An official website of the United States government

You too, one day, can be president
May 31, 2016

Catherine Samba-Panza was interim President of the Central African Republic from 2014 to 2016 (AP Images)
Catherine Samba-Panza was interim President of the Central African Republic from 2014 to 2016 (AP Images)

Women are quite capable of going into politics.

Does that seem obvious to you? It is not for everyone. In many countries, female candidates must scramble to convince voters and even their own party that they are qualified to assume an elected position.

“No one ever asks if men are capable,” notes Caroline Hubbard, senior adviser on gender, women and democracy at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), who answered questions from Chadian leaders during an online chat in late March. Statistics speak for themselves: “When women participate, countries do better, she says. Research shows that the more women hold elected positions, the greater the standards of living in the country.”

The list of contributions of elected women is long. Yet less than a quarter of the world’s parliamentarians are women. “We must change attitudes,” recommends Caroline Hubbard. How?

For example, she suggests that a civil society organization can build a campaign to change the image of women in politics. “It can put forward leaders and successful women and, using existing statistics, give examples of how women contribute” once elected. It is also important to adapt to the local culture and to “develop arguments to convince your neighbors, your family and your political party.”

At the level of political parties, indeed, changes are needed. Of course, thanks to the quota system, parties have selected more women to represent them in elections. Unfortunately, they let them too rarely appear at the top of the electoral list.

“Men should be the allies of women in politics”

According to Hubbard, it is also crucial to look for respected men, such as religious leaders, and convince them to spread the message. “We need to make allies among those who have power. These are often men,” she says.

Another great barrier against women happens at the individual level. “Often they do not understand how politics can improve their lives,” laments Hubbard, who encourages political parties to make themselves more accessible to women.

“Even at home, I teach my girls that women also are leaders”

Leadership training should begin at 10-12 years, says Hubbard. “You have to explain to them what politics is, and show them examples of women leaders, she advocates. And it is important to start early in order to avoid having girls ‘digest’ this idea that women are not capable.”

Many U.S. organizations are trying to develop girls’ leadership. The State Department partners with some of them to encourage girls and women to play sports, for example. For it is a fact that girls’ participation in sports helps them to excel not only as athletes, but in life as well.

You want to run for office? Hubbard offers the following strategy:

1 – First, talk to your family and explain the benefits of your candidacy for you, for democracy and for the country;
2 – Try to convince the party leaders first, and then the citizens;
3 – Learn how to find money to fund your campaign;
4 – Learn how to use non-monetary resources (volunteers, etc.);
5 – Learn how to develop a targeted message to communicate to the public and the media (traditional and social media)
6 – Learn how to manage a team.

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!