of opinion polls and attitude surveys asking actual or potential beneficiaries the extent to which government policies and programmes reflect their priorities and meet their needs.

3.         Gender-Disaggregated Public Expenditure Incidence Analysis. This is based on statistical analysis, usually with data from household surveys, to examine the nature of expenditure from publicly provided services in order to determine the distribution of expenditure between men, women, girls and boys. This analysis can be done for any sector or programme.

4.         Gender-Disaggregated Public Revenue Incidence Analysis. This examines both direct and indirect forms of taxation in order to calculate how much taxation is paid by different categories of individuals or households. User charges on government services will also be considered.

5.         Gender-Disaggregated Analysis of the Budget on Time Use. This tool identifies the relationship between the national budget and the way time is used in households. This ensures that the time spent on unpaid work is accounted for in policy analysis.

6.         Gender-Aware Medium-Term Economic Policy Framework. This is an approach to incorporate gender issues into macroeconomic models. This requires measuring the different gender impacts of states' and peoples' economic actions; introducing new measures to assess economic activity with a gender perspective; incorporating unpaid work; and changing underlying assumptions about the social and institutional set-up for economic planning.

7.         Gender-Aware Budget Statement. This can be used to disaggregate projected expenditure into gender-relevant categories. This involves stating the expected gender implications of the total national budget (public expenditure and taxation) and also the gender implications of expenditure by sectoral ministries. This process can involve any of the above tools. It normally requires a high degree of co-ordination throughout the public sector as ministries and/or departments undertake an assessment of the gender impact of their line budgets.


Source: Commonwealth Secretariat.



Revenues for municipalities

Revenue generation also has a gender aspect, as women are generally poorer than men, and many systems do not favour the poor. The Women’s Budget examines not only expenditure on social services, but also the gender implications of revenue generation, such as the impact of taxes on women and the poor. Because women tend to earn less than men do, a regressive taxation system would disadvantage poor women, since their tax is a large proportion of their smaller income.


Another major source of revenue for municipalities is property rates. A step-tariff setting, whereby the first units consumed are cheaper than the further units, favour the poor. Other possibilities to favour them are the provision of subsidies for services, and people-friendly credit collection systems. 


Rates can have another gender impact with regard to who physically makes the payments. Accessible pay-points where they can pay their municipal bills can make it easier for them. (Coopoo, 2000).






With regard to communication there are different ways of involving the media in actions to increase the political participation of women and to engender local governance. The media can be used to discuss and promote women’s issues and gender equity, to educate and mobilise voters, as well as to make women (candidate) politicians more widely known.


Highlights of the debates in the 1997 round table, organised by the Inter Parliamentary Union

§         The media have a crucial and increasing role in shaping the image of politicians. Instead of acting as mere mirrors of the social and cultural traditional patterns, the media should become an agent of change through their approach to women or rather to gender at large.

§         Media personnel at all levels, from editor to reporter, from publisher to columnist, should be made aware of the fact that "stories" that sell or pretend to do so often perpetuate gender patterns which are adverse to the strengthening of democracy.

§         If they understand that the integration of women into politics strengthens democracy, the media, which have a crucial and increasing role in the democratic process, should try to convey this message in all possible ways.

§         In a world in which financing is crucial in politics, good media coverage compensates for a lack of financial resources.

§         Women politicians have to understand the media better and learn how to get their message across through training on how to conduct media interviews and press conferences, make presentations, prepare press kits and communiqués, etc.

§         Women have to be more assertive in presenting their ideas and achievements as in fact, irrespective of sex, the media tend to come to people who stand tall and believe in their cause.

§         Women politicians are not covered by the media as much as men politicians. Reporters should, when covering stories, ensure that they not interview male politicians only.

§         The media tend to treat women politicians as women and objects rather than as political protagonists, something they rarely do for male politicians.

§         The media are less open to the concerns and achievements of women politicians than to those of their male counterparts.

§         Governments should restructure their communications policy so as to make them more gender sensitive and also to promote a fairer image of women politicians.


Below follow some examples of how the media can be involved to engender politics.



