When we think of “strengthening women’s political participation and decision-making power,” most of us probably conjure up ideas of famous women making significant impact through the highest offices: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Benazir Bhutto; Chandrika Kumaratunga; and the two-dozen-or-so other women who have led their countries. Others may think of countries like Rwanda where over 30% of government representatives are female, courtesy of the country’s gender quota mandate passed in 2003. However, the extent to which policies such as gender quotas are substantive, rather than merely symbolic, is still highly debated among scholars. Where women have only symbolic but no real power, trust between the government and its constituents may erode. Moreover, there is no guarantee that female politicians will represent women’s interests, especially if politicians are wealthy elites and their constituents are not. Even in Rwanda, female politicians have yet to push through a suite of policies that improve women’s lives, and in some cases, they have supported policies that do the opposite. For example, they approved a labor bill that reduced maternity leave from eight to two weeks and increased the length of the overall work week.
However, women don’t need to hold office to participate in politics or to engage in decision making that moves their families, communities, and countries forward. For example, having worked in peacebuilding since 2002 and countering violent extremism (CVE) since 2008, we’ve seen the extent to which women participate in politics and make decisions at every level of society and the enormous impact this can make toward peace. From the women’s grassroots organizationsthat helped bring about peace negotiations to end the Liberian civil war to mothers against jihad – a loose consortium of women’s groups that work to keep their children away from violent extremism (VE) – it is often women working at very micro levels that have a big impact, even if the rest of the world never learns of these efforts.
This article was written by Sarah Gates, Technical Officer, FHI360 And Dr. Kris Inman, Senior Technical Advisor, Resonance. It was originally posted on WomenDeliver.org.