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Last edited: December 24, 2013

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  • Mitigate risks associated with promoting women’s participation and leadership. Efforts to engage women must be designed strategically in order to reduce possible dangers. 
    • Know the political, social, and community context, and assess where and how backlash against women might occur.
    • Engage in awareness raising, community mobilization and social norms campaigns in tandem with efforts to increase women’s participation, and involve women in leadership positions throughout these campaigns (see section on social change and the Campaigns Module).
    • Engage men as allies. Identify and foster alliances with influential men who can work alongside to support the participation and leadership of women (USIP, 2011). (see the Men and Boys Module).
    • Design any women-led campaigns carefully. Initiatives that target sensitive issues must be mindfully planned, especially if they are led by women. For example, women-led campaigns to stop excessive alcohol consumption by men can focus on the effects of alcohol abuse on poverty, rather than on VAWG (Moser, 2007).  Focusing on benefits to the entire community can promote an atmosphere of collaboration between men and women.
    • Protect women who engage in the public and political arena. Put structures in place to provide extra protection to women leaders and politicians (USIP, 2011).
  • Support existing women’s organizations. Identify and facilitate women-led community-based initiatives (Moser, 2007).
    • Foster coalitions between women’s organizations, civil society coalitions, female politicians, and local leaders in the community (Bouta & Frerks, 2002).
    • Be aware when providing grants to women’s organizations, which can create competition and resentment by other organizations or individuals. Utilize public awareness campaigns and other social change initiatives to illustrate the need for – and benefits of – supporting women’s organizations.
    • Use – and monitor – the media as an avenue for supporting female role models, changing cultural norms and garnering public support for women’s participation and leadership (USIP, 2011). Monitor the media coverage of female leaders and advocate for fair and unbiased media representations (UNDAW and DESA, 2005).

Example: An example of successful coalition-building was the ‘Women’s Initiatives for Peace’ project in Colombia, aimed at creating a women’s agenda for peace to inform the national peace agenda. The project developed a methodology for reaching consensus and creating a ‘women’s movement for peace’ that brought together 22 civil society and trade unions between 2002–2004, with financial support from the Swedish International Development Agency. The diverse political, ideological, and experiential perspectives of the women made this a challenging task, but the consensus-building methodology relied on participatory tools across two distinct, interlinked stages: consensus was first reached within small groups, either by general verbal agreement or by brainstorming (listing) and ranking key issues. Small group decisions were then taken to plenary where the entire group voted. Two analytical concepts were critical: first, there was collective agreement that the basic issue uniting all Colombian women was their ‘exclusion.’ Second, a distinction was made between a ‘Basic Agenda’ around which all Colombian women could rally, and a ‘Maximum Agenda’ that provides space for diversity on issues such as ethnicity, race, class, or age.

The success of this methodology is illustrated by the fact that at a national meeting of 300 women, the participants were able to select twelve basic agenda points from an initial 600. These included the need to establish public policy on women’s human rights in order to promote a culture of non-violence and respect for diversity; democratic agrarian reform with an ethnic and gender perspective; and the direct and autonomous participation of women’s organizations in national and local political dialogue around conflict. The twelve proposals were signed in the National Senate by representatives of the 22 organizations.


Source: Excerpted from Moser, A. 2007. Women Building Peace and Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict-Affected Contexts NY: UNIFEM, p.4)

  • Ensure that women and girls are represented in their full diversity: for example, women with disabilities, lesbian/bisexual and transgender women, indigenous women, ethnic/ religious minorities, older women, adolescents, and mothers of children born of rape are often further silenced due to their marginalized identities. Special consideration must be given to the ways in which these women are excluded from participation in leadership and peacebuilding, and organizations representing marginalized women and girls must be consulted in order to promote their full participation throughout all phases of conflict. (For more information see Special Considerations for Marginalized Populations.)
  • Utilize quota systems that require minimum number of female participants in economic, public and political arenas.  Regularly monitor the gender composition of decision-making bodies and leadership structures, both in the community and in humanitarian agencies (USIP, 2011). Generate and disseminate sex-disaggregated data on all aspects of public and political participation (UNDAW, 2005). Quota systems should be used in tandem with public awareness campaigns promoting women’s participation and leadership.

Source: excerpted from Inter-Agency Standing Committee, 2006.Women, Girls, Boys and Men – Different Needs, Equal Opportunities: Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action.” p. 5.)

