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A gateway for capacity developmentISSUE 40 | AUGUST 2010Local government forgender equalityFEATUREPreserve status quo or promote genderequality?Helen O’Connell argues that localgovernment is an effective arena forpromoting gender equality and respectingwomen’s human rightsINTERVIEWTo know is to be empoweredCelia Reyes believes that if you want toeffectively tackle gender inequality, youneed to measure its indicators and identifyits underlying causesPRACTICELegitimacy enhances capacitySohela Nazneen and Sakiba Tasneem askwhether affirmative action and trainingprogrammes in Bangladesh have givenwomen sufficient gains in legitimacyPOLICYCapacity for effective participationMaitrayee Mukhopadhyay and colleaguessuggest that several issues need to beaddressed before affirmative action canincrease women’s participation as politicalrepresentativesPRACTICEA magic bullet for gender equality?Rebecca Smith asks whether successfuldecentralisation can make governmentmore accessible, accountable andresponsive to womenGUEST COLUMNA matter of political willCecilia Kinuthia-Njenga argues that localauthorities can play a vital role inaddressing gender inequality and buildingthe capacities of women by involving themin local decision making and planning


MAILBOXLetters to the Editorial BoardIssue 39 of Capacity.org, ‘Behaviour and Facilitating Change’, evokedsome enthusiastic responses from practitioners and scholars who areworking on similar or related theses.Communication common senseWe took special note of your introduction to the May 2010 issue ofCapacity.org dedicated to behaviour and facilitating change. We arepractitioners in the communication field, so this issue was of particularinterest to us. We noted several references that are particularlyimportant to us:• the central role that champions play in facilitating change by ‘doing’and ‘being’ (namely the articles by Ingrid Richter and by MohanDhamorathan);• the emphasis on listening and understanding contexts (as explainedby Leng Chhay from Cambodia, and also the column by JennyPearson);• the length of time it takes to gain trust and learn to become immersedin a local situation (Jan Morgan’s piece on AusAID in Papua NewGuinea); and• the danger of importing solutions when every situation is different(contribution by Doug Reeler and Sue Soal).For a long time, those of us who belong to the cult of communicationpractitioners have believed that good communication makes gooddevelopment. In broad terms, when we say ‘good communication’ weare talking about participatory communication. Participatorycommunication emphasises ‘listening’, while mainstream communicationfocuses on ‘telling’. We think of participatory communication assomething that shapes the very nature of development. We think ofconventional communication as something that simply promotes thedesired development outcome.Last autumn, we published the book Communication for AnotherDevelopment: Listening before Telling (Zed Books, 2009).In this book, we reflect on our experience as consultants and trainers.So often we agreed to work under project conditions that were less thanideal. We have been blind to the conditions. We have been practicingin what we now refer to as the ‘grey zone’. Being realistic about what ispossible helps us to assess reality and adjust our expectations andmethodology to fit that reality. We think of this as communicationcommon sense. We navigate in the grey zone using three coordinates:champions, an understanding of context and a match-up of the two withappropriate communication functions. By looking at champions andcontext, we can fit functions to the reality of the situation, and we canadjust our expectations and methodology. We illustrate this navigationwith examples from our practice, and we celebrate the achievements ofpioneers and current practitioners.We are pleased to see that we are not alone!‘being’ in circles of development cooperation. I fully agree with you thatcapacity development (CD) practitioners ought to pay more attention to‘the deeper layers of who they are ... to their inner state of being’. Thequality of our ‘doing’ depends on the quality of our ‘being’. In foreignaid, the addiction to ‘doing’ is indeed rampant and causes great harm.As a multi-disciplinary agronomist, I have always tried to combine thenatural and social sciences in my work, as small farmers in sub-SaharanAfrica inevitably do in daily practice. But on top of that, I have beenpracticing Transcendental Meditation since 1972 as a way to staygrounded and ‘unfold’ capacities from within. You ask whether thebehaviour of exceptional CD practitioners is a technique that can beacquired through training. If the Self is the layer that spans ‘doing’ and‘being’, then it is necessary to align body, mind (or intellect) and spiritin order to develop excellent behaviour. The level of the spirit (purebeing) has not received enough attention yet in development activities.In my view, the ability to access the deeper layers of our being can besystematically trained – through meditation techniques, for example.In 1998 I completed my PhD thesis, in which I attempted to put thepotential contribution of spirituality (gaining access to the deeper levelsof being) in a scientific context. And for those interested in spirituality inour field of work, I recently explored this subject in more detail in mybook, Civic Driven Change through Self-Empowerment.Toon van Eijktoon.vaneijk@upcmail.nlSincerely,Wendy Quarrywquarry@magma.caRicardo Ramirezrramirez@uoguelph.caBeing over doingI am a tropical agronomist who has worked for more than 20 years ineastern and southern Africa. Recently I read with great interest IngridRichter’s article, ‘The unfolding practitioner’, in issue 39 of Capacity.org.Her article had the apt subtitle: ‘Capacity development from within’. It’srare to hear people talk about the difference between ‘doing’ and2 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


Local governmentfor gender equalityEDITORIALCONTENTSDespite signs of progress in some regions andcountries, the overall pattern of genderinequality remains unchanged. In mostcountries women work more hours than menbut earn less. This is because they oftenperform unpaid work and are overrepresentedin lower income groups. To makematters worse, they often earn less than menfor identical work. In rural areas few womenown land, which reduces their access toincome from agricultural produce. And culturalfactors contribute to girls being discriminatedagainst when they want to go to school, whichdiminishes their career opportunities.In many cultures, power is wielded by men,and women enjoy far less freedom, evenwithin their own households. Men often abusethis power. In 2005, the World HealthOrganization published its Multi-country Studyon Women’s Health and Domestic Violenceagainst Women. It focuses on 24,000 womenin 10 countries and reveals that – dependingon the country – between 15% and 71% ofwomen aged 19-49 are physically or sexuallyabused by intimate partners.Women are under-represented in politicaloffice due to a lack of income, education andfreedom, not to mention gender divisions oflabour. Male-dominated leadership often lacksthe political will to address gender inequality,making it a vicious circle that is difficult to break.Gender inequality in developing countries isone of the key factors hampering wealthcreation, poverty reduction and the attainmentof the Millennium Development Goals. Whileinternational policy has made some progresstowards addressing gender inequality, it needsto be converted into concrete changes on theground, especially at the local level.In this issue of Capacity.org, we look at thecapacities that local governments need toaddress gender inequalities effectively. Welook specifically at the issue ofdecentralisation, which increases the power oflocal governments and, by extension, theircapacity to boost gender equality.The feature article by Helen O’Connellprovides a general overview of the capacitieslocal governments have or need to effectivelypromote gender equality. She also explores towhat extent decentralisation can enhance thiscapacity. Rebecca Smith reports on thefindings of an IDRC research programmeregarding the impact of decentralisationpolicies and women’s participation in localgovernment on women’s rights and access topublic services.As Cecilia Kinuthia-Njenga points out in theguest column, it all starts with leadership andpolitical will. Probably the best way to mobilisepolitical will to address gender inequality is toget as many women as possible in powerfulpositions. One way of doing this is throughaffirmative action – by reserving a certainpercentage of council seats for women.Whether affirmative action really increaseswomen’s influence in policy making dependson the way it is institutionalised. MaitrayeeMukhopadhyay, Elsbet Lodenstein and EvelienKamminga explain that one cannot expectmuch from affirmative action at the local levelif the actual powers remain centralised,especially on budget issues. Helen O’Connellalso points out that decentralisation ofteninvolves a devolution of responsibilities, whiledecisions regarding resources stay firmly in thehands of central government.Sohela Nazneen and Sakiba Tasneem arguethat affirmative action has little effect if womenare nominated – as opposed to being elected– to their seats. Nominated women lack aconstituency, and hence legitimacy. This makesthem far less powerful than elected (male)councillors. In Bangladesh, affirmative actionreally started making an impact when womenhad to be elected to their seats. But even in thiscase, cultural issues, such as the genderdivision of labour, put women at adisadvantage in their efforts to gain politicaloffice. Not surprisingly then, the majority ofelected leaders in Bangladesh, and in mostother countries, are still men.As long as women have not acquired acritical mass of powerful positions, maleleaders need to become gender sensitive. Theyhave to learn to understand and appreciatesituations from the perspective of the oppositesex. They need to be aware of and recognisethe differences, inequalities and specific needsof women and men. And they have to act onthis awareness.In the web edition of this issue, SusanTolmay and Abigail Jacobs-Williams highlighta wonderful example of a men’s organisationin Zimbabwe seeking to popularise men’sinvolvement in creating gender equality andaddressing issues related to gender violence.Evidence of gender inequality is a powerfulresource for generating gender sensitivity andessential for developing effective genderpolicies. Monitoring mechanisms and genderanalytical tools are therefore core capacitiesthat local governments need to acquire. CeliaReyes explains how a Community-BasedMonitoring System, in tandem with GenderResponsive Budgeting, is now used by threequarters of the provinces in the Philippines,generating a wealth of information andinsights regarding the situation of women andwhat can be done to improve their plight. Thisis a tremendous achievement, which needs tobe widely replicated.Heinz Greijneditor@capacity.orgEditor-in-ChiefMAILBOX 2Letters to the Editorial BoardEDITORIAL 3Local government for gender equalityHeinz GreijnFEATURE 4Preserve status quo or promote genderequality?Helen O’ConnellRESOURCES 7INTERVIEW 8To know is to be empoweredSylvia Bergh talks to Celia ReyesPRACTICE 10Legitimacy enhances capacitySohela Nazneen and Sakiba TasneemPOLICY 12Capacity for effective participationEvelien Kamminga, Elsbet Lodenstein,Maitrayee MukhopadhyayPRACTICE 14A magic bullet for gender equality?Rebecca SmithGUEST COLUMN 16A matter of political willCecilia Kinuthia-NjengaCover photoWomen played a very visible role in the 2008elections in Ghana.Alamy / Olivier Asselinwww.capacity.org 3


