International Day of Democracy

Editorial spotlight: International Day of Democracy 2017

Date: Thursday, September 14, 2017

Democracy, sustainable peace and conflict prevention cannot be achieved if women—half of the population—are left behind. This year's International Day of Democracy (15 September) theme, “Democracy and Conflict Prevention”, calls for “strong leadership to support democracy, strengthen civil society, empower women and uphold the rule of law”.

See infographic on women in leadership »

Democracy goes hand in hand with women’s rights

Despite women’s leadership and their right to participate in democracy, there is still a wide-underrepresentation of women in politics and decision-making around the world, with women accounting for only 23.4 per cent of parliamentarians around the world and less than one-third of women holding senior and middle-management positions. Laws affecting women’s rights and women’s bodies are being made in Parliaments dominated by men. Women should have an active voice in policies that affect them, and their leadership is indispensable for preventing conflicts and building resilient societies. UN Women is working with countries to end discriminatory laws, policies and attitudes that are holding women and girls back.

Women leading political progress

Despite slow progress, across the world women are working hard to change the political landscape.

In the African continent this year, hundreds of women are running for office.

Coumba Diaw. Photo: UN Women/Assane Gueye

“They said that a woman couldn’t run for elections. They said that a widowed woman couldn’t be a Mayor…I have proved them all wrong.”

Coumba Diaw grew up hearing women couldn’t run for elections. Today, she is the only women Mayor in the Louga region of Senegal. Read more »

Christine Juah Settor Dennis, an aspirant of a legislative seat in the Liberia 2017 elections. Photo: UN Women/Winston Daryoue

“I understand the issues in my electoral district— we don’t have many teachers; the roads are damaged and our healthcare system is poor. I know how to convince my constituents that working together, we can derive better solutions when I am elected to represent them.”

In October 2017, Liberians will head to the polls to vote, as President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female Head of State, completes her second and final term tenure this year. Thirty-seven-year Christine Juah Settor Dennis is running for a parliamentary seat. Read more »

Women aspirants for political positions in Kenya exchange ideas at the UN Women Kenya supported capacity strengthening platform that brought together aspirants for the various political positions. Photo: UN Women/ Kennedy Okoth

“I am going door to door, campaigning to urge women and youth to vote for me. Our time is now or never.”

In Kenya, women ran for county elections, and UN Women and partners worked to change the attitudes of the traditional leaders. When Abdia Gole, 33, first announced her decision to run for political office, people in her community ridiculed her. The Council of Elders, who are the traditional leaders of the community and have the ultimate say in such matters, also disapproved Gole’s intentions. Read more »

The new Tunisian Constitution for the first time includes a clause guaranteeing women’s rights, an unprecedented milestone for gender equality. Among the people who brought this Constitution to life was women’s rights activist Mehrezia Maïza Labidi.

Mehrezia Maïza Labidi. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

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

“Women in politics are still women,” says Ms. Labidi . “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.” Read more »

In Europe and Central Asia, women have been scaling-up their political participation from the local to the national level.

A woman voting on election day, 25 June 2017. Photo: UN Women/Violana Murataj

“I hope that [women] will be part of decision-making, fight for more policies for women’s economic and social empowerment, and not remain mere numbers in the new Parliament!”

In the recently concluded national elections, Albania reached a new milestone with 28 per cent of women parliamentarians. Albanian Member of Parliament Albana Vokshi has been elected for the third consecutive time, and is a strong advocate for women shaping policies and decisions. Read more»

Taalaigul Isakunova, Minister of Labour and Social Development of the Kyrgyz Republic, is congratulates Nuriya Temirbek kyzy for being elected as a deputy of a local council. Photo: UN Women/Meriza Emilbekova

“I realized that I could make a difference and help bring about positive change, not only within my family, but also in my community.”

Nuriya Temirbek kyzy, a 40-year-old mother of three from Naryn, in central Kyrgyzstan, used to be a housewife. Although she worked all day, taking care of her family, she had less decision-making power since she didn’t earn an income. Today, she has been elected as a member of the Ak-jara village local council, where she actively advocates for women’s rights. Read more »

In Asia and the Pacific, women are breaking gender stereotypes and making democracies stronger.

Barbara Garma Soares, from Suku Sau, is one of 21 women elected Xefe Suku (Village Chief) in local elections in Timor-Leste. Photo credit: UN Women/Corinne Roberts

“It’s vital to shift community opinion, to show people that women are not just wives and mothers, but capable leaders at all levels.”

In Timor-Leste, despite never having a woman lead their community as Village Chief before, the villagers of Suku Sau were won over by Barbara Garma Soares. Read more »

A woman in Nepal speaks up at an event contesting local polls. Photo: UN Women

“I am contesting the upcoming election with my headscarf on, duly following the advice of my mother-in-law. But I have offered my full support to my daughter-in-law to contest the polls without the scarf”

In Nepal, women contested for leadership roles to put an end to socio-economic and cultural discrimination against women. Read more »

In Latin America, women’s leadership and political participation is combating machismo and building peace.

Lucía del Socorro Basante

“I was scared to become a candidate, despite all my years of experience as a lawyer. The fear that male councillors will raise their voices, the fear of not being capable, of being in men’s territory. More is demanded of us [as women]”

Colombia has made headlines in the last year for the implementation of the peace agreement with the FARC, slowly putting an end to more than half a century of conflict and instability. But achieving gender equality is central to sustainable peace. Lucía del Socorro’s story tells us how she overcame the societal barriers impairing women running for office. Read more »