Democracy Support Strategies: Leading with Women’s Political Empowerment

Supporting women’s political empowerment is a critically important part of international assistance, both for the democracy building side of the aid domain and the broader development enterprise. This is true both because democracy is incomplete when women are systematically underrepresented and discriminated against and because political empowerment of women is vital for improving all areas of women’s lives. Assistance for women’s political empowerment is noteworthy for an additional reason—one often overlooked in debates over democracy promotion. With democracy suffering a general international pattern of stagnation and even backsliding, the realm of women’s political empowerment stands in notable positive contrast: there is a clear upward trajectory in the role of women in politics in the developing world. Women are playing a growing and vital role in day-to-day political life at both local and national levels in dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, helping not only to strengthen governmental policies that take account of women’s needs and interests but also to forge greater representativity of political institutions generally. 

This case studies is at best a preliminary effort to address the challenge of differentiating strategies for aiding women’s political empowerment. Much more analysis is needed to fully assess the distinctive gender characteristics of political life in different types of transitional contexts; understand the implications of these characteristics for women’s political empowerment programming; and identify how work on women’s political empowerment can help bring about broader democratic change in problematic transitional contexts. Such analysis is vital both to chart the next generation of women’s political empowerment assistance and to highlight for nonspecialists in this field the importance of this assistance as a way to respond to the challenging realities of the global political landscape that now defines the world.

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