Women's Empowerment

Empowering women to play an active role in their communities and take on leadership roles.

Why Our Work Matters

We believe that a full and robust democracy depends on the equal participation of women. When women participate as decision makers, the economic and social well-being of their country grows, and more inclusive governing and peace building processes take root. Yet, millions of women continue to struggle for the rights to vote, run for office or serve as leaders in public life. 

Through our programs, we increase the participation of women in political processes and help them gain the skills needed to take on greater leadership roles in government, political parties and civil society.

What Our Work Does

To increase women’s participation in political processes, our work:

  • Connects women around the world so they are able to share experiences, and learn and support each other;
  • Develops the leadership skills of women;
  • Strengthens the ability of women to compete in elections;
  • Strengthens the ability of women elected officials to govern democratically; and
  • Increases the role of women in peace and security initiatives.

Connect Women Around the World
Through our Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) and our Arab Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI), we connect women to their best resource: one another

With active WDN members in more than 60 countries and country chapters in Albania, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cameroon, Georgia, Guatemala, Jordan, Kenya, Moldova, Peru, Russia, Uganda and Ukraine, WDN leads our efforts to empower women politically. 

WDN strengthens the skills of aspiring women leaders by targeting three areas of women’s political empowerment:

  • Motivate women to pursue political activism by building their confidence and raising their awareness of the importance of political participation;
  • Empower women who are seeking elected office by providing them the tools needed to run effective campaigns which reflect the concerns of their constituents; and
  • Help women elected officials to govern democratically and effectively.  

Led by an executive board of prominent Arab and American women leaders, AWLI uses a unique, cross-regional approach to provide intensive training workshops in leadership, advocacy, management and governance to women of diverse backgrounds and experience levels.  Through our AWLI program, we ensure Arab women civil society advocates, as well as elected and appointed officials, have the confidence and know-how to fulfill their duties as citizens and civil servants.

Support Women’s Leadership Development
Through WDN, AWLI and our in-country programs, we provide women with the tools and skills needed to advance in leadership and decision-making roles.  Our skills-building workshops, mentorship and international networking opportunities offer women the support they need to be successful in decision-making roles.

Women’s Leadership Schools are one of WDN’s key initiatives to support leadership development.  The unique curriculum of the schools enables WDN members and local partners to take charge of women’s empowerment efforts in their countries.  This local ownership ensures the sustainability and broader reach of our work.  Piloted through WDN’s country chapters in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Georgia and Guatemala, today the leadership schools have expanded to every region of the world.

Strengthen the Ability of Women to Compete in Elections
In many countries, few women run for and win political office.  Through our work around the world, we offer workshops and training programs specifically designed for women candidates.  Workshops focus on successful campaign strategies, issue identification, voter outreach and get-out-the-vote techniques, communications skills and working with the media.

In Indonesia, our Winning With Women initiative inspired women candidates to change the status quo in their country.  Through this yearlong project, we worked with nearly 1,000 women candidates in five target provinces of Aceh, East Nusa Tenggara, North Sumatra, South Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara, as they vied for seats at the local, provincial and national levels. 

Strengthen the Ability of Women Elected Officials to Govern Democratically
Challenges that women elected officials must overcome are often caused by stereotypes and a lack of equal access to capacity building and resources.  Women public officials are frequently characterized as not having the same qualifications as their male counterparts or serving in their positions due only to quotas.  Although an unfair characterization, this perception can create obstacles for women, especially those holding office for the first time.

Through our women’s programs, we help strengthen the skills of female public officials and women’s caucuses.  Our work helps amplify the voices of an underrepresented population in the very decision-making bodies that design and pass laws that govern their lives.

Increase the Role of Women in Peace and Security Initiatives
In conflict and post-conflict countries, women can play an instrumental role in encouraging peace and reconciliation processes to occur.  Unfortunately, women are often excluded from the very processes that will bring stability to their countries and are denied seats at the negotiating table. 

Through WDN, we are increasing the participation of women in peacebuilding initiatives, negotiations and reconciliation processes.  We are helping Syrian women to serve as interlocutors, solve conflict and function as resources for timely information on the needs of their communities.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, we facilitated cross-border Track Two Dialogues between women, creating the Pak-Afghan Women’s Forum, a platform to actively address issues plaguing the two countries. 

Our Innovative Approach

Monitoring and Evaluation Strengthens Our Programs

We recognize that assessing the results of our women’s programs requires data collection tools that are rigorous, yet gender-aware – able to reflect women’s unique needs, perspectives and experiences when it comes to political and civic empowerment. We have developed a number of creative monitoring and evaluation approaches that accomplish this, while also addressing barriers, such as poverty, education, cultural norms, that can limit women’s participation in more traditional research and evaluation efforts.

Tools that we use include pre- and post-surveys to gauge women’s civic activism that include the often informal, but still meaningful, leadership roles that women play in their households and communities, as well as image-based discussion guides that ensure that all women, regardless of literacy levels, can fully participate in evaluation focus groups and interviews.

Using Technology to Enhance Our Work

Using online platforms and web-based training programs, we are able to connect women in different regions and countries to share experiences and learn from each other. Through WDN’s Leadership Trek (LTrek) online-portal, we provide individualized coaching and mentorship, and connect aspiring and experienced women leaders from around the world to strengthen their leadership skills.

Partnerships Ensure Programs are Sustainable

Through our partnerships with local organizations, women in the countries we work are playing a leading role in program development, ensuring our workshops and training initiatives are individualized and address their unique needs.

Our WDN country chapters bring together women representing different cultures and religions under one umbrella to address and overcome challenges facing women in their communities and countries. These country-based partnerships are central to increasing women’s participation in politics and civil society and are vital to the sustainability of broader women’s empowerment initiatives.

The generous support of individuals corporations enable IRI staff and volunteers to carry out its mission around the world. With your help, IRI will continue its mission of hope for decades to come.

IRI is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions are tax deductible

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