Media training for women candidates and elected women politicians, to learn how to deal with and make use of the media. Possibilities involve teaching women politicians how to present themselves to the media to increase their visibility, the working of the media, the information the different media are interested in. Networking with media personalities, knowing which key journalists or ones sympathetic to women’s issues to speak to is also important.


Gender Training

Gender training for journalists on how to cover politics in a gender-sensitive manner, for example by preventing stereotypical presentations of the image of women, and how to contribute to women's participation in political life.


Using the Media (Election Campaigns)

The use of the media for Election Campaigns with a view to raising the profile of women candidates and politicians and promoting them, encouraging women to use their vote and persuading the general public to consider voting for women candidates.


Best practices

In France women went beyond "partisan" frontiers and stand together at the front, calling for more space in assemblies. After high profile figures (just as many men as women) paid for pages in the widely read daily "Le Monde" to call for parity. This led to ten women, all of whom were former ministers from different parties, launching an appeal for parity which, in turn, resulted in the Socialist Party's decision to present 30 % women at the 1998 legislative elections. (Gaspard, 1997).


An example at the local level is the Dutch village (Asten) where a group started, one year before the Local Elections, with a campaign to get more women elected. They edited a special column in the free local weekly newspaper. Every week, one arbitrary resident gave her personal point of view about the importance of women in local politics. The power of the action is caused by its repetition: each week a short paragraph in the same newspaper, at the same place and with the same lay out. This stimulated readers to elect women, and parties to put women higher on their lists.


Using the Media (exchange of ideas)

Especially in remote areas, the media can be very helpful in the exchange of ideas between grassroots women organisations and women politicians.


Best practice

The Uganda Women’s Caucus (Women in the Constituent Assembly) learned from a women’s NGO (ACFODE) what grassroots women’s organisations were saying through radio and TV broadcasts of their meetings. In return, Caucus members broadcast a weekly radio programme in which they examined issues under debate in the Constituent Assembly. (UNDP, 2000).



Networking between media personalities and women politicians on the basis of common interests and concerns. One idea is to organise a women and media day with a series of workshops to bring the two networks together and to discuss gender issues, as well as to share experiences. 


Access to Media Technology

Certainly in Southern countries, where access to information is often difficult, it may be very helpful to make modern media technology, such as the Internet, accessible to women politicians / civil servants, so that they can keep up to date with the latest developments in gender and their area of work. 





There is a need for teaching material on good governance and on the role of women in democratic countries, preferably with examples from neighbouring countries.

Reading material, also modules for schools and alphabetisation courses, on how the political system works, democracy, good governance, engendered governance, human rights and women’s rights are very important.


Best practice

As part of the program in Kenya 'From Grassroots Involvement to Political Power’ (1997) the National Democratic Institute (NDI) created a series of documents. An example is a civic education document that was intended to fill a need for some very much needed "basic" information: rights of voters, eligibility of voters, qualifications for elected officials, the voting process, and how a bill becomes a Law. They compiled several lists: women elected and appointed legislators in the country, 1992 women candidates, women's organisations, local councils. NDI put together a briefing book for women legislators that assisted them in their campaigns, and a chronology of all the election related activities for the 1997 election year. Lastly, NDI produced a manual on the nominations procedures for all the political parties in the country.  (NDI).



8.         LEGISLATION



Legislation plays an active role in supporting the oppressing structures of society and thus in maintaining women’s marginalization in the development process. A gender-sensitive local governance has the aim to legislate gender equality and to promote and protect women’s rights.


Women head about 40 percent of Sub-Saharan African households. They supply an average of 70 percent of the labour for food production, 50 percent of labour in domestic food storage, as well as 60 percent in food marketing and 100 percent in on-farm food processing. In spite of this, in many societies, a wide range of laws, and regulatory practices still prohibit and/or impede women to a greater extent than men in obtaining credit, productive inputs, education, training, information, and medical care needed to perform their economic roles. The distortions in resource allocations that result from this discrimination carry high development costs -- too high to remain invisible in current and future development strategies. (Worldbank, 1994).


