For gender justice to be sustainable, women need to be represented and to have voice and influence within public and political life and decision-making. This set of approaches works to build the leadership and collective strength of women and marginalized groups to increase their influence within political decision-making processes, whether as private citizens, civic activists or elected officials. Networking of diverse groups with an interest in political and social change and facilitating broad-based coalitions and movements is central to this approach.


Women’s leadership and networking in civic associations and popular social movements

These approaches seek to reform policies, laws, regulations and institutional practices that discriminate against women and prevent women’s access to equal rights, opportunities and resources. They also seek to help organize and catalyze collective action, develop the capacity of women leaders and organization, and amplify women’s voices and strategic action in order to increase women’s access to policy and decision-making process, In many cases, groups are more able to influence public and political decisions about rights and resources when they work together, and particularly in diverse alliances that bridge women from different geographic areas, classes, ethnicity and other identity groups. These approaches increase women’s collective strength and influence by helping them to network, either horizontally and/or vertically.

  • CARE implemented the Great Lakes Advocacy Initiative (GLAI) in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC to seek greater protection against gender-based violence (GBV) for women and girls in the Great Lakes region (as set out in UNSCR 1325) by increasing capacity and catalyzing links between grassroots communities, national civil society organisations and policy makers at the national, regional and international levels. GLAI helped to develop grassroots activism and connected grassroots activists with policy audiences. Many activists themselves are survivors of GBV. GLAI also developed systems to collect data on GBV cases for purposes of tracking and advocacy. Men were engaged to lead dialogues on GBV, model gender-equitable behaviors, and support women to promote their empowerment.[1]
  • GROOTS Kenya has facilitated women in self-help groups coming together to share ideas and experiences, network with one another, and find ways to influence local decision making and planning. It also supports women to stand for election to local committees and participate effectively in them, and engages men to be supportive. A taskforce of constituents and leaders was set up to meet regularly and advocate for work related to women’s rights and priorities, and watchdog groups were set up to ensure implementation of agreements made (i.e. on women’s land rights).[2]
  • The Women-Headed Families Empowerment Program (PEKKA) in Indonesia came out of the National Commission to Stop Violence against Women, which documented the lives of widows in Aceh. Based on this analysis, PEKKA mobilized women household heads into village-level savings groups. These groups are networked at district and national levels to build collective organizing, and meet annually, with group leaders meeting every 3-4 months. In addition to supporting group savings, PEKKA supports women’s popular education to build critical consciousness among women, strengthen participatory management and planning skills, and support positive communication and collective leadership skills. As a group, PEKKA engages local government staff to recognize the problems women household heads face, and also engage in direct actions with the government. Recognizing their own leadership capabilities and seeing the failures in traditional leadership in their villages, a number of members have pursued formal leadership positions within their communities.[3]
  • The Asociación de Hombres Contra la Violencia (AHCV, or Association of Men Against Violence/AMAV) in Nicaragua evolved from a focus on enabling personal change in men to a more public and political stance on addressing GBV. AHCV’s strategies in this area are evolving, and include strengthening cross-movement alliances with women’s organizations and proactively monitoring legislation and public policy that address and shape GBV outcomes. The movement is also undertaking training with men in political power, including the police and the judiciary. Activists are also participating in government committees on program design and engaging with civil society to design, apply and monitor local development plans.[4]
  • CARE in Latin America has been working with associations and federations of domestic workers to promote their right to dignified work since 2010. CARE established partnerships in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Guatemala and engaged in research, exchange of experiences and capacity building with the objective of influencing public policies and improving the lives of more than 10 million domestic workers across the region.[5]

What does the evidence indicate?

These approaches have been successful at elevating policy issues and pressing for legal and policy solutions by: generating data and information that more authentically reflects women’s realities; linking women and their experiences to policy makers and policy spaces; helping to strengthen women’s organisations, networks and coalitions, fostering women’s leadership, and amplifying their collective voice and political influence.

