Providing inclusive mechanisms and processes that ensure effective representation of the views, interests and needs of all citizens – men as well as women - is crucial to the functioning of political parties as without inclusivity parties inevitably lack legitimacy and representativeness. Women participation and involvement in party decision-making is usually measured by the number of women in leadership positions or the degree to which party policy proposals include gender considerations.
With Myanmar`s general elections around the corner, the discussion on gender equality in political parties has shifted towards the campaign period and the final phase of the electoral cycle. How many women will be selected as party candidates for the Union and the State/Region level? To which degree will women wing of parties be involved in campaigning and mobilizing? Will women campaign managers run campaigns for their party`s candidates or will campaign management be left to senior male leaders of the contesting parties? Recent experiences in Myanmar show the various challenges: only about 10 percent of the overall Members of Parliament are women – in both the national and state/regional legislatures. Women`s chances to be selected as a candidate to compete for their party in elections are significantly lower than their male counterparts. In the 2018 by-elections only seven out of 69 candidates were female and none of the female candidates were elected.
Against this background, STEP Democracy puts a strong focus on working with political parties to empower and enable women politicians to increase women`s political involvement and find strategies to use throughout the electoral cycle. With the 2020 general elections due in the coming year, STEP Democracy has initiated a comprehensive capacity development programme for women politicians that focuses on campaign management skills. Targeting female candidates, campaign managers and volunteer coordinators, the project aims to build skills relevant for the different stages of campaign management.
A recent workshop organized by STEP Democracy and implemented by the Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD) took place in Monywa, Sagaing Region, and brought together women politicians from parties contesting in constituencies in Sagaing and Mandalay Regions next year. Between 9 and 12 December 2019, participants learned how to design and fill an E-Minus Calendar that serves as the major strategic framework for the management of campaigns. At the end of the workshop, participants presented a generic campaign management strategy that they had jointly developed in working groups. Also, techniques to craft a campaign message for various audiences and by using several communication strategies were presented and practiced.
STEP Democracy will continue to work closely with political parties on this topic as campaign management skills were identified by high-level women politicians across parties as the most pragmatic and effective way to enhance women`s participation in the electoral cycle. This approach tackles one particular challenge women politicians face on a regular basis: senior party officials often dismiss calls for more women representation by referring to a lack of technical capacity.
Acknowledging the value of such capacity enhancing activities, one participant of the workshop in Monywa said: "I learnt how to develop a comprehensive campaign plan for my candidate. As I will be a campaign manager next year, I am now aware of my role and responsibilities and what tools I can use to manage the campaign of my fellow sister”.
Another participant who is likely to run for a seat on the regional level next year, stated that “as I am very likely going to run for regional parliament in the upcoming 2020 election, it was very useful to specifically learn about what I should do at which stage of my campaign as well as how to properly develop an overall campaign budget”.