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Women candidates: what strategy should you use to win?
May 31, 2016

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(AP Images)

“Your campaign must be scientific, and come from the heart at the same time.”

That’s what Caroline Hubbard, senior advisor on Gender, Women and Democracy at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), recommends to women candidates in elections. Hubbard answered questions from Chadian leaders during a webchat late March.

Compared to their male opponents, female candidates are left with many disadvantages, she said, especially when it comes to finances. So being well organized is crucial. She suggests the following plan made of four phases:

  • Research: your precinct, your opponents, the local actors;
  • Identification: identify the voters, the issues, the campaign message, your resources, and the campaign team;
  • Communication: develop a strategy to talk to the public and to the media;
  • Campaign: know your message, target voters to spread your message, use all available means of communication.

How to stand out without a big budget

“You have to, and you can ask for money to fund your campaign,” Hubbard says. She encourages candidates to solicit only people who are excited by the elections and your campaign. “Be specific: tell them exactly how much you need and what the money will be used for.”

What can female candidates do when their own party do not support them financially? Hubbard gave the example of Mexico, where “women have advocated to change campaign finance laws and forced the parties to allocate to female candidates 2 percent of the funds the government give them for campaign expenses.”

Running as an independent is another possibility, but the risk is to remain completely unknown to the public. Hence it’s import “to identify allies who have power,” says Hubbard. “They may be religious leaders or community leaders, that is to say people who will be able to convince others to vote for you and help you find resources.”

Independent candidates can also gain visibility by forming coalitions or run on a ticket (or slate) with other female candidates.

Volunteers are essential

Two women petting a dog
AP Images

When you have a small budget, you need volunteers. “To help you with your campaign, look for students or young members of your political party who want to gain experience in politics,” suggests Hubbard. “You can also convince women to work for you by explaining how they will benefit from having more women in power.”

What role can civil society play?

Civil society can:

  • Create campaigns and show that women can be good leaders;
  • Educate women on the importance of voting – which can lead to the election of more women;
  • Introduce women’s issues at the heart of the election debates, forcing candidates to take a stand.

Avoid empty promises and have a positive message

Be honest about your campaign promises, recommends Hubbard. You will have more chances to be reelected.

Avoid negative language. “Instead of pointing your opponent’s weaknesses, highlight the strengths of your candidacy. ”

Stay calm and avoid stereotypes: “Women do not have the same freedom to fight. They are often seen as shouting too much, complaining too much, “says Hubbard. If your opponent attacks you, bring back the debate on your message because in the end, “people want to know what you will do to improve their lives, not to whom you are married.”

You can meet like minded people who want to make a difference in their community in the YALI Network. And take a look at their #YALIvotes campaign!