  • Data on GBV cases gathered under the auspices of GLAI, and analyzed at the grassroots level, was used to flag problems and focus attention on issues like the relationship between alcoholism and GBV in Uganda. Data has increased the pressure for policy makers to act; in Rwanda, it has also encouraged women to report cases of GBV. This data has also provided the impetus for national advocacy campaigns. Including the voices of activists who are survivors of GBV has had a powerful impact in national dialogues and in international spaces like the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The engagement of men has begun to transform men’s attitudes in communities. In Uganda, women activists have moved into leadership positions in local government (at sub-county, parish and district levels); women activists have been elected into local office in Rwanda and Burundi as well. GBV-related national legislation moved forward in all four countries.[6]
  • GROOTS Kenya’s experiences indicates that women involved in self-help groups gained confidence and agency to pursue their rights, and developed the skills they needed to engage in governance dialogues at the community level. Evaluative research found that watchdog groups were effective in securing land rights and resettlement of widows. Provincial officials appreciated the mapping and research conducted by the watchdog groups and their collaborative, reconciliatory approach (over the adversarial legal system). The vigilance of watchdog groups also had a preventive effect against property disinheritance and property grabbing, by encouraging greater community ownership with respect to resolving social issues.[7] A review of GROOTS Kenya also found that, as a network, it helped ‘grassroots’ women to build their own cultural identity, solidarity with one another, and visibility in local to international forums.[8]
  • PEKKA experiences have found growing leadership among women household heads, strong organizing for more transparent leadership, and more responsiveness to women heads of family in villages and nationally. PEKKA members report gaining knowledge, information and networks through their membership. A number of women have run for government positions, and some now hold village-level leadership roles. In addition, Indonesia passed policies that support women heads of families and their rights within the past five years. PEKKA has also seen women heads of family gaining power to access and manage local government funds, promote greater transparency and participation in government processes, and build strong relationships with local government representatives.[9]
  • Men’s engagement in AHCV initiatives had a profound effect on their relationships with women. An impact study carried out by CANTERA showed that men who underwent training and awareness raising had adopted gender-sensitive attitudes, and changes in their behavior were evident in the healthier relationships they developed with their wives and children. AHCV has also formalized alliances with women’s movement groups, though stronger political agendas and coalition work are needed for change in structures and institutions remain limited and more work is needed.{10]
  • Through alliances with women’s associations at national and regional level and the strengthening of a regional network focused on domestic workers, CARE has pressed for important changes in national legislations and contributed to the ratification of the ILO Convention 189 (protecting the rights of domestic workers) to be ratified in Ecuador and Bolivia. This has been possible through in-depth research on issues affecting domestic workers, information and education campaigns, effective use of the concept of gender based division of labor, and capacity building of local women’s associations.[11]

1. WayFair Associates. (2013, December 16). The Great Lakes Advocacy Initiative: Final Edition.
2. Farnworth, C., Sundell, M. F., Nzioki, A., Shivuste, V., & Davis, M. (2013). Transforming Gender Relations in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 70
3. Wakefield, S. (2017). Transformative and Feminist Leadership for Women's Rights. Research Backgrounder series. Oxfam America.
4. Welsh, P. (2010). Community development: a gendered activism? The masculinities question. Community Development Journal, 45(3), 297-306. doi:10.1093/cdj/bsq023
5. CARE International - Latin America/Caribbean (2017). Dignified work: by shedding light on women's work, we contribute to their autonomy and empowerment.
4. WayFair Associates. (2013, December 16). The Great Lakes Advocacy Initiative: Final Edition.
5. Welsh, P. (2010). Community development: a gendered activism? The masculinities question. Community Development Journal, 45(3), 297-306. doi:10.1093/cdj/bsq023
6. WayFair Associates. (2013, December 16). The Great Lakes Advocacy Initiative: Final Edition.
7. Farnworth, C., Sundell, M. F., Nzioki, A., Shivuste, V., & Davis, M. (2013). Transforming Gender Relations in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, p. 70
8. Okech, A. (2008). GROOT Kenya. In Changing Their World: Concepts and Practices of Women’s Movements (1st ed., pp. 1-17). Toronto: Association of Women's Rights in Development (AWID).
9. Wakefield, S. (2017). Transformative and Feminist Leadership for Women's Rights. Research Backgrounder series. Oxfam America.
10. Welsh, P. (2010). Community development: a gendered activism? The masculinities question. Community Development Journal, 45(3), 297-306. doi:10.1093/cdj/bsq023
11. CARE International - Latin America/Caribbean (2017). Dignified work: by shedding light on women's work, we contribute to their autonomy and empowerment.


Strengthening women’s leadership, networks and engagement in electoral politics

In addition to organizing, mobilization and participation in social accountability processes, women can also influence public and political decision-making from inside government, as elected representatives or civic servants. Women’s representation in public bodies is a human right and, in most countries, a statutory right, and is also essential to ensure that public decision-making, policy and service reflect the women’s diverse experiences, needs and interests.