In the African context there are few women lawyers, and women’s rights are least recognised, promoted and enforced. However, even though women enjoy legal protection in the same way as men, socio-cultural lag, traditional practices, reticence, ignorance of the law, illiteracy, the cost of legal action and the geographical remoteness of the courts all limit women in pleading for justice. (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women - Burkina Faso, 1998).


Common Legal Issues for Women are (Based on: Schuler, 1986, and Kerr, 1993):


Constitutional Issues


Human Rights

Civil Rights

Political Rights

Family Issues

Marriages (forced, premature, polygamy, dowries)

Heading the Family

Child Custody and Guardianship


Health Issues

Women’s Endemic Diseases

Health Entitlements

Reproductive Rights

Labour Issues

Unequal Pay and Working Conditions

Job Discrimination

Social Security (also in the informal sector)

Maternity Benefits

Protective Legislation

Economic Issues

Land Access

Ownership and Control of Property



Violence and Exploitation

Rape and other Forms of Violence

Prostitution and Pornography


Schuler (1986) developed a framework for strategies, based on three components of the Legal System:

-          The substantive component; the content of the law

-          The structural component; courts, administration, and law enforcement agencies

-          The cultural component; shared attitudes and behaviour towards the law

       and strategies aimed at the application of laws.

Here follow the strategies that politicians and / or women’s organisations can undertake to obtain equality in legislation.





Strategies aimed at the substantive component are activities aimed at eliminating or changing discriminatory law and policies, and adding more just laws and policies. There may be elements lacking in the law, there may be inequality and injustice, or there may be ambiguities that make the law inadequate.


Research on and Review of Existing Laws and Design of New Laws and Policies

§         Reviewing the Constitution, to guarantee equal rights for women and men and a gender-neutral language.

§         Reviewing laws that discriminate against women.

§         Legal and sociological research on current and proposed laws to investigate the (possible) impact of laws on the position of women.


Best practice

Uganda’s Women's Caucus worked during the exercise of constitution formulation to ensure that the Constitution was written in gender-neutral language and that an explicit statement of equality before the law was included. The Caucus successfully lobbied for an Equal Opportunities Commission to guarantee enforcement of the constitutional principles. The Caucus was also successful in increasing the affirmative action quota from one in every nine local council positions to one in three. Women are guaranteed one-third of local government council seats. (UNDP, 2000).


Networking, lobbying and public pressure at policy-making levels to change the content of laws or design new laws.

§         Build networks between women’s organisations and gender-sensitive politicians

§         Create an umbrella organisation at the national level, to co-ordinate activities.

§         Networking with organisations in other countries.


Best practice

The Women's Legal Group in Albania, a coalition of advocates representing 12 women's organisations, was formed in 1994 as an advocacy group to analyse proposed and existing legislation and make recommendations for change to the Albanian Parliament. The goal of the Women's Legal Group is to advocate for the inclusion of the rights and protections for women and girls in the Albanian law.

In 1995, the group analysed the draft labour law then being reviewed by Parliament, formulated recommendations with supporting legal arguments and citation to Albanian Law, and presented these recommendations to Parliament. Three parliamentary commissions and two government ministries adopted a majority of the group's recommendations. It is the first Albanian non-governmental group to gain the focused attention and co-operation from the Parliament and the ministries to date, and it is the only one of its kind to advocate women's legal rights.


Use of Litigation

Use of litigation, focusing on test cases to get a landmark decision and to achieve a more just interpretation of the law and to create a precedent for all courts.


Use of International Conventions

Lobby governments to adopt and enforce International Conventions, such as CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979). By signing this convention, governments agree to remove discriminatory laws and other obstacles to equality, to promote equality by affirmative action, and to eliminate discriminatory attitudes, conduct, prejudices and practices. The country’s international obligations can be used as a standard against which national laws should be measured. The convention established an independent Committee to monitor the progress made by signatories and to consider their reports.




Often, Legal Institutions and Structures are seen as inaccessible or incapable of responding to the interests of the people, especially the poor. Opening access to the Legal System by engaging, using, challenging, and changing institutions, are strategies to change the structural component.


