Feminism and Participatory Democracy: Increasing Women’s Involvement In Local Politics

by Participation Factory

Women’s voices have long been neglected in the past. Historically, women have often been limited in their rights and their involvement in public affairs and education while their work opportunities have been hindered by social norms and laws. It took centuries before women were able to gain the right to vote and open the way to active participation in the political arena. And that was just the beginning. A lot has changed since then. Nevertheless, the issue of women’s equality and their participation in decision-making processes at the political level is still relevant today.

Rio de Janeiro was the first Brazilian city to establish a Secretariat for Women’s Policies and
Promotion. It is not surprising, then, that it was in Rio that the International Observatory for Participatory Democracy (IOPD) held a virtual meeting called “Municipal Feminism: Towards the Political Participation of Women in All Their Diversity” this spring. This event was the first in a series of three virtual meetings in preparation for the 22nd IOPD Conference, with the theme “Participatory Democracy for Diverse, Inclusive and Transparent Cities,” to be held November 6-8, 2023 also in Rio de Janeiro.

The online meeting was divided into two panels. The first panel focused on “Gender equity in public policies and leadership,” and the second panel showcased best practices regarding local feminist participatory democracy methods. The IOPD created a virtual space for dialogue to share municipal and regional experiences and deepen knowledge of gender-responsive and feminist practices in participatory democracy policies within local and regional governments. 

The primary objective of the meeting was to explore the concept of participatory democracy, which seeks to ensure gender equality in local politics and leadership. In this way, important changes can be achieved. They would allow for the inclusion not only of women but also of other population groups that are often excluded (e.g. children, seniors, people with disabilities, etc.).

A further aim was to put the combination of feminism and participatory democracy on the agenda and to explore how a feminist approach broadens democratic participation and improves policies at the local and regional levels. For this reason, a number of local women activists were convened, and their experiences on the topic enriched the discussion and guaranteed representation of different contexts and areas.

Although different countries around the world face different challenges, strategies to increase women’s participation can – taking into account the local situation – work everywhere. What are these strategies?

  • Awareness-raising campaigns: Information and awareness-raising campaigns can help remove barriers and motivate women to participate in the political process.
  • Development programmes: Providing programmes to develop women’s political skills and knowledge will help build their confidence and competencies.
  • Introducing gender quotas: Setting quotas for women’s representation in political office can be an effective way to address imbalances.
  • Encouraging networks: Creating a space for mutual support and exchange of experiences among women in politics can be very motivating.
  • Mentoring and coaching: Setting up mentoring and coaching programmes can help new women politicians and political actors to grow and develop.

Including women in political processes at the local level will lead to richer and more inclusive outcomes. Key ideas such as diversity of perspectives, overcoming gender stereotypes, mentoring, education support and work-life balance offer us a direction that will lead us towards this goal. Selected strategies such as awareness-raising campaigns, development programmes, the introduction of quotas and support networks can play an important role in promoting women’s active participation in local politics. In this way, we can work together to create a better and more inclusive political environment regardless of where we are in the world.


Source: IOPD POLICY PAPER Municipal Feminism: Towards the Political Participation of Women in all their Diversity (oidp.net)