Empowering poor women to engage effectively in governance
Have you ever felt like no-one’s listening to you? How does it make you feel? Do you think it’s fair.....?
No, Oxfam doesn’t either.
Oxfam's Raising Her Voice (RHV) programme aims to strengthen the way in which women’s individual and collective voices influence decisions about services, investments, policies and legal frameworks so that worldwide, those in power - from village leaders to politicians and law-makers - become more accountable to them.
"Before, women didn’t participate in meetings, but now we are involved in school boards, where all members are women, and the development councils, where half of the members are women.” Project participant, Guatemala
From 2008-2013, a global Raising Her Voice programme, funded by the UK government’s Governance and Transparency Fund, supported projects in 17 countries worldwide* to enable over 1million women to take part in, shape and monitor the decisions that most affect their lives.
To do this, we worked alongside 45 local partners, 141 community activists groups and over 1,005 coalition members. This site aims to capture the individual and combined impact and learning from this rich and diverse programme experience. Highlights include:
1. More women in decision-making spaces – creating greater transparency and improved accountability
By the end of the RHV project in Papua, Indonesia, village development planning meetings were not only held publicly, but nearly half of participants were women, compared with five years ago when only men could take part. The RHV experience in Honduras also demonstrates the value that women add when they are able to participate in such forums:
"The women’s audit committee on public budgetary transparency and expenditure gradually gained the trust of the men. They saw that the women, even though their level of literacy was limited, were actually asking good questions about the budget and following the money like bloodhounds. The women were gaining real power and influence." Honduras
2. When women get together great things are possible – and they’re harder to ignore
Twenty years of research in 70 countries confirms that the number one strategy for combating violence against women is the power of a strong feminist movement.8 RHV has invested heavily in the growth and strengthening of women’s collective action at all levels – often across deeply embedded political, social and ethnic barriers. Our partners have established and supported 141 community activist groups and the coordination of 1,005 diverse coalition members.
“Our unity is our strength. For showing us where our strength lies, we would like to thank Raising Her Voice.” Project participant, Nepal
3. More public money that is better spent - and improved local services
In Nepal, some 89,000 people benefited from £42,524 of additional funding, because in villages where RHV worked with women leaders, an impressive 42% were able to positively influence village and district development committees, compared to just 2% in non-RHV villages.
4. Changing the rules of the game – tackling structural barriers to gender equality
RHV projects have carved out new models of cooperation between citizens and the state, creating more opportunities for the inclusion of women and other minorities in decision making. In Pakistan, members of our ‘50 Women Leaders Groups’ secured identity cards for 116,000 marginalised women enabling them to vote, travel and access social assistance funds for the very first time.
1,500 Women Leader Group members also developed a National Women’s Manifesto through widespread consultation to provide political parties with an unapologetic list of demands for ‘fairer’ rules of political engagement for women. The Manifesto included the call for elections to be declared null and void in constituencies where fewer than 10 per cent of registered voters were women.
In the run-up to the May 2013 elections, ‘in KP and FATA regions... where ANP party workers were found to have stopped their women from voting, the Women Leaders Group and Community Action Committee raised it with [party] leadership who consequently took action against those party leaders/workers who had stopped women from casting votes.' RHV Pakistan final evaluation.
5. Gains in tackling violence against women and girls and gender-based violence
Violence – and the fear of violence – is a significant barrier to women’s participation in decision-making spaces.12 Similarly, women leaders and activists risk violence from those fearful of their efforts to challenge the status quo. RHV partners and coalitions have contributed to a range of work to address violence against women including significant contributions to the passing of 10 new laws and seven draft laws (including femicide, acid throwing, domestic and sexual violence, FGM, trafficking) and the creation of courts mandated specially to deal with gender-based violence cases in Bolivia under the terms of the new Judicial Body Law.
Where we are now:
Although formal funding for RHV ended in March 2013, the programme continues to bring together a community of practice within Oxfam – and with practitioners and partners elsewhere - on women’s political participation, and to seek continued funding for new and existing projects.
New experiences of supporting and sustaining women’s political participation and influence continue to inform Oxfam’s thinking and practice – from support to informal social movements in fragile contexts from ‘Amal’ and ‘Lana’ programmes in the Middle East and North Africa; learning about support to women’s leadership in transitional contexts such as Myanmar, Somaliland and Chad; and work to challenge the structural causes of inequality in Central and South America.
This site aims to support continued learning, exchange and the documentation of both content and process learning from new and emerging political participation projects and programmes ...and to share these as widely as possible with others working in similar areas.
For more information or to share your experiences, contact Oxfam’s Gender and Governance Advisor, Emily Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Oxfam's 17 original Raising Her Voice projects were implemented alongside 45 local partners in Albania, Armenia, Bolivia, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras and a regional MERCOSUR campaign on domestic workers rights, in Indonesia (Papua and Aceh), Nepal and Pakistan. In Africa, RHV projects were established in the Gambia, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as a Pan African campaign to domesticate and implement the African Women’s Rights Protocol. For further details see the country case studies on our resources pages.
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