“The value of fellow female support was an important lesson drawn from the training. Everyone realized that helping peers could enhance the position of women in politics.”
In August 2008 two Dutch party representatives went to Accra, Ghana, where they trained a group of 17 female candidates for the parliamentary elections in December. They trained the women in campaign planning, fundraising, and public speech. They also helped them write personal profiles, which were published in several national newspapers. The training session is part of a series of activities organized by NIMD?s Ghanaian partner, the Institute of Economic Affairs, to promote the participation of women in politics.
Anita de Horde is Press Officer and Campaign Coordinator of the Dutch GreenLeft party in the European Parliament. Together with politician Brigitte van der Burg, Member of Parliament for the Dutch Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), she travelled to Ghana for NIMD to give training on the ins and outs of campaigning, specifically aimed at women. ‘Africa in itself was already new and exciting to me. I had never been there before