  • In Niger, CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Programme works with village loan and savings groups (Matu Masu Dubara (MMD), or Women on the Move) to support women’s empowerment, including their participation and influence within community decision-making and formal politics. In addition to supporting economic empowerment and women’s networking and social mobilization, the programme has also worked with the MMD federation to increase the number of women in elected, including training potential candidates for the municipal council, supporting them through their campaigns and once creating networks between women once elected, and dialogue with political parties. [1]
  • Rupantar, a Bangladeshi NGO, has been supporting Grassroots Women’s Leadership in Khulna district for the past 20 years. The project works to empower poor women and develop their collective and individual leadership skills and influence over local government decision-making, to improve rights and services for women and the poorest. The project does this in two main ways: setting up women’s collectives (Nari Bikas Kenras) and supporting their engagement with local government processes; and enabling women from the collectives to contest for in local government elections in both the seats reserved for women and in open seats (i.e. the projects also engage with male family members (i.e. through couples training), local leaders and institutions to generate support for women’s leadership and mitigate backlash [2].


What does the evidence indicate?

The evidence base on whether and how women’s political representation contributes to social norm change and to improving social welfare, public goods, and to improved development outcomes for women more broadly is still developing. Examples of positive linkages include:

  • In addition to positive changes in women’s ownership and control of assets, in areas where CARE’s Women’s Empowerment Program has activities in Niger, women from the Mata Masu Dubara (MMD) groups/federation are twice as likely to participate in community decision-making as other women, there is now a strong presence of women in community committees (i.e.. school management, health, education and water committees) and women reported an increase in their participation over the four years of the program (2009 and 2013) in village and communal councils (from 8% to 13% of women surveyed) and in political parties (from 21% to 33%). The program has had a significant impact on women’s participation in formal political institutions. The number of MMD members competing in municipal council elections has almost doubled from 112 candidates in 2004 to 279 in 2011 and the number winning seats has increased three-fold, from 45 councillors in 2004 to 140 in 2011. In areas where the program operates, half of the female municipal councillors were [are?] MMD members. Four women who were part of the MMD federation have also been elected as Member of Parliament (out a total of 29 women MPs) and another as an adviser in the Niamey City Council [3].
  • Through the Grassroots Women’s Leadership project in Bangladesh, Rupantar has supported the emergence of 32 independent women’s collectives (Nari Bikas Kenras, NBKs) in Khulna district, each with committees at ward and Union Parishad levels and a total of 55,000 members. NBK members have successfully competed in elections for informal and community committees, such as school management, bazaar, and local service committees (104 members winning executive positions and 960 in general member positions). In the 2011 elections NBK women won reserved seats, 1 general seat, 1 chair at Union Parishad level, and one vice-chair position at Upazila Parishad. In the 2016 elections, women supported by NBKs won 77 out of 96 of the Union Parishad reserved seats they contested. NBK is now a recognised social movement in Khulna, advocating for women and the ultra-poor and producing tangible outcomes, including direct impacts on 5,000 extreme poor women’s livelihoods through their access to safety net services and an increase in access to assets for at least 80,000 poor women and men through better targeting of a range of training and services [4]
  • In India, since 1993 a third of village council leaders positions have been reserved for women. As these councils are randomly selected, this sets up a natural experiment for assessing the impact of women’s leadership on public policy choices. In West Bengal and Rajasthan, councils headed by women were found to invest more in public good that benefit women, such as water, sanitation and roads [5]. In West Bengal and Kolkata, exposure to women council leaders for two electoral cycles had a significant positive role modelling effecting, closing the gender gap in aspirations for children by 25% in parents and 32% for adolescents [6].
  • At state level in India, women’s representation is positively associated with reduced neo-natal mortality [7]
  • A quantitative analysis of Brazilian municipalities found that those with a woman mayor is awarded more federal transfers and that less educated women have better health outcomes (fewer women without pre-natal visits, fewer premature births) than those led by a man [8].

1. Rodway, F. (2015) Women’s Economic Program Niger (2009-2013): Evaluation. Oslo: International Law and Policy Institute.
2. Hobley, M. and Dey, A. (2013) Mid-Term Review of Grassroots Women’s Leadership Rupantar; Castillejo, C., Myrttinen, H., O’Neil, T. and Robinson, K. (2016) Review of the practice of donor support to gender equality and women’s rights in fragile and conflict-affected states (forthcoming OECD, 2017).
3. Rodway, F. (2015) Women’s Economic Program Niger (2009-2013): Evaluation. Oslo: International Law and Policy Institute.
4. Hobley, M. and Dey, A. (2013) Mid-Term Review of Grassroots Women’s Leadership Rupantar; Rupantar (2016) UP Election 2016: Focusing Women Candidacy. Grassroots Women’s Leadership Project and SDC (unpublished).
5. R. Chattopadhay and E. Duflo (2004) ‘Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India’, Econometrica 72 (5): 1409-1442)
6. L. Beaman, E. Duflo, R. Pande and P. Topalova (2011) ‘Female Leadership Raises Aspirations and Educational Attainment for Girls: A Policy Experiment in India’, Science Magazine.
7. Bhalotra, S. and Clots-Figueras, I. (2011) Health and the Political Agency of Women. Bonn: Institute of Labour Studies.
8. Brollo, F. and Troiano, U. 2012 What happens when a women wins a close election? Evidence From Brazil.


