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women's political empowerment

Should we focus more on women’s political empowerment when democracy goes off the rails? Tom Carothers thinks so.

Duncan Green's picture

My inbox has been buzzing with praise for a new paper on this issue by the Carnegie Endowment’s democracy guru, Thomas Carothers. Since he’s one of my favourite guest posters (no editing ever required), I asked him to summarize its findings.

Last year the gender, women, and democracy team at the National Democratic Institute approached me with a question. NDI, like many groups engaged in supporting democracy internationally, was responding to the increasingly fraught landscape of global democracy by attempting to think more strategically and move fully away from any lingering tendency to pursue a standard democracy “menu” across extremely diverse political contexts. NDI’s gender team wanted to insert women’s political empowerment programming into the new strategic discussion. Would I help them think it through? The team deflected my protests that I lack  expertise on women’s empowerment, telling me they would help me get up to speed.  They also politely pointed out that as someone who presents himself as a general expert on democratic change, perhaps it was time for me to correct my lack of knowledge about the gender domain. I signed on.

After some months of delving into the literature on women’s political empowerment and interviewing numerous aid practitioners and women’s activists working on the front lines, some interesting findings came into focus.  I present them in my new paper, “Democracy Support Strategies: Leading with Women’s Political Empowerment.”

At first glance, programs seeking to foster greater women’s political empowerment did seem to follow a standard menu –everywhere I looked I saw training for women candidates in local and national elections, efforts to strengthen the role of women within political parties, advocacy in favor of gender quotas in legislatures, and support for women’s parliamentary caucuses. Yet when I probed how such programming unfolds across different transitional contexts, important variations emerged.