FEATUREHigh hopes for local governmentPreserve status quo or promotegender equality?Women’s rights activists and gender and developmentpractitioners have high hopes for local government as anarena for promoting gender equality and respectingwomen’s human rights. However, gender equality can onlybe achieved through radical structural change.Helen O’Connellhelen.m.oconnell@btinternet.comIndependent consultantLocal government, it is hoped, will providewomen from the most marginalisedcommunities with the chance to engagepolitically – to vote, to lobby and to standfor election. It is perhaps easier for women’sand community-based organisations toinfluence local government than nationalgovernment. In theory at least, localgovernment is in the front line of publicservice delivery, providing education, healthcare, transport, water and sanitation,electricity and security. It is also a stimulatorof local economic development. These are allvitally important for gender equality. Thekey questions are: which capacities do localgovernments have or need to effectivelypromote gender equality, and doesdecentralisation enhance this capacity?Policy focus on local governmentFor too long, bilateral and multilateraldonors neglected to support the building ofdemocratic local governance, concentratinginstead on the central level. Many largeinternational NGOs set up parallel servicedelivery mechanisms, which furtherweakened any existing local authority.But local government can play a key rolein reducing poverty, promoting greaterequality and building inclusive societies –and donor policy focus is shifting.International agencies working in countriesaffected by conflict are refocusing on thelocal level. This is in line with the OECD’sPrinciples for Good InternationalEngagement in Fragile States and Situations,published in 2007, which stresses theimportance of focusing on state building atcentral and local levels. A 2007 policy paperfrom the UK Department for InternationalDevelopment, Governance, Development andDemocratic Politics, also places newemphasis on local government. Meanwhile,decentralisation processes are taking place innumerous countries in Africa, Latin Americaand Asia.The extent to which decentralisationcontributes to increased capacities of localgovernments should not be overstated. Localgovernment codes governingdecentralisation are more likely todecentralise responsibilities than power andresources. Usually, little power is devolvedfrom central government and few financialresources are transferred. Furthermore, localgovernment can be a highly politicised,contested and conflict-prone site. Localpowerful elites, who controlled the localitythrough patronage and fear beforedecentralisation, usually continue to holdsway afterwards until challenged bydemocratically elected local councillors andcivil society.Nevertheless, evidence from thePhilippines (see the interview with CeliaReyes on pages 8-9) and Honduras (seeRebecca Smith’s article on pages 14-15)suggests that local government – providingit is democratic and has adequate staff,funding and authority – could providegender-responsive public services, includingpolicing and social support. It can serve as atraining ground for national-level democracyas well, if public political awarenessgenerated at the local level can stimulategreater interest in national politics. Thiswould encourage women who are successfullocal politicians to stand for nationalelections.Effective local governmentDecentralisation has to be accompanied bymobilisation and advocacy if it is toeffectively establish gender equality andequity. It needs to rally the support andexpertise of a range of actors for this,including women’s organisations, politicalparties, local councillors and the media. Thepolitical will of national government is alsoessential to the emergence of a conduciveenvironment for local government toflourish. The challenges and opportunitiesdiffer in each locality. These are explored ina little more detail below, drawing on theexperience of One World Action, a UK-basedNGO, where I worked until April 2009.Local government would benefit byadopting a triple-track approach topromoting gender equality and protectingand respecting women’s human rights. First,it would need to thoroughly integrate genderanalysis into all its political, organisationaland administrative functions. Second, itshould provide political and practicalsupport to women’s organisations andmovements and establish dialogue withthem. And third, it should support specificstrategic initiatives with men on gender andmasculinity issues.Implementing meaningful genderintegration (or mainstreaming) is anenormous challenge. The 2008 UN-HABITATreport, Gender Mainstreaming in LocalAuthorities: Best Practices, provides usefulinformation on how to overcome thischallenge. It points out that successfulgender mainstreaming requires seniorleadership, clear analysis, strong policycommitments with correspondingorganisational structures and resources,gender-skilled staff, training and monitoring.In other words, it is a long-term politicalproject.Furthermore, formal state institutions atthe local level need capacity in a number oflinked administrative and political areas tofulfil their role as duty bearer and performtheir core functions in effective andgender-responsive ways.Building the capacity of local governmentadministrationThe administrative aspects of localgovernance are fundamental to itseffectiveness and accountability in general,and gender responsiveness in particular.Local government needs administrative andorganisational competence and human and4 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


Alamy / William MeyerPakistan’s Progressive Women’s Association demands equal political rights.financial resources to deliver on the diverseexpectations of women and men for security,access to justice, public services,participation and economic well-being.Local councillors and officials need todevelop gender expertise and capacity,especially in key local administration unitssuch as planning, budgeting and servicedelivery. Local governments need to knowhow to establish meaningful consultationmechanisms to gather information from awide range of women at the communitylevel on their gender-specific needs andinterests. Local government staff need theskills to perform gender-sensitive analyses inorder to understand the information theycollect and devise policy, programmes andbudget plans accordingly.It is important when developingcompetencies in gender analysis to trainpeople to recognise gender power imbalances.These imbalances could be present in areassuch as informal decision making, access tojustice and other services, and access to landand other resources. In short, it is vital toidentify the social, economic and politicalbarriers to gender equality.It is also important to comprehendwomen’s diverse experiences of citizenshipand the factors that determine women’sability to be and to act as citizens. And it isessential to develop proficiency in genderresponsivebudgeting, and gathering andanalysing sex-disaggregated data.In El Salvador, for example, a women’smovement association and One World Actionpartner called Las Melidas trained womencouncillors from 11 municipalities how toimplement gender equity policies and embedgender equity in the councils. The Children’sDignity Forum in Tanzania has created alocal network comprising local governmentrepresentatives, teachers, health workers andtraditional leaders that addresses the problemof child marriage and female genitalmutilation.Another example is the Micro Impacts ofMacroeconomic Adjustment Policies(MIMAP) project in the Philippines. Thisproject, which enlisted researchers from twohigher education institutes, developed theCommunity-Based Monitoring Systemcombined with a Gender ResponsiveBudgeting initiative.International donors and NGOs also havea major role to play in supporting localgovernment to develop these capacitiesthrough training programmes, fundingrecruitment and employment (orsecondment) of skilled staff, researchcapacity, study tours and other forms ofnational, regional or international learningexchanges.Inclusive local government politicsPolitical willingness is a primary capacity,and hence the development of inclusivepolitical decision-making processes, systemsand structures is critical. Building capacityinto the political structure of localgovernment is essential for strengtheningadministrative competence. More inclusivepolitical decision making creates greaterlegitimacy and accountability for raisinglocal revenues.Many feminist and women’s organisationsin the global South focus on strengtheningthe political participation of women fromdiverse social and cultural backgrounds. Theliterature unanimously agrees thatproportional representation in electoralsystems, together with some form of quota,is the ‘best-fit combination’. Whileproportional representation systems do notguarantee the representation of women andmarginalised communities, they do facilitateit because they create a closer alignmentbetween votes cast and seats won.Political parties, as the main gatekeepersof women’s political participation, must beengaged formally to seek their compliancewith quotas, since they frequently ignorequotas in the heat of election contests.Electoral commissions need the power,capacity and will to monitor theimplementation of quotas and to imposesanctions for non-compliance. Althoughquotas are not without problems – forexample, they can brand and isolate womenwithin political structures as ‘second-class’– they are essential for breaking through thebarriers blocking women’s participation.www.capacity.org 5


