Empowering Women to Lead    
Diplomatic Courier
By Kerri Anderson

Imagine a woman civil society leader who spends time away from her family and uses her own funds to share her leadership skills with women in the far reaches of Burma. Imagine another woman who risks her life to attend workshops so that she can learn how she can bring peace and freedom to Syria. Imagine a member of parliament who locks arms with her colleagues blocking doorways until there is a vote on vital legislation that will impact the lives of countless women in Guatemala. Another woman brings her daughter to meetings so that daughter can see how empowered women, like her mother, are leading change in Georgia. Imagine a woman who states, “I will be president one day,” and makes you believe that it is unequivocally possible. These are Women’s Democracy Network members.

With an ever-increasing focus by the U.S. government and international community on how to break through barriers and effectively increase women’s political participation, the International Republican Institute’s Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) points to its network of members in 61 countries as women who are succeeding in these efforts. WDN members are pushing boundaries and redefining what is possible to achieve—serving in elected and appointed offices, leading community initiatives, sitting at peace negotiation tables; all while creating more space for women to participate.

“I am inspired by our members who are truly on the front lines every day working, voluntarily, to make the world a more equal and better place through transforming their countries and empowering others,” states Erika Veberyte, director of WDN.

Established in 2006, WDN initiatives have reached thousands of women in all regions of the world, connecting women to their peers and providing targeted skills-building trainings. Under the banner that women must help women, WDN members flourish with guidance and encouragement from mentors who have led the way. They learn from one another and are each other’s best resource.

“Before joining WDN in 2006, I had never thought of running for parliament. As a WDN member, I have learned a lot from other members around the world. We all need the support of someone who believes in us, and I found that in WDN,” states Tanja Tomich, member of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia.

WDN’s member-driven activities build upon each other, and can be replicated at the grassroots level, directly benefiting women around the world. One empowered WDN member creates a multiplier effect, leading to more empowered women who utilize Network materials and program models in their daily work. It is this investment and commitment in each individual member that ensures the sustainable progress in women’s empowerment.

“WDN gave Bangladeshi women strength and a voice to fight poverty, inequality and undemocratic procedures in a country where women’s emancipation was only a myth. It empowered us to contribute financially to our families, our communities, and our nation,” states Selima Ahmad, founder of the Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Former United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that, “In politics, if you want anything said ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.” WDN members are a true embodiment of this statement and are the leaders their countries desperately need and deserve. Through the Network, WDN provides opportunities for women to share their experiences, challenges, and ultimately, best practices to increase women’s role in the political development of their counties.

“As an African, I thought what could other women learn from me? WDN opened my eyes and showed me that women everywhere are facing similar issues. This encouraged me to seek a seat in the Pan-African Parliament and share my experiences with other African women,” notes Christine Abia Bako, Member of Parliament of the Republic of Uganda.

The progress of women’s political empowerment should not only be measured by the numbers of those elected or defined by the barriers they face. True progress is found in the far corners of the world where a woman has returned home from a training, inspired by those she has met, uplifted by their words of support and prepared with the skills to empower others.

“To witness their resilience and determination is to be present among women who are moving mountains. And not just the mountains in their own country, they stand shoulder to shoulder with their sisters around the world and help them change their political and economic landscape,” states Veberyte.

Imagine that woman is now president of her country who looks at her own accomplishments and asks how she can inspire other women to succeed. Imagine another woman who states, “If she can do it, so can I.” These are Women’s Democracy Network members.

This article was originally published in the Diplomatic Courier’s March/April 2014 print edition.

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