Make Legal Services Available to Women (especially women on low incomes)

§         Put pressure on the courts to simplify procedures and make them understandable to women.

§         Develop alternative approaches to resolving disputes.

§         Establish legal information and documentation centres, Legal Aid Clinics. These centres have become commonplace in Anglophone African countries, but are still rare in Francophone Africa.


Training and Use of Paralegals, Social Workers, and Psychologists in Advocacy Skills

Trained paralegal workers (persons with basic knowledge of the law and procedures), social workers or psychologists can help people to find mediation and reconciliation in matters of dispute.





Empowering women to receive their rights, and demystifying the Legal System.


Legal Education and Legal Literacy Programmes

Legal literacy has been defined as the process of acquiring critical awareness about rights and the law, the ability to assert rights, and the capacity to mobilise for change.

§         Promote gender-responsive legal literacy courses at the grassroots level, for women and men.

§         Design and distribute booklets for literate women and for women in alphabetisation courses.

§         Use visual training material for illiterate women.

§         Set up mass media campaigns.

§         Publish and disseminate scholarly work through popular literature and art forms; comic books, posters, dance, brochures, theatre, poetry, etc.


Best Practice

After the adoption of the new Constitution in Uganda, FODOWE – a women’s organisation, arisen from the women’s caucus - conducted seminars throughout the country to educate local government women leaders about their civic and human rights. (UNDP, 2000).



Training of Politicians, Lawyers and Paralegals

§         Promote paralegal workers. In the African context, where many women are illiterate and where the radio often is a man’s property, person-to-person contact often is more useful.

§         Engender Law School Curricula and train future lawyers in the area of women’s rights.

§         Provide women politicians with training and information about legislation.


Seminars, Conferences, etc. by and for Experts

§         Organise seminars, conferences and workshops to discuss gender and women’s issues with regard to legislation.

§         Create a forum to discuss legislation issues.


Best Practice

In Benin a gender and law workshop was organised in 1998. The participants were NGOs, with a focus on legal literacy and legal reform, and staff members from the Women Affairs’ Units from Francophone Sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop provided an exchange of views (between civil society and government agencies as well as between countries) on country-specific substance of law, law enforcement and legal literacy issues, as these relate to women’s experiences of discrimination, (World Bank, 1999).





Assuring enforcement of laws and policies.



§         Monitor enforcement at administrative levels.

§         Monitor enforcement policies in the courts.



§         Setting up an information bank on current laws, landmark cases, current research, legal projects for women, and areas needing reform.

§         Documenting discrimination in public and private sectors, develop arguments and build cases.






Unless women protest, unless they take action, unless they organise themselves at local, national or international level, unless they take turns and seek allies among men, nothing changes (Gaspard, 1997)


Issues reach the policy agenda when powerful or well-organised groups in society identify and assert their issues as problems. Mainstreaming gender issues and adopting a women's perspective in policy and planning would not have been possible without the sustained, organised force of women over the last two decades. Whether at the local, national or international level, experience suggests that it is primarily the organisational power of women, which ensures that political parties take seriously the power of the female vote. In this context, gender-sensitive best practice would be for local government to keep open the channels of communication and foster mechanisms for dialogue with groups and organisations representing women. However, the onus is also on organisations of civil society to facilitate women's participation and the articulation and representation of gender interests. Decentralisation works best when it encounters a lively civil society. (Beall, 1996).


Participation of citizens in many different organisations such as social or women’s organisations, interest groups, and economic organisations means that people take responsibility for the development of society as a whole. These organisations can also be consulted during the decision-making process, they can share in power and play a role in the implementation of policies (Leijenaar, 1999).


Women politicians and civil servants do not automatically give priority to gender issues. For this reason establishing links with women’s organisations to inform and mutually make each other aware of issues is very important.

Women’s organisations and gender sensitive NGOs are useful for the integration of women in the political process and for the engendering of the local government in many ways:

§         Women’s organisations can mobilise women voters to vote for women candidates.

