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Is it all about the money?

March 06, 2014

Lack of access to political funding presents a huge challenge to women seeking to enter political life today. Only 21% of seats in parliaments globally are held by women, and International IDEA’s work has shown that political finance is one of the key stumbling blocks towards a more equal representation of women in political decision-making.

Political finance is a tricky area – political campaigns and political parties require funding, but money skews the level playing field for candidates and means that some enter the race with more advantages than others. International IDEA is one of the leading organizations working on mapping and analysing the impact of money on politics – both from legitimate sources of funding, such as from big business, and from illicit funding through crime and drug cartels. IDEA’s Political Finance Databasecontains information on how money in politics is regulated in 180 countries, and a forthcoming handbook focuses on funding political parties and election campaigns.

The problems of political finance apply both to men and women, but women face greater challenges. On International Women’s Day, it makes sense to focus on this sensitive issue through a gender lens – how does political finance exclude women from politics, and what can be done to address this?

In a 2013 survey conducted by UN Women, 80% of respondents identified the lack of access to funding as one of the biggest challenges to women’s entry into politics. International IDEA’s work has shown that women spend less on media coverage in their election campaigns than men. To illustrate this - in elections in Peru in 2006, men spent 4.8 times more on media coverage than women. It is hardly surprising then, that women fare less well at the polls if they are not getting the same media exposure as men.

Forthcoming research from IDEA with UN Women shows that in many countries, women cannot afford to pay the fees to register themselves as candidates and are therefore left out of the race before it even begins. In Myanmar in 2010, the registration fee for candidates was more than 5 times the monthly salary of a school teacher. In most countries, women do not have access to the same elite power and business networks as men, and therefore do not have access to the political funding which can come with being part of those networks. Since women globally are more socio-economically disadvantaged than men, they also suffer disproportionately when it comes to raising the money often required to enter politics.

The good news is that targeted measures can be taken to try to level the playing field between women and men when it comes to funding election campaigns. Our forthcoming work on this topic highlights several examples from around the world. Tightening the regulation of political finance in general benefits women, since they are less likely to have access to moneyed networks and less likely to be incumbents who would be in a position to abuse state resources for an election campaign. More transparency in how parties and campaigns are financed also benefits women. In Brazil, 10% additional media time was given by law to political parties to use for female candidates. Registration fees may be reduced for women, as is the practice in Ghana and Nigeria.

Public funding of election campaigns can also be used as a tool to promote gender equality, whether as an incentive or a penalty in relation to presenting women candidates for election. For example in Ireland, political parties are sanctioned with a 50% reduction in their public funding if they have less than 30% women candidates. In Haiti, parties with more than 30% female candidates will receive a doubling of public funding. Civil society can also play a key role through, for example, the establishment of networks of female politicians who mobilize to seek funding for women candidates.

International IDEA will shortly be coming out with concrete recommendations on how to mitigate against the negative impact of political finance on women’s political participation – to receive updates about our work in this area, you can sign on to our mailing list here.

My best wishes to you on International Women’s Day,

Joan Sawe's signature

Joan Sawe,
Acting Secretary-General, International IDEA

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