FEATUREHH / Roel BurglerPoster proclaiming everyone’s right toparticipate in democracy (Guatemala, 2008).Women candidates need support – inaddition to political inclusion – in the formof awareness raising, confidence buildingand practical assistance. In many countries,the presence of women in political structuresmakes it clear that participation does nottranslate automatically into genderresponsivepolicy making. Once elected,women local councillors need capacitybuilding in gender-responsive policydevelopment, policy and budget analysis,organising and understanding politicalprocedures and much more.Strong links with women’s organisationsand movements in the community are vitalto local governments if they are tosuccessfully promote a gender equality andwomen’s rights agenda. The forging ofcross-party alliances can greatly strengthenrespect for women’s civil and politicalrights. As Felicity Manson-Visram writes inher unpublished report for One WorldAction, Central American Women Exercisingtheir Political Rights, ‘support to suchcross-party political networks is critical incountries where politics is severely polarizedand where the women’s agenda is easilyforgotten’. Cross-party alliances are notpossible in all contexts, and are, of course,very unpopular with political parties.A 2009 One World Action report,Women’s Political Participation in thePhilippines, highlights the importance ofmoving beyond numbers, but also movingbeyond politics. The report argues thatimportant questions like leadership anddecision making cannot be addressed simplyby enabling women to vote and holdpolitical office. Rather, the report suggests,‘Substantive changes leading to women’sempowerment in the areas of economics,culture, and even at a personal or familylevel, must also take place’.Without this, politics will be open only toprivileged women. Hence, we have torecognise that efforts at the localgovernment level to make progress towardsgender equality have to be accompanied bynational policies on women’s rights, in areassuch as family law, domestic violence,inheritance, political parties, education andemployment.Political violence against womenViolence, or the threat of violence, againstwomen is an intractable barrier to women’spolitical participation at local and nationallevels. Violence, or the threat of violence,perpetrated by partners, community leaders,the police, politicians or the media candissuade women from standing ascandidates in the first place. It will alsoprevent elected women from carrying outtheir political responsibilities and functionsproperly and deter women from standing forre-election.To date, there has been little research onthe incidence and impact of violence againstwomen in political life, but there is ampleanecdotal evidence. In my view, the fouroft-cited barriers to women’s politicalparticipation – culture, confidence, cash andcaring responsibilities – conceal the actualexperience or threat of violence that restrictswomen to the private sphere.However, research conducted by theAssociation of Women Councillors ofBolivia (ACOBOL), in alliance with womenparliamentarians and civil society groups,documented cases of violence againstwomen in the five-year period from 2000 to2005. The research found that of the 155cases recorded, around 40 were cases ofphysical, emotional or sexual violence, 56were threats and in 27 cases womencouncillors were obstructed from carryingout their official work. ACOBOL believesthat under-reporting is responsible forconcealing the real figure, which is likely tobe about four times higher.ACOBOL has worked with others to pressfor a legal definition of political violence. Alaw against gender-based political violencewas adopted by the Bolivian chamber ofdeputies in 2006, but it still needs approvalfrom the senate. Passing a law is just thefirst step in a long battle to challenge theimpunity enjoyed by those who perpetuatesystems that commit political violenceagainst women. ACOBOL is calling for apublic body with the authority to act oninstances of violence. The association isworking with municipal authorities andpolitical leaders to seek formal commitmentson gender equity and a violence-freepolitical culture.Building a robust civil societyWomen’s organisations and movements canimpact the development of inclusive,democratic and accountable localgovernments at many levels. They can helpraise awareness on rights and mobilisewomen to voice their needs, claim theirrights and engage politically. Theseorganisations can also lobby for changes inthe law to respect women’s human rights,monitor the implementation of legislationand policy, stimulate public debate, andliaise locally, nationally and internationallywith other women’s organisations tostrengthen their network.Women’s organisations are leading theway in raising awareness about women’sinterests and rights, and they are mobilisingwomen to raise their voices and engage inconsultation and electoral processes. Ifwomen’s organisations are well rooted inmarginalised communities, they canencourage disabled women, women livingwith HIV/Aids and women from ethnicminority communities to participate ininformal and formal local politics, andsupport elected women. In Malawi andZambia, for example, women’s organisationsare working to increase the politicalparticipation of poor and marginalisedwomen and reach the Africa Union target of50% women’s representation.The women’s movement in CentralAmerica is pressing for respect for secularstate institutions and laws in order toguarantee women’s rights. They are doingthis by stimulating public debate throughpublic protest and the use of the media.Women’s organisations are in a goodposition to provide advice and expertise fortraining the political and administrativearms of local government, and forcomplying with international human rightsstandards.A good example is the Women’s LegalAid Centre in Tanzania. It is working closelywith local government (in areas whererefugee camps are based) to train them touse a variety of international instrumentsand domestic laws to protect the rights ofwomen refugees. Furthermore, women’sorganisations can engage in local, nationaland international networking to buildstrong women’s movements at all levels.Women’s organisations and movementsneed support to build their own capacitiesConsolidating strengthsThe Central American Network for GenderEquality in Local Development brings togethersix Central American women’s organisations.Their members include women local councillorsand mayors, women from cross-party groups,and women from different countries, such as ElSalvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.The network has been operating since 2008 toincrease and strengthen the political participationof marginalised women in rural and urbanareas, to press for legislative and policy reformfavourable to women’s political participation,including electoral reform, and to strengthen thepolitical voice of women’s organisations.6 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