§         They can be considered as a recruitment pool, a springboard, for political posts. Research shows that leadership positions in a NGO often lead to representative political posts. They lower the entry barriers into politics by providing a training ground and springboard. In Benin, it appeared easier to find women with the attitude and capabilities to participate in decision-making structures in regions where women were already used to organising themselves (Vrancken, 1999). Women can gain experience in organisations like Water or School committees.

§         Women politicians coming from the women’s movement tend to be more committed, both to ensuring that the political system is made accessible to other women and to promote women’s issues.

§         Women politicians are more committed to maintaining links with women’s organisations and other NGOs, to inform and be informed about women’s issues.

§         Organisations can provide moral support to women politicians and can serve as a think-tank.

§         Women’s organisations can lobby for an increase of women in political leadership.

§         Women’s organisations can organise and train grassroots women to participate in local planning processes.

§         Women’s organisations and gender sensitive NGOs can monitor the advances made concerning women’s issues and the political participation of women. They can serve as a Watch Dog.


In recently developed or partially developed democracies there is often limited contact and co-operation between women politicians and women’s organisations. Women’s movements and women’s groups in these part of the world either tend to keep their distance from women MPs, or do not invest in organised channels of communication and lobbying on issues related to promoting women to decision-making levels. This is the case either as a result of the lack of awareness of the potential benefits of these networking functions, or the lack of resources to invest in such contacts (Karam, 1999).


Examples of best practices have already been given in chapters 4 and 5. Here are some more examples:


Best Practices

In Sweden, new women's networks have been formed recently to campaign for better political responsiveness to women's issues. Women joined forces and threatened to register themselves as a Women's Party if the existing political parties did not take gender issues more seriously. This change, which received excellent media coverage, had the desired effect of making established political parties place women's issues higher on the political agenda (Beall, 1996).


Yellow girls. This project is operating in Ethiopia with 250 co-workers and 1700 volunteers. These volunteers (the Yellow Girls) are young women of the neighbourhood. Wearing yellow coats to raise their visibility, they make door-to-door visits to identify needs, problems and dreams of the inhabitants of slums. The project stimulated the establishment of community councils, in which 70% women were elected. In collaboration with the project they formulated a plan of action to rehabilitate their neighbourhood.  In the Netherlands (Zwolle) a similar project was set up to reach isolated inhabitants, using and learning from the example of Ethiopia (Centrum voor Ontwikkelings Samenwerking / COS-Overijssel).






In its concept Position Paper SNV has defined LGP as follows:


            Local Governance Processes concern the way local stakeholders interact in determining the local development agenda and in managing resources to implement the development priorities.


The General Objectives are:

§         Increased Effectiveness, Efficiency and Accountability of Local Organisations

§         Strengthening Co-operation between Development Actors, Government, NGOs, and Communities

§         Strengthening the Institutional Environment, i.e. Civil Society (in order to contribute to good governance, democratisation, etc.).


This definition implies that local governance is considered as a network of governmental and civil society organisations, active in a given public space and collectively responsible for the societal needs and development. SNV’S role will focus on facilitating the dissemination of information and communication, institutional development and organisation- strengthening.


This Handbook is meant to inspire Development Workers by giving some practical information and best practices concerning gender and local governance, for (local) governmental and civil society organisations. As such, it forms a basis for the proposal of a pilot project, in which Albania, Benin, Guinea-Bissau and Mali have shown an interest.


The application of the practices of the Handbook depends much of the socio-cultural context in the different countries, but experiences of others can be meaningful and inspiring. It is desirable for the Handbook to stand at the beginning of a fruitful exchange of experiences, good and bad, between the SNV and their partner organisations in the different countries.


Appendixes include the Bibliography (with a strong focus on Africa), and further Web sites, toolkits, knowledge institutions and data bases (statistics).




[1] Best practices concerning human settlements are found at the website:

It demonstrates the practical ways in which communities, governments and the private sector are working together to improve governance, eradicate poverty, provide access to shelter, land and basic services, protect the environment and support economic development. Gender is one of the keywords.