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Month: April 2018

Resources for Candidates

So you want to run for office? First, hurrah! Second, get organized!

Following on episode one with Suzanne, I thought it would be useful to compile some go-to resources for would be candidates. Now days there’s a wealth of resources on and offline offering information about the process of campaigning – dig in!

  • Slate compiled a fantastic list of organizations offering candidate training, campaign books, and campaign service providers (with U.S. emphasis, but some of the basics hold up no matter the country).
  • They also did a great profile of four first time candidates which is fun to read.
  • In my day job, I help women candidates and political parties do more to involve women in elections in places outside the U.S. You can check out my toolkits with campaign basics, advice about message, branding, and political party structures.
  • And I am always available to talk to first-time candidates about running, so contact me! Seriously, I will make time to help! As VP of the European Association of Political Consultants and board member of the International Association of Consultants, I have a wide network of consultants at my finger tips who can help. Just let me know what you’re looking for and I can refer you to the right firm.

While the tools above are generally helpful, the reality is that women’s experience as candidates differs from men. Women face a litmus test that men do not have to pass, especially when it comes to the issues of likability and qualifications. Research has shown that voters will support a male candidate they do not like but who they think is qualified, they won’t do the same for a woman. Women have to first prove they are qualified. For men, their qualification is assumed. Geez, that’s just swell. As if it’s not hard enough to run for office, now women have to overcome a twisted double bind of likability. The good news is that it’s possible to counter this, but first we have to accept that a bias exists and be more crafty in how we minimize its impact. Here’s how.

Women also have to work harder at negotiating family support, as well as approach fundraising in more creative ways given that they typically have less access to resources than men. The Barbara Lee Foundation has done incredibly insightful research on all of these topics with practical advice and resources for how to launch a campaign and hit the ground running, aided by public opinion research conducted by Celinda Lake, one of the nation’s foremost experts on electing women candidates and on framing issues to women voters. Listen to one of her recent interviews dissecting the 2018 U.S. midterm election and what advantages female candidates can organize around.

Women in Politics – Hubs 

If only every country had just a fraction of the resources American and European candidates have at their disposal to help women level the playing field in politics. (And for my home country, let’s hope the time and effort spent analyzing women’s participation results in raising the dismal number of women in politics to more than 19% of women in Congress, shamefully below the global average).

  • Working for a more feminist Europe is the European Women’s Lobby, an umbrella organization that brings together the women’s movement in Europe to influence the public and European Institutions in support of women’s human rights and equality between women and men.
  • The Women Political Leaders Global Forum (WPL) is a worldwide network of female politicians. The mission of WPL is to increase both the number and the influence of women in political leadership positions. WPL’s largest community is Women in Parliaments (WIP), which includes the 9,000 female national legislators around the world.
  • The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutger University is an excellent resource for examining questions about American women as candidates, officeholders and voters through scholarly research. Their twitter feed is also bubbling with interesting news and information on all things women and politics.
  • RepresentWomen advocates for systemic approaches to advance women’s representation and leadership by working with allies to win gender parity for all women.
  • Hubs for women candidates in the U.S. (which is useful as an example for those outside of the U.S.)

International NGOs working to support women candidates

I’ve been lucky to work with all three of these organizations who do outstanding work – before, after and between elections — to support women leaders and gender inclusion. 

What on-the-ground hubs exist outside of the West? Send me your links!

The photo above is from a training I conducted with Georgian candidates (the country, note the state), which is one of my favorite places to work in the world. I have worked with literally hundreds of candidates across the globe (and have lots of super compelling photos of women standing in front of flipcharts to proove it). But one of the gaps internationally is the lack of an Emily’s list-like campaign hub to support women candidates. This is changing, bit by bit, with more organizations having been formed in recent years to provide training for women, working with political parties, and importantly, pushing back on sexism in politics. There is an incredible amount of energy and knowledge in many countries to help women run in addition to the ones listed above – let’s shine a spotlight on some of those efforts! Send me the name of your favorite go-to group for women candidates!