Training journalists in Sierra LeoneFollowing six months of consultation to ascertainjournalists’ needs, UNDP funded a two-daytraining and consultation workshop for 40carefully selected journalists from across thecountry. The workshop covered the journalists’role and mandate and how they reportsexual- and gender-based violence, with theaim of building their capacity to report andpublicise cases in a professional, balanced andsensitive manner, and become participants inthe campaign against gender-based violence.Media practitioners provided the training. Theproduction of a journalists’ handbook is in thepipeline, which will contain guidelines on how towork with the police, the courts, government andcivil society and outline the media’s watchdogrole. The intention is to use it for further trainingin different regions.in some key areas in order to be effective.These areas include organisational andmanagement skills, technical expertise,analytical skills and research. It entailssupport in monitoring and developinggender-sensitive indicators for scrutinizinglocal government, security and other publicservices, and building local, national andinternational networks.The need to build the capacity ofcommunities and their leaders, especiallywomen, to engage with local governmentbodies was one of the lessons that emergedfrom a three-year democratic urbangovernance programme in 2006-09. Theprogramme was implemented by the Instituteof Politics and Governance (IPG) in thePhilippines with partners in seven of thecountry’s municipalities. The partners, inturn, worked with over 100 localorganisations (including organisations ofurban poor women). The 1991 LocalGovernment Code – at least on paper – gavelocal government 40% of internal revenueand the power to raise taxes and borrowmoney. It also acknowledged the crucial roleplayed by civil society.IPG’s programme enabled previouslyexcluded women to enter politics throughcommunity organisation and the promotionof inclusive political participation. Itdeveloped the capacities of local and urbangovernance actors in participatory districtand municipal planning to broaden theaccess of poor urban women and men toequitable and gender-responsive decisionmaking and service delivery.Establish support structuresThe media, if free and gender aware, canplay a huge role in informing public opinion,stimulating public debate on constitutionaland policy matters, such as appropriatepolicing, and in scrutinising and holding toaccount local governance institutions.Gender awareness will enable it to play acritical public education role in debunkinggender stereotypes, and creating a conducivepolicy environment for gender equality andwomen’s rights.In reality, the media in many countrieshave little capacity and few resources, andare hampered by restrictions to pressfreedom. A training initiative for journalistsin Sierra Leone, part of a UNDP-fundedprogramme, demonstrates what can beachieved (see box).The media’s role can help change attitudesand raise awareness, but local government isstill a key player in promoting genderequality and respect for women’s humanrights. International developmentcooperation bodies need to adopt a coherentand strategic approach to help localgovernment fulfil this role, one that linkslocal and national democracy building tocapacity building in local and nationalpolitical processes and institutions, and thatestablishes support structures for women’sorganisations and movements. There is muchto be done – nothing short of a completeoverhaul of political structures – but thatdoes not mean it cannot be done.


interviewLocal Philippine governments tackle gender inequalityTo know is to be empoweredIf you want to effectively tackle gender inequality, you needto measure its indicators and identify its underlying causes.Putting local governments in the know is half the battle.Celia M. Reyesreyesc@dls-csb.edu.phPhilippine Institute for Development Studies and AngeloKing Institute for Economic and Business Studies of DeLa Salle University, Manila, PhilippinesCelia Reyes is senior research fellow at thePhilippine Institute for DevelopmentStudies, and is affiliated with the AngeloKing Institute for Economic and BusinessStudies at De La Salle University in Manila,Philippines. One of her major researchinterests is the impact of policies andprogrammes on poverty and equity. Shedirected the Micro Impacts ofMacroeconomic Adjustment Policies(MIMAP) project in the Philippines,supported by the International DevelopmentResearch Centre (IDRC) in Canada.During that project, she and her colleaguesdeveloped the Community-Based MonitoringSystem (CBMS), which is an organised wayof collecting information at the local level.This information can be used by localgovernment units, national governmentagencies, NGOs and civil societyorganisations for planning, programmeimplementation and monitoring.CBMS helps to improve transparency andaccountability in resource allocation. Itsproven effectiveness in improvinggovernance has led it to be activelypromoted by the Philippine Department ofInterior and Local Government. Now CBMSis applied in three-quarters of the country’sprovinces. An integrated part of CBMS isGender Responsive Budgeting (GRB).Capacity.org interviewed Celia Reyes to findout how CBMS-GRB has impacted genderequality at the community level.Who was the driving force behind theintegration of gender/GRB into the CBMSprogramme, and what were thepreconditions to make it possible?We initially developed CBMS in 1994, but wereally started scaling up CBMS in thePhilippines in 2000. It was initially aresearch initiative funded by IDRC, but localgovernments now pay for theimplementation of the system. CBMS waspart of a project looking at the microimpactsof macro-level adjustment policies.It was difficult, however, to trace the impactof these macro-level policies at the locallevel due to the absence of disaggregatedinformation. So we needed to put in place amonitoring system that would allow us tocapture the impact at the household andeven at the individual level.That is how CBMS came about. It was alsovery opportune because the LocalGovernment Code was adopted andimplemented in 1991. This resulted in asubstantial push for decentralisation and asignificant demand for information thatcould be used by local governments.Initially, CBMS was not genderdisaggregated,but we noticed duringfocus-group discussions that there weredifferences in school attendance rates, forinstance. We found that more girls attendedschool than boys in some communitiesbecause the boys were asked to work toaugment the family income. But there werealso villages where girls did not attendschool because they were asked to stay athome and help with household chores.We also realised that in addition tofacilitating planning and budgeting at thelocal level, we could use CBMS to facilitategender-responsive budgeting as it provides arich source of gender-disaggregatedinformation. For example, we noticed thatlabour-force participation by women wasvery low in one community, mainly becausethey had to take care of the children. So theyset up child-minding centres where womencould breastfeed in between their work, andthis enabled more women to enter the labourforce.Actually, many GRB initiatives around theworld are being practiced at the national levelfollowing budget preparations. But peoplewould benefit more from GRB if it were usedto formulate local government plans andbudgets. We have managed to fully integrateGRB into CBMS and local planning, sayingthat every local development plan should begender responsive.CBMS automatically generates genderdisaggregatedindicators. In the Philippines,a 5% allocation of the total localgovernment budget for Gender andDevelopment (GAD) was in place before theCBMS-GRB initiative was launched. But wefound that neither local governments nor thenational government really knew how to usethis budget efficiently. I think the 5% budgetincreased the demand for the CBMS-GRBprogramme by local governments, becausenow they had the information to planprogrammes that could be classified underthe 5% budget. Of course, in the Philippineswe view the 5% GAD budget as just a tool toensure that gender concerns aremainstreamed, also in the remaining 95% ofthe budget.What factors contributed to the scaling upof the programme?The Department of the Interior and LocalGovernment (DILG) has released severalpolicy statements in support of CBMS. It hasbeen implemented in about 59 of thecountry’s 80 provinces and is still on therise. We are quite surprised at thisexponential growth.It is striking to note that the provincesfund the implementation themselves.Together with us, DILG provides freetraining, as well as the software and thesystem. They also spend money on datacollection and processing. I think thedemand for local information, which has notbeen addressed by the official statisticalsystem, is one of the reasons why theprogramme is in such demand.One feature that has attracted localauthorities to CBMS is the system’s maps.Local chief executives respond better toinformation in colour-coded maps than totables or figures. This has enabled them toappreciate the situation better and set theright priorities. Red areas on a map alertthem to pressing needs. The second feature isa system that automatically generatesindicators in a table format. This enableslocal chief executives to generate additionalinformation and cross-tabulate it. So itdoesn’t take much to learn how to use thesystem and generate the necessaryinformation.A third feature is that it’s good value formoney. The programme can easily be fundedby creating savings through improvedplanning, budgeting and targeting. Finally,8 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