Example: UNHCR Ngara, Tanzania, instituted affirmative action measures to ensure that refugee women participated in decision-making structures equally with men. With these efforts women eventually held 50% of the positions in these structures in Ngara. Protection officers helped to ensure that women had equal access to decision-making structures. Dialogue was encouraged among all segments of the refugee population to ensure that they appreciated the value of incorporating and involving a substantial part of the population in decision-making (UNHCR, 2001).
  • Identify gaps in agency, community, and political structures where women’s inclusion is weak or nonexistent (Conaway, 2006). Empower women to engage with decision-makers in the community who may influence their rights and well-being, such as local leaders, traditional justice systems, legal systems, and police. 
    • Engage women locally. Establish safe forums where women can deliberate with other women about shared concerns, and then facilitate channels to relay women’s concerns and views to decision-making bodies.  For example, invite local leaders of representatives from municipalities to come to women’s centers to dialogue, answer questions from women, and hear their concerns (Moser, 2007). 
    • Engage women nationally, such as in the government. Women must be represented in parliament and have a voice in the areas of national budgets and economic policy, national defense, and other areas usually dominated by men (UNDAW, 2005).
  • Build women’s capacity through training and education.
    • Offer trainings to local women’s organizations and civil society coalitions in areas such as management, advocacy, leadership, human rights, legal issues, community mobilizing, and conflict management. 
    • Offer capacity-building seminars that instruct women on mediation, conflict management, negotiating theory and practices.
    • Provide training to local female politicians to increase their knowledge in a broad range of political topics and increase their access to key decision-makers (Bouta & Frerks, 2002).
    • Include representatives of local women’s groups in humanitarian actors’ information exchange networks and trainings to increase their participation and engagement, as well as to enrich the training received by humanitarian actors (IASC, 2006).
  • Address women’s particular needs, such as transportation, childcare, and supplemental income, to maximize their potential for meaningful participation (Conaway, 2006).
  • Use digital technology – such as mobile phones, email, websites, internet chat rooms, and video or radio streaming, when available – to exchange information, organize, network, mobilize, and facilitate dialogue among women in the community.  Such digital arenas can:
    • reach people who have limited mobility
    • provide safe spaces in situations where physical meeting spaces are risky
    • offer cost-effective alternatives to physical meeting spaces that often require far travel and accommodation
    • allow greater access to large amounts of information
    • provide opportunity for diverse and wide-spread skill sharing (Moser, 2007).
  • Engage the participation of girls in conflict prevention, early warning, peace and security and post-conflict recovery issues. 
    • Expand school curricula to include training in leadership, VAWG, critical thinking, and peace education.
    • Create a Youth Parliament, focusing on the inclusion and training of girls in conflict prevention, peace-building, rights and responsibilities, and post-conflict recovery issues (The Liberia National Action Plan, 2009).
  • Ensure women’s participation and leadership throughout all phases of conflict. Engaging women in gender-sensitive early warning systems is as important in preventing violence as engaging women as leaders during the peacebuilding and reconstruction period.  Local women as well as female experts on conflict-related sexual violence must be involved throughout all phases to more effectively address the risk of violence during and after conflict (Bouta & Frerks, 2002; Vann, 2009).

Additional Resources

For the report of an expert group meeting examining the status of women as representatives in decision-making, and recommendations for implementing women’s participation and leadership, see: United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) and Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). 2005. “Equal Participation of Women and Men in Decision-Making Processes, with Particular Emphasis on Political Participation and Leadership.” Report of the Expert Group Meeting. New York: DAW and DESA.

UN Women Sourcebook on Women, Peace and Security (2013). This publication covers frameworks for implementing the women and peace and security resolutions; women’s engagement in conflict resolution; gender-responsive conflict prevention and protection; women’s participation in peacebuilding and recovery; and gender and transitional justice.  The Sourcebook is available in Arabic, English and French.

For a complete training curriculum in engaging women in social, economic and civic participation and leadership, see Women for Women International. 2011. “A Woman’s World Training Curriculum: Guiding Women’s Social, Economic, & Civic Participation Toward Active Citizenship.” Women for Women International.  

iKNOW Politics (the International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics) is a web-based capacity-building resource for women in politics, co-sponsored by UNWomen.  The website features an interactive network and resource base for women in politics to collaborate and share experience, resources and advice. For more see

See an example tool for monitoring quotas related to the SADC regional Protocol on Gender.

For a regional example of a report on gender audits of electoral lists and political processes, see the 50/50 Campaign from the European Women’s Lobby.