Episode 1: Running for Office in Kenya at Age 23

Suzanne Silantoi Lengewa is a trailblazer. Despite Kenya’s leadership in the region when it comes to women serving in political office they rank last out of all East African nations. Stepping up to run as a young woman in the largest city in Kenya — in a male dominated political culture nonetheless – takes a big dose of courage. Women who put their foot forward in politics face many obstacles – from sexist news coverage to having less access to resources to run their campaigns. The women who choose to move forward despite the unlevel playing field should be recognized and heard for their contribution to creating a more equal democracy around the globe.

The Global Picture

The World Economic Forum reports that the gender gap in politics is the biggest gap in existence, with 79% discrepancy between men and women in decision-making structures around the globe. Women having less access to resources to wage successful campaigns. They face the dual burden of balancing work and family, and rigid ideas about women’s capacity as mainly a caretaker perpetuates stereotypes among voters. In many places like Kenya, female candidates face a considerable number of security threats, including physical harm, intimidation and harassment, which deter women from taking part equally in the political process.

Nevertheless, when more women run for office, more women win. As a symbol of the growing recognition that women have more to offer in politics is Suzanne Silantoi Lengewa, a candidate at age 23. She is a communications professional who ran for office as Senator of Nairobi in the August 2017 election as an independent candidate. Until 2017, not one woman had been elected in Kenya’s history as a Senator. In an environment where the cards are stacked against women, stepping up to run for office as a female in East Africa is commendable.

Suzanne’s Campaign

Suzanne chose to run out of the desire to give young people – over half of Kenya’s population – more of a voice in Parliament.

“I know first-hand what it means to live in this country as a young person. I see hundreds of young people desperate for hope; the assurance that tomorrow will bring better fortunes than today and the desire to be who God made them to be. I heard of people who had changed their societies through the courage to step out. And it occurred to me that while I waited for the world to give me opportunities, the world itself waited for me to make a move. I was the change I had been waiting for.”

While Ms. Lengewa did not win her seat, she garnered nearly 30,000 votes on a grassroots campaign budget, establishing a solid social media following, and now serves as a more visible advocate for youth and women’s empowerment. And good news for Kenya, she’s decided she will run again!

Keep up with Suzanne to see where this woman is going in the world!
2017 Campaign Website

Listen to this Episode

The Journey Begins

So you want to start a podcast? Apparently everyone and their grandma seems to be on the path to a podcast these days. For me, it’s a brave new world. And one that is not without some complications. Working in international development you are expected to be behind the scenes. This is perfectly reasonable given the sensitivities of the countries we are operating in and the delicate diplomacy required to ensure support for (and funding of) democracy development. But this approach is antiquated, and adds to confusion about how to fight for democracy, and why it’s important to do so.  

As we see the world shift on its axis with the rise of alienating and exclusionary populism and the resurfacing of dictator tendencies, even in Western democracies, I have to ask myself, what role am I playing? Am I doing all I can to shine a light on the change I believe in? If “democratic development” is so behind the scenes, maybe we are part of the problem.

I’m launching this podcast to give voice, literally, to women’s participation and activism, one facet of the democracy development necessary to get us out of this deepening hole, which, I would point out, we are in partly due to the crisis of masculinity and lack of gender equality (more on that nugget later).

I am privileged to have gotten access to some of the most brave and wise women in the world, working hard to improve the lives of their country and communities. I have worked side-by-side with them, learned from them, challenged them. But this is the first time I am creating a product from this experience for a wider, public audience. So bear with me as we figure it out together.

I am going to weave a bit of my experience and observations about this work into topics that are relatable, and core to who we are and what change is needed across the globe to do better, be better, and to fight for what I believe is possible. I believe that there is a better world for women and girls to be created – no matter the cultural constructs that prevent this, or the discomfort of the leaders of international development who prefer that we navigate this work more quietly, behind the scenes.

It’s time ladies, for us to be heard and for our ideas and experience to be forefront. Enough being behind the scenes, let’s start speaking loader and more boldly about who we are and what we believe. I hope you will join me on this journey!

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