Supporting women’s individual and collective action in value chains

Linked to women’s economic empowerment, one strand of work has focused on supporting women’s skills and collective power and linkages for enhancing livelihoods:

  • The Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment Project (SHEP), implemented through the Ministry of Agriculture, the Horticultural Crops Development Authority and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2006–2009, was implemented in an area of Kenya where women performed some 80% of the labor on food crops and 50-60% of the labor on commercial crops, yet did not benefit commensurately. The project sought to link women and men smallholder farmers to stakeholders like input suppliers, agro-processors, transporters, etc. It also deepened awareness of gender issues among stakeholders. Equal numbers of men and women farmers attended a one-week residential training that included gender awareness as well as concepts like market surveys, democratic crop selection and agro-processing.[1]
  • Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) is a community-led empowerment methodology for life and livelihood planning, collective action and gender advocacy for change; it supports a change of power relations vis-à-vis service providers, private sector stakeholders and government bodies. GALS starts with women and men as individuals, and helps them map a personal vision for change in their lives. Diagram tools are used to help people think through how to get from their current situation to their goals; a key focus is breaking through gender-based barriers that keep women and men from achieving their goals. A “gender balance tree” is used to analyze gender inequalities. The model can scale up through a community to form collective visions. The highly participatory processes and visual tools make the concepts easy to follow, even for people who don’t read or write. Since GALS is flexible, it can be adapted to value chain development, for example, using market and value chain maps, and business road journeys.[2]

What does the evidence indicate?

These approaches have helped to enhance women’s economic participation and to increase the value secured by participating in economic roles, including strengthening their resilience and capacity to cope during crises, as well as women’s engagement and leadership in community issues.

  • SHEP final evaluation indicated that farmer incomes doubled (between May 2007 and October 2009) and income parity between men and women improved (the discrepancy was 31.1% in favor of men at the beginning, and 14.9% in favor of men two years later).[3]
  • Using the GALS approach, some communities have been motivated to form new organizations, for example, to address male alcoholism. Often, a key realization of men and women participants is that, without equitable households with a balanced gender tree, no one can move forward. The advantages of collaboration at a household level were quickly apparent. Coffee sorters, all of whom are women, receive more money daily in recognition of the importance of their role to quality control. Some members of the community are registering customary joint land (husband-wife) agreements with the Land Board, and for the first time, fathers have agreed to include daughters in their plans for inheritance. People also reported increased male participation in child care, drawing water and cooking. Rates of GBV have fallen considerably; violent disputes were previously tied to arguments over income and expenditure. Alcohol consumption, a major drain on household funds, has decreased.[4]

1. Farnworth, C., Sundell, M. F., Nzioki, A., Shivuste, V., & Davis, M. (2013). Transforming Gender Relations in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa.
2. Farnworth, C. R. and Akamandisa, V. (2011). Report on Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) Approach to Value Chain Development in Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Microfinance Ltd, Uganda. Oxfam Novib and GIZ.
3. Farnworth, C., Sundell, M. F., Nzioki, A., Shivuste, V., & Davis, M. (2013). Transforming Gender Relations in Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa.
4. Farnworth, C. R. and Akamandisa, V. (2011). Report on Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) Approach to Value Chain Development in Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Microfinance Ltd, Uganda. Oxfam Novib and GIZ.

Cross-Agency Consortia for Advancing Rights 

  • In Peru, CARE played a lead role in creating and facilitating the Child Nutrition Initiative (CNI) to combat child malnutrition. CNI brought together 16 organizations – spanning donors, NGOs, UN agencies and research institutions – to advocate for nutrition to be central to the Peruvian government’s commitment to fight poverty.[1]

What does the evidence indicate?

  • CNI’s work in Peru effectively pooled coalition members’ financial and technical resources to evaluate the government’s positions and secure cooperation from elected officials. For example, it secured a “5 by 5 by 5” pledge from all ten presidential candidates to reduce malnutrition in children under 5 by 5% in 5 years. CNI maintained the pressure on President Garcia, once he was elected, and resulting in his increasing the pledge to reduction of malnutrition by 9% with a focus on children under 3. As a result of sustained attention and action, the “5 by 5 by 5” target was met, and chronic infant malnutrition reduced by 50% in 7 years, preventing 430,000 children from becoming malnourished.[2]

1. CARE (not published). CARE & Nutrition: Policy change to end malnutrition in all its forms.
2. CARE (August 2016). Nourish and Flourish: Evidence for Impact to End Malnutrition.