the system was designed so that it would notneed new structural requirements. It hasbeen incorporated into the Local PlanningUnit, and the system is maintained evenwhen there are changes in leadership.Have you been able to measure results interms of gender outcomes?We do have baseline information in the formof CBMS data taken a few years ago anddata taken now. We have not used the datato assess the impact on GRB. Rather, we haveused it more to look at the impact of shockssuch as the financial crisis and the priceshock we had in 2008. We have not yet hada close look at the impact all theprogrammes have had in decreasing genderdisparities, but this is something that couldbe done. We have looked at some specificprogrammes, such as water and sanitation,but we have not looked at the scholarshipprogramme yet.But in general do you think that theGRB-CBMS programme has contributed togreater gender equality?Yes, we see this in focus-group discussions,which are part of the CBMS process.Members of the community try to explainthe situation and come up with potentialsolutions. When they find differences inschool participation rates, they now have away of explaining the differences in theirsituation. For instance, why were girlsdropping out of school? That can beexplained by the fact that in some villagesgirls leave school to work as maids. So theproblem can be discussed and solutionsfound to keep them in school longer. Wenow have cash-transfer programmes toprevent girls from leaving school so early.Local governments actually formulateplans based on CBMS. If they find that thereis no access to water and sanitation, forexample, they develop programmes toaddress the problem. After some time, theymay see access rise by 20%, which giveswomen more time for things other thanfetching water. This also positively affectstheir health status. There will be fewer casesof diarrhoea in the area, for example. Theimpact on the water and sanitation situationis quite easy to identify. But schoolattendance is also influenced by severalother factors, so it’s not possible to just lookat the numbers and pinpoint one reason.Is it true that CBMS has helped governorsreject political favouritism?Yes, the system of political favouritism usedto make it difficult for governors to rejectcertain requests. In other words, they riskedlosing local political support at the nextelections. But since they now have data forall the barangays (villages), they can easilyargue that a given barangay does not needanother water and sanitation project sincethere are plenty of others worse off. Thisinformation might persuade a village chiefthat there is some basis for the governor’s‘When they find differences in school participation rates, they now have a way of explaining them.’refusal and cause him to accept it morereadily.I think in certain places village chiefs areattracted to certain projects that do notnecessarily address the community’s needs.Basically, they just don’t know whether oneproject is better suited than another. Sincethere is more capacity at the provincial level,the governor can say ‘OK, what you need isnot this project but this one, which willaddress your more pressing needs’. And sincethe information becomes more transparent,the project implementation is monitored andevaluated more effectively.The CBMS process requires communityinvolvement in terms of identifying priorityproblems and potential solutions. When acommunity knows what it needs, it becomesmore empowered. It has relevant data to fallback on. For example, the community mightbe aware that 50% of its children are unableto go to school, but that better roads wouldgo far to solve this problem. In other words,they are in a position to demand the servicesthey really need.What are the main challenges ininstitutionalising and scaling up thisGRB-CBMS initiative?I think the main difficulty initially is thatlocal governments are reluctant to admit thattheir locality has a gender issue. So I guessthe real challenge is to be more specific. Ifyou tell them that girls are leaving school towork as maids, then they start to realize thatthere are in fact issues that need to beaddressed. I think there is a need for moreadvocacy and more information campaignsexplaining these issues, to make it clear thatmore gender-disaggregated information canhelp solve these problems.The difference between an ordinary CBMSand a GRB-CBMS is that we’re trying tohighlight the specific gender issues byproviding more gender-disaggregatedinformation. The challenge is to come upwith more context-specific indicatorsbecause the issues could differ acrosslocations, even within one country. In someareas, for example, male school attendance islow because they work as seasonal sugarcane workers, while in other areas the girlsare the ones at a disadvantage.


PRACTICELocal capacity building for women in BangladeshLegitimacy enhances capacityPolitical culture in Bangladesh has been traditionally a maledominatedsphere. Has the introduction of affirmative actionmeasures and the training of women politicians given themstronger voices and led to change on issues that are relevantfor women?Sohela Nazneensohela.nazneen@gmail.comAssociate professor, Department of InternationalRelations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, andresearch fellow, BRAC Development Institute,BangladeshSakiba Tasneemsakibatasneem@yahoo.comResearch associate, BRAC Development Institute,BangladeshHistorically, women’s participation informal representative politics inBangladesh has been low. It is true thatBangladesh has elected only women primeministers since its democratic transition in1991, but the legitimacy of the two womenleaders from the two major parties is basedon kinship ties. Party and political cultureremains male dominated. Gender issues donot carry much weight in Bangladeshipolitics, even though a vibrant feministmovement can be traced back to theanti-colonial nationalist movement againstthe British and then later Pakistan.Direct election to the 30% reserved seatsin local government bodies was introducedfor women in 1997 to ensure women’srepresentation. This led to a radical shift inlocal elections to the Union Parishad (UP),the lowest tier of local government. Whereaswomen were previously nominated to thereserved seats by the chairperson of the UP,the new system of direct elections linked thewomen representatives to a personalconstituency.This measure boosted the legitimacy ofwomen politicians. In the 1997 and 2003elections, more than 40,000 womencontested constituency seats, and around12,000 women or more were directly electedto these reserved seats in the UP. The numberof women contesting general seats was low.It affected how the communities viewedthese women representatives and createdgreater social legitimacy for women. Thetable below shows women’s participation inthe 1997 and 2003 elections in Bangladesh(the elections scheduled for 2008 werepostponed for political reasons).Despite this provision of reservations,women face various structural and attitudinalbarriers that limit their capacity to act aseffective representatives. Gender division oflabour places the burden of household workon women and limits women’s time andability to participate in formal politicalactivities. Restrictions on female mobility andnotions about gender-segregated spaces affectwomen’s access to and presence in the formalpolitical sphere and public space.Women also lack knowledge aboutgovernment functioning, which limits theirability to be effective once elected to office.Meanwhile, the prevalence of male resistanceto female candidates and workers within thepolitical parties limits women’s scope to runfor elections, rise up party ranks, and bolstersupport for women’s needs and concerns.And yet the provision of reservations hasclearly created space for women to challengesome of these barriers.Pros and cons of large constituenciesA UP comprises one chair and nine generalmembers, each representing an electoralward, with three reserved seats for women.Each reserved seat represents one electoralzone consisting of three general wards. As aconsequence, women have to campaign in amuch larger area than men.Recent studies, such as Emma Frankl’s2004 working paper Quotas andWomen participating in local government elections. Source: Khan and Ara (2006)Election year Total women candidates Elected chairman and numberChair Member Chair Member1997 102 43,969 (456 contesting in general seats) 23 12, 828 (110 elected to general seats)2003 232 43,764 (617 contesting in general seats) 22 12,684 (79 elected to general seats)Empowerment: The Use of Reserved Seats inUnion Parishad as an Instrument forWomen’s Political Empowerment inBangladesh, show that women UP membersexperience tough campaigns because theyhave to interact with an extensive group ofpeople. They also have to operate far fromtheir political home bases, in places wherethey have scant opportunity to interact withtheir constituency on a daily basis.There is a growing sense among womenrepresentatives, however, that asrepresentatives of a constituency, they havea right to make claims about policy making.This is further substantiated by the fact thatthey were directly elected as representativesof a larger constituency than male UPmembers.Women’s post-election agendaBesides strengthening women’s ability toenter ‘male’ space, the advent of directelections has enabled women to channeltheir voices through local administrativeprocesses. About 78% of the 641 womeninterviewed for the study conducted byZarina Rahman Khan and Amena Mohsin fortheir 2008 paper Women’s Empowermentthrough Local Governance reported that theyhad participated in budget discussions. And58% stated that they had made suggestionsto reverse a number of UP decisions.Women representatives have also madesignificant gains in establishing theirlegitimacy as political actors by resolvingfamily disputes through informal disputeresolutionbodies, called shalishes. Both UPmembers and local communities preferwomen to settle disputes related to marriage,divorce, polygamy and dowry. The generalperception is that women members are morelikely to relate to the difficulties faced bywomen in society.The fact that women are directly electedby the constituency also legitimises theirright to act on behalf of other women. Giventhat male members are not in a competingposition with the women members regardingsettling family disputes, there is little maleresistance to women playing a prominentrole. The solutions offered by womenmembers tend to be pragmatic in nature and10 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


