Five ways women are changing politics for the better around the world

Women represent half of the world’s population, but their representation in political spaces is far from equal. From the community to the global level, women are underrepresented in elected offices, decision-making and as voters.

This is only one side of the story.

On International Day of Democracy, we’re celebrating women around the world changing politics for the better. From running for office and rewriting laws to getting out to vote and supporting one another, women around the world are making their voices heard.

1) Running in (and winning) elections

Photo credit: UN Women/Corinne Roberts

In Timor Leste, 21 women were elected as Xefe Suku (Village Chiefs), in 2016’s nation-wide local elections, almost twice as many as in previous elections.

“I campaigned door-to-door. I didn’t make promises, but I said, if you choose me, we have to come together and we have to work together to develop our village. I can’t do it alone,” says Barbara Garma Soares, who was elected as Village Chief of Suku Sau.

With 70% of Timor Leste’s population living in isolated rural villages, village councils are the closest toand most important in communities.

In Kenya, Colombia and Nepal, women also made their mark in local elections. In Albania, a record-breaking number of women were elected as members of parliament.

2) Changing laws

Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

In 2014 Tunisia adopted a new constitution, which includes a clause guaranteeing women’s rights, a milestone for gender equality. Among the people who brought this Constitution to life was women’s rights activist Mehrezia Maïza Labidi.

“I chaired a majority of the plenary sessions on Tunisia’s new constitution,” she says. “It was my first time in politics, and I ended up writing a constitution!”

During the intense debates, Mehrezia kept her cool when a colleague said she couldn’t chair the session effectively just because she was a woman. She paused the session, called him back to her office for a disciplinary moment and then went on with the session.

On being a role model to young women in politics, Mehrezia says women to speak up and give their opinions, but also stay true to themselves.

“Women in politics are still women. We can laugh and be joyful and still be in politics. We do not want to be like men, we want to be ourselves and still engage effectively in politics.”

3) Getting out to vote

Photo: UN Women/Winston Daryoue

In Liberia, where President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female Head of State, is completing her second and final term, half of all registered voters are women.

For 43-year-old Annie W. Emmons, a private security officer and mother of four children, the October elections are an opportunity to vote for candidates who will address the pressing needs of her family and community, such as improving the healthcare and education systems and addressing the issue of violence against women, especially rape.

“All women need to vote for candidates with integrity who are able to speak for us,” Annie says.

The upcoming national election is the time to advance the gains made in promoting women’s political leadership. Liberian women are ready and eager to engage. Those who are advocating for inclusive politics have developed a new slogan from the local Kpelleh vernacular — ‘Kukaju’ — which means “we inside.”

4) Speaking up for underrepresented communities

Photo: UN Women/Meriza Emilbekova

Like most women in her rural community, Nuriya Temirbek kyzy, a 40-year-old mother of three worked all day, taking care of her family, but had less decision-making power since she didn’t earn an income.

Today, her situation is vastly different. In 2016 she was elected to local council in the in the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan.

After attending an economic empowerment training, Nuriya felt she could use her new skills to help other rural women.

“After the training, my view of life changed. I realized that I could also make a difference and help bring about positive change, not only within my family, but also in my community,” Nuriya says.

5) Empowering each other

Photo: UN Women/Assane Gueye

Coumba Diaw grew up hearing that woman didn’t belong in politics. But that never stopped her. She found inspiration in other women leaders in her country and worked closely with her community, educating women on issues of hygiene and reproductive rights, as well as working to help rural women with income-generating activities.

Now, she’s the only woman mayor in the Louga region of Senegal and she wants to use her experience to benefit other women in her community.

“One of my first actions was to install drinking water taps … This freed up women’s time that used to be spent fetching and collecting water from distant sources,” she says. “I also set up a weekly market for women to increase their income.”

Coumba is also working to make sure that women’s leadership is valued.

“I finished a training on women’s leadership and local governance. I will deliver the training to all the elected officials in my area so that they too see the value of women’s participation in public life and promote their leadership within institutions.”

See more about how UN Women is working to ensure women’s equal participation in politics and decision-making.