Reuters / Rafiquar RahmanWomen’s rights groups demand that women should become members of parliament only through directvoting in elections, not by nomination by parties represented in the assembly. Dhaka, Bangladesh.do not challenge gender power relations. Thewomen members interviewed explained thattheir solutions are offered keeping in mindthe social costs and the constraints faced byrural women in Bangladesh.Radical solutions are often untenable as aresult of these social obstacles, but theseobstacles do ensure that women are able tosecure their customary claims andprotections under the existing system.Whether this increased legitimacy wouldallow women to promote women’s interestseffectively in matters related toWomen’s rights in the constitution ofBangladeshThe following articles in the Bangladeshconstitution safeguard the right of women toengage in political participation and enjoy equalopportunities.• Article 9: The State shall encourage localgovernment institutions composed ofrepresentatives of the areas concerned and insuch institutions special representation shall begiven, as far as possible, to peasants, workersand women.• Article 10: Steps shall be taken to ensureparticipation of women in all spheres ofnational life.• Article 19: The State shall endeavour to ensureequality of opportunity to all citizens.• Article 27: All citizens are equal before lawand are entitled to equal protection of law.• Article 28:(1): The State shall not discriminate againstany citizen on grounds only of religion, race,caste, sex or place of birth.(2) : Women shall have equal rights with menin all spheres of the State and of public life.Source: Khan and Ara (2006)infrastructural development or social safetynet programmes remains to be seen.These are areas where women are in directcompetition with male UP members, so thereis clearly a potential for resistance.Nevertheless, very few women have played aprominent role in local shalish systems inthe past. Their gain in social legitimacy aspolitical actors is a significant developmentthat will increase women’s visibility and setthe stage for a discussion of women’s issuesin the public domain.Strengthening women’s capacitiesGains in legitimacy by women and theirability to have a stronger voice have beensupported by the different trainingprogrammes administered primarily by theNGOs and women’s organisations, sincegovernment capacity to provide training islimited. The majority of the NGO trainingfocuses on roles, responsibilities, legalawareness and human rights issues. A 1999World Food Programme study, ElectedWomen Members of UP: A SocioeconomicStudy, showed that about 90% of the femalemembers interviewed were unaware of thedifferent government bodies and theirfunctions, which indicates the need fortraining.Certain types of training have proved tobe more successful. For example, CAREBangladesh, a humanitarian organisation,trains both male and female members, unlikesome of the larger NGOs, such as the KhanFoundation or the PRIP Trust. The latterfocus exclusively on women members.CARE’s project is designed to raise crossgenderawareness among councillors andcommunity members, and empower femalemembers by informing them of how UPsfunction and what their roles are as politicalactors.The CARE project also develops thecapacity of entire villages by training thecommunity in capacity building. Thistraining includes both men and women withdifferent socio-economic and occupationalbackgrounds. Participatory rural appraisaland social mapping processes prior to thetraining ensure that the people receiving thetraining have these different backgrounds.The assessment of these trainings byDemocracy Watch in 2002 showed thatCARE’s approach was more effective increating a level of acceptance for women inthe wider community and allowed them tofunction more effectively. However, womenwho received training (whether specificallytargeted or not) reported that it allowed themto change the attitudes of male members,who assumed they were unaware aboutvarious issues.Interestingly, assistance and trainingprovided by movement-oriented NGOs, suchas Nijera Kori, or women’s organisations,such as Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, havecreated a high level of consciousness amongwomen who belong to these organizations– in contrast to other women UP members– about social problems and women’spractical concerns. These concerns vary fromdowry or early marriage to polygamy,women’s security in the public sphere andwater collection. These women are morewilling to raise difficult issues in the publicsphere, and the support they receive fromtheir organisations has allowed them totackle administrative and other types ofresistance.The Bangladesh case shows that theadvent of direct elections has established adirect link between the constituency andwomen members. This, in turn, has givenwomen a stronger voice and more legitimacyas political actors. It also indicates that theway in which quota systems areimplemented affects women’s capacity to actin local governments. Whether women areable to ‘act for’ other women depends on thesupport structures that exist for women,particularly the types of training and linkswith other actors, such as NGOs andwomen’s organisations that strengthen theirknowledge and ability to negotiateresistance.


POLICYDecentralisation and affirmative actionCapacity for effective participationAffirmative action measures aimed at enhancing women’sparticipation as political representatives in decentralisedgovernment bodies is a growing field of research anddevelopment practice. Several issues need to be addressedfirst, however, to realise these goals.Maitrayee Mukhopadhyaym.mukhopadhyay@kit.nlRoyal Tropical Institute (KIT), Amsterdam,the NetherlandsElsbet Lodensteine.lodenstein@kit.nlRoyal Tropical Institute (KIT), Amsterdam,the NetherlandsEvelien Kammingae.kamminga@kit.nlRoyal Tropical Institute (KIT), Amsterdam,the NetherlandsAffirmative action has made it possible insome countries for women to beincluded in significant numbers in localgovernment. At the same time, devolutionpolicies are granting more powers to localgovernment. Do these combined policiesimprove the effectiveness of women’sparticipation in decision making? This articleexplores the institutional and capacitydevelopment issues that need addressing inorder for elected women to participatesubstantively in local government.Whether or not women will effectivelyexercise participation and power in practiceat the local level depends to a great extenton the terms of their inclusion (the specificfeatures of affirmative action, for example),the extent to which the rules anddecentralisation encourage genderedparticipation, and the strength of women’sorganisations in civil society at the locallevel. This article analyses these issues in anumber of countries, based on researchconducted by the Royal Tropical Institute(KIT) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, incollaboration with IDRC.Terms of inclusionIn Bangladesh, women representatives aredisadvantaged by structural constraintsrelated to the way quotas for women areincorporated into the electoral system. TheUnion Parishad (a rural local governmentinstitution) is made up of nine wards, andthe electorate in each of these wards elects ageneral member. The quotas for womenprovide three additional seats within eachUnion Parishad, and potential womenrepresentatives of these seats are elected byand responsible for three wards.This means that women candidates haveto canvass and oversee an area three timesthe size of the area covered by a general(male) member. Women are furtherdisadvantaged by resource constraints.Although they receive the same budgetaryand other resources as general members,women have a wider area to cover. There isalso role confusion, as the role of womenrepresentatives in given constituencies,which also have three general members, isoften ambiguous.In India, where women receive 33%reservation at all levels of local government,the seats reserved for women rotate duringevery election. Thus a ward reserved forall-female competition becomes a generalward (in which women and men cancompete) in the next election. As a result,political parties simply do not take women’scandidacy seriously nor do they invest in theelected women, knowing very well that inthe next round of elections these women willbe of no use to their electoral prospects.In Uganda, the 1997 Local GovernmentAct requires 30% of local council seats to bereserved for all-female competition.However, these seats are an addition to thecouncil body, not part of the existing seats.New wards are created for women’srepresentation, combining two to threeregular wards. In effect, this at least doublesthe constituency which women are meant torepresent compared to regular wardrepresentatives.Elections for the women’s seats are heldseparately, a good two weeks after the wardelections. In the 1998 local governmentelections, irritation with this unwieldysystem, as well as voter fatigue, resulted in afailure to achieve quorum for women’selections all over the country. Many rerunswere subsequently held, but the processundermined the perceived legitimacy andcredibility of women politicians.In Niger, very few women becomecouncillors, despite a law stipulating a 10%quota of women councillors. Action researchby a local NGO (Alternatieve) shows thatduring the 2006 and 2009 election processesin the Zinder Region of Niger, all politicalparties complied with the law by runningwomen as 10% of their candidates. On someoccasions, they even put women with strongvoter appeal at the top of the list.Women are systematically pushed to thebottom of the list as soon as the elections areover, however, thereby destroying anychance of their becoming councillors.Political parties abuse the quota law in thatsense, taking advantage of the fact that itdoes not prescribe a quota for the number ofseats in the council, only for the party lists.Affirmative action clearly helps women toaccess local and national power structures.However, these examples show that thecredibility and legitimacy of elected women aspolitical actors can also be undermined bypolicy design issues or the partialimplementation of affirmative action measures.Affirmative action will only succeed ingetting more women into office if moreattention is focused on three levels of policy:• the clear definition and formulation ofaffirmative action policy (the quality ofthe quota law);• the translation of the law into regulations,procedures and accountability mechanisms(e.g. terms of inclusion); and• the actual implementation of the policy.Decision making about resourcesDecentralisation processes have been seizedupon to enhance political participation amongpoor women. Decentralisation has introducedmeasures giving women greaterrepresentation in some contexts and has ledto civil society initiatives that focus onbuilding the capacity of women elected tolocal government bodies, organising women’sconstituencies, introducing gender audits andusing existing institutional spaces. In LatinAmerica, for example, participatory budgeting(a statutory requirement in Peru and Brazil) isbeing used both as a political tool formobilisation and for increasing localgovernment accountability towards poorwomen’s interests.Experience shows, however, that women’sparticipation in decision making depends on12 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


a number of factors. They include thespecific institutional rules governingplanning, the extent of devolution of fundsand other resources to the local level, andthe extent to which power is decentralised sothat the use of resources can be monitoredand audited by local government bodies.A common problem in India, for example,is that not all states have devolved financialand administrative powers to the lowestlevellocal government bodies, thepanchayats. In many instances, panchayatsare merely the implementing agency fornational poverty eradication and otherrelated programmes and have no role intheir planning.There are similar obstacles in many othercountries, where citizens participate indevelopment planning through majorconsultation processes, and yet localgovernments still only have limitedautonomy and control over revenues andresources to implement their plans. A lack ofdecision-making space undermines theintegration of citizens’ priorities, inparticular women’s interests that may alsoundermine local government legitimacy inthe long run.Even if local governments have the powerand resources to implement their plans, fewmechanisms exist that enable citizens tohold their local government accountable forbudgeting and implementation decisions, inparticular with regard to gender equality. Nostate in India, with the exception of Kerala,has actually earmarked a percentage of itsbudget for women’s development, making iteven more difficult to press for decisionsthat would further women’s agendas.In her 2004 essay, Decentralization andgender equality, Anne-Marie Goetz providesexamples of institutional innovations thathave made women’s participation possible indifferent national contexts and renderedplanning and monitoring functions moreaccountable to women’s interests. Theseinnovations include earmarking a percentageof the budget for women-only deliberations,gender-sensitive local revenue and spendinganalysis. These are some of the measuresthat should amplify women’s voices in localdeliberations, and support spending onwomen’s needs.Focus on individual capacitiesThere is no getting around the fact thataffirmative action in local governments inSouth Asia has given rise to what has beentermed ‘de facto’ politics. De facto politicsrefers to a political situation where a person,despite being an elected representative, doesnot actively participate in governanceprocesses. This is not to suggest that allwomen always find themselves in thissituation, nor that it is irreversible. There isample evidence to suggest that rural andurban women, as well as low caste, tribalwomen elected to local governmentinstitutions have functioned and arefunctioning as elected representatives.Although Ugandan law requires 30% of local council seats to be reserved for women, mencontinue to dominate the elections.NGOs and civil society organisationscontinue to support women in localgovernment by enhancing their capacitiesand voices. In India and Bangladesh they doso on the assumption that women’s politicalinexperience, and their lack of skills andinformation, constrains their politicalparticipation. Governmental trainingprogrammes for elected representatives sharethese assumptions. Many civil societyorganisations, especially those representingwomen’s interests, have also realised theimportance of support networks for women’ssurvival and continuance in public office.Institutional constraints often ignoredSeveral research studies on participation inlocal government institutions by electedwomen view them as independent agents orrather as women unaffected by genderinequality. According to an assessmentcarried out by the Asian Development Bankin 2004, Gender and Governance Issues inLocal Government, more than 70% of womencouncillors interviewed in Bangladesh werenot aware of their rights and responsibilitiesas representatives. An even higherpercentage – more than 80% – expressed alack of confidence in their ability to conductmeetings. In Pakistan, only 22% of womencouncillors reported that they attendedcouncil meetings regularly, and less than30% had any knowledge of the councilagendas of the last two sessions or of thecouncil budget.While participation rates of elected womenin local councils are low, they are alsocontingent on several factors, such as gendernorms, family, caste, class and religion. Thisinadvertently points to the ‘incapacity’ ofwomen, or their ‘indifference’, to getinvolved in politics and local councils. Thesolutions offered are generally measures tomake up for women’s deficits rather thanmeasures that tackle the institutionalconditions that constrain women’sparticipation, such as the terms of inclusionand the features of the decentralisationreforms discussed above.Therefore, increased political participationrequires a thorough understanding of acountry’s political context and its terms ofinclusion, and an integrative approach toempowerment, institutional developmentand the formalisation of spaces for citizenparticipation and accountabilitymechanisms.


PRACTICEDecentralisation and women’s rights in Latin AmericaA magic bullet for gender equality?Successful decentralisation should make government moreaccessible, accountable and responsive to women. But doesit? Have decentralisation processes increased women’sdecision-making power at the local level?Rebecca Smithrsmith@idrc.caResearch officer, Women’s Rights and Citizenship,International Development Research Centre (IDRC)Decentralisation has sometimes beenpresented as a magic bullet fordeveloping countries seeking to achieve bothdevelopment and democracy. Based on theprinciple of subsidiarity, decentralisation isacclaimed for placing greater powers in thehands of local governments. World leaders,NGOs, donor agencies and multilateralinstitutions agree that development anddemocracy both fail unless women areincluded on an equal footing with men, andthat successful decentralisation should makegovernment more accessible and accountableto women.But does it? Since 2006, research teams inBolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras andParaguay have been exploring this questionas part of a multiregional research projectsupported by the Women’s Rights andCitizenship programme at the InternationalDevelopment Research Centre (IDRC) inCanada. In coordination with the RegionalTraining Programme on Gender and PublicPolicy at the Latin American School ofSocial Sciences (FLACSO) in Argentina, thefour research teams asked whether and howdecentralisation processes during the pasttwo decades have increased women’sdecision-making power at the local level.Two central themes framed the researchprojects: women’s political participation andwomen’s access to public services indecentralised systems.Women’s political participationLatin America has a long history of women’sactivism for citizenship entitlements.However, gains in formal equality have notalways translated into substantive gains. Theheterogeneity of women throughout theregion means that the benefits ofadvancements in gender equality concernsare not enjoyed equally by all women.In El Salvador and Honduras, the NationalFoundation for Development (FUNDE)analysed how organised women havecontributed to the creation of localgovernance mechanisms that promote genderequality and women’s rights. In recent years,deepening inequalities in the two countrieshave meant increasing poverty rates,gender-based violence and a deterioratingquality of life for women.Both countries’ political systems arecharacterised by democratic and institutionalfragility, and the implementation of publicpolicies regarding women has been veryweak. The advent of decentralisation in themid-1990s presented a significant challengefor local governments.Strategies for mainstreaming genderequality at the local level includedestablishing policies aimed specifically ataddressing issues of interest to women aswell as creating institutions dedicated toadvancing women’s rights.A case study of Santa Tecla, a city in ElSalvador, demonstrates how a localgovernment can work with women’sorganisations to create bottom-upinstitutional mechanisms that promotegender equality. In 2002, municipalauthorities initiated the ParticipatoryFrom research to policyStrategic Planning Process, which createdthematic groups to facilitate relationsbetween citizens and the local government,including a Women’s Citizenship Committee.The municipality also collected baselinedata on the status of local women to informevidence-based policy making and theformulation of proposals for activities toreduce gender inequalities. The data fromthis survey fed directly into the MunicipalPolicy on Gender Equality, which the citycouncil adopted in 2003.As a result of coordinated advocacyefforts between the Women’s CitizenshipCommittee and local women’s movements,a municipal Gender Unit was created toexecute the policy, and to build municipalinstitutions’ capacities to respond to theneeds of local women in the communities.The Gender Unit was an innovative effortdriven by civil society and taken up bylocal councillors to build municipalinstitutions’ capacities to respond to localwomen’s needs.One focus group respondent from themunicipality said that the creation of theGender Unit ‘generated many opportunities,opened doors, for Santa Tecla was valued asan innovative city’. This demonstrates anevolution in popular conceptions of genderIn November 2008, IDRC and the Mexican government co-hosted the International Conference onDecentralization, Local Power and Women’s Rights in Mexico City. Throughout the conference, a workinggroup collaborated to produce recommendations for policy makers, politicians, aid agencies and civilsociety organisations. This comprehensive set of recommendations is a valuable resource for governmentsand organisations such as the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and the UnitedNations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW). Thefollowing excerpt highlights key recommendations:• Implement capacity building to promote and empower local women’s participation in formal andinformal political processes and to enhance national and local governments’ capacity to promote genderequality.• Address social and cultural norms inhibiting women’s effective participation by implementing mandatorygender-awareness education for relevant bodies involved in matters of decentralisation.• Support the capacity of local government to formulate, implement and monitor gender-responsiveplanning and budgeting.The full set of recommendations, project reports and more information on IDRC programming ondecentralisation is available at: www.idrc.ca/decentralization.14 Capacity.org Issue 40 | August 2010


equality as a key element of democraticgovernance.Gender Unit projects also raised greaterawareness of women’s rights and helpedlocal women benefit from empowermentprogrammes. The municipal government alsoinstituted reforms, such as establishing aquota of 35% women’s membership on theboards of community associations. One localwoman stated that participation in variouspublic activities, organisational processesand trainings sponsored by the Gender Unitallowed women to integrate into localpolitical life and understand their rights ascitizens.Achieving substantive gender equalityremains a challenge in El Salvador andHonduras. Women continue to faceresistance in establishing their legitimacy asskilled and able political actors, whereas menare assumed to be prepared to enter politicalroles. Women’s rights advocates also claimthat local mechanisms can go further inchallenging unequal power relations andstructural sources of women’s disadvantage,rather than focusing on practical demandsand creating conditions for women to carryout traditional social reproduction functions.Although governance in both countries isstill highly centralised, FUNDE found thatwomen’s organisations have provided criticalassistance to local governments in suchareas as budget analysis and generating dataon gender inequality. The Santa Teclaexperience also demonstrates that statedecentralisation is not necessarily drivenfrom the executive – it can also be initiatedfrom below. The contribution of thesemechanisms and forums has facilitated theparticipation of women in municipalmanagement and has helped to institutemore democratic practices at the local level.Women’s access to servicesAdvocates of sectoral decentralisation arguethat reforms can make water management,health, education, local economicdevelopment and other public functionsmore efficient and accountable to citizens.Citizen participation in the user groups andlocal management committees that oftenaccompany decentralisation is also intendedto empower citizens while improving servicedelivery.In Paraguay, efforts to decentralise healthcare were understood by the government tobe a technical mechanism for improving themanagement of resources and increasing theability to identify and solve local healthproblems through increased communityparticipation. From 2000 to 2007, localhealth councils were established throughoutthe country to formally manage thedistribution of health-care resources, oftencomprised of members of civil society aswell as public and private institutions.Researchers from the Paraguayan Centrode Documentación y Estudios undertook acomparative study of ten cases to assess howthe process of decentralising Paraguay’sThe banner reads: ‘International women’s march, all Women all Rights’. Mexico City, 2008.health system impacted gender equity. Theyfound that in municipalities where localhealth councils truly strengthened citizenparticipation, the provision of health serviceswas often better. Researchers found thatwomen were able to use the councils toarticulate local health priorities, althoughlocal women often found it difficult tochallenge the dominant authorities anddemand better health services.A factor beyond the power of the councilsthat impacts women’s access to healthservices is the national health financingpolicy. For Paraguayans that relied on thepublic health-care system, and for poor andindigenous women in particular, access tohealth services was limited by the impositionof a cost-recovery model for public healthcare, based on the payment of user fees. Atthe start of the project in 2006, only 20% ofthe country’s population enjoyed healthinsurance. This changed following nationalelections in 2008 when the new coalitiongovernment identified decentralisation asone of its primary strategies to ensureuniversality, equity and citizen participationin health care.Several members of the research teamassumed decision-making positions within thenew government in 2008, and one of the firstactions taken was the establishment of aprogressive approach to provide free,decentralised health services. In 2008, theNational Equality and Decentralization Fundwas established, and it pledged US$5 million to100 health councils for the execution of healthprogrammes relevant to local communities.Enabling decentralisationThe projects in Latin America demonstratekey factors that may enable democraticdecentralisation:• an active and organised civil society;• the provision of capacity-building trainingfor female elected officials;• targeted government efforts at reducingsystemic inequalities;• the inclusion of women and men inplanning processes and governance;• government recognition of diversity; and• greater involvement of women inbudgeting and controller capacities.Also, local and national governments needto invest more in strategies to reducegender-based violence in order for women tobe able to realise their full political,economic and social rights.Decentralisation has changed the politicaland institutional context for promoting thefull and equal rights of citizens in manysocieties around the world. By transferringfunctions, resources and greater political andfiscal autonomy to local governments,decentralisation can provide newopportunities for women and men toparticipate in matters that closely affect theirlives.It is more than just a technical exercise; itis a political process that is shaped by localculture, history and priorities. One cannotassume that local governments will beinherently more effective or interested inadvancing gender equity. Political will andconcrete actions are required to makedecentralisation a truly democratising andempowering process that promotes genderequity and meaningful citizenparticipation.


guest columnWomen’s representation in local government in AfricaA matter of political willCecilia Kinuthia-Njengacecilia.njenga@unhabitat.orgHuman settlements officer, UrbanEnvironmental and Planning Branch,UN-HABITAT, Nairobi, KenyaAs the level of government closest tocitizens, local authorities can play a vitalrole in addressing gender inequality and inbuilding the capacities of women by involvingthem in local decision making, planning andmanagement. The importance of that role wasrecognised by the International Union of LocalAuthorities and in the 1998 WorldwideDeclaration on Women in Local Government.Earlier, increasing the participation of womenin politics and decision making was a centraltheme of the Beijing Platform for Action (1995).This was reaffirmed in 2000 in the thirdMillennium Development Goal, to ‘promotegender equality and empower women’.African governments are signatories to anumber of regional and international agreementsrelating to women’s political participation. Theseinclude the Protocol to the African Charter onHuman and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights ofWomen in Africa (2003), and the African Union’sSolemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa(2004). African countries are also obligated togive women equality of opportunity in law,under the law, and in administrative practice, inaccordance with the UN Convention on theElimination of All Forms of Discriminationagainst Women (CEDAW).But despite these commitments, therepresentation of women in local authorityleadership positions in Africa is still limited. In2005, the United Cities and Local Governments(UCLG) network, using data from 60 countries,found that a mere 9% of all mayors and 21%of local councillors were women. The UCLGidentified some major obstacles to women’spolitical participation, including cultural andtraditional prejudices and the persistentunequal division of labour and responsibilitieswithin households.Women are hampered by their lack offinancial independence, inadequate education,and by the burdens imposed by the HIV/Aidsepidemic, civil wars and serious economicproblems. Many authorities are failing toenforce quotas and affirmative action policies,or to carry out gender-sensitive research. Butperhaps the most serious obstacle is the lack ofpolitical will to address the situation.Addressing inequalityAs part of its work in the Lake Victoria regionof East Africa, UN-HABITAT is supportinglocal authorities in recognising that genderequality is not only a human right, but crucialto the entire process of local development. Oneof its objectives is to support a regionalstrategy for mainstreaming gender issues inlocal development planning. A recentassessment by UN-HABITAT revealed thatmany local authorities have achieved little inthe area of gender equality because they lackthe necessary capacity for strategic planning.For instance, very few collect the genderdisaggregateddata that are essential forintegrating gender perspectives in the designand delivery of services such as education,water and sanitation.If local authorities are to address genderinequality, they need to be able to:• integrate gender perspectives in locallegislation, policies, programmes andprojects based on gender-sensitive analysis;• develop conceptual and practicalmethodologies for incorporating genderperspectives in local planning processes,including the development of indicators;• collect, analyse and disseminate genderdisaggregateddata and information,including statistical methods that recogniseand make visible the unremunerated workof women, for use in policy and programmeplanning and implementation;• integrate a gender perspective in the designand implementation of sustainable resourcesmanagement mechanisms, productiontechniques and infrastructure projects; and• formulate and strengthen policies andpractices to promote the full and equalparticipation of women in planning anddecision making (Habitat Agenda, 1996).Development agencies should continue toenhance the capacity of local authorities toaddress gender inequality, while also supportingwomen leaders to acquire the necessary skillsand capacities. In this, however, a keyrequirement is political will, which is to a largeextent determined by men who are overrepresentedin leadership positions. Achievinggender equality is not just a task for women,but also requires male leaders to advocate forequality. Sensitising them to the need tosupport gender equality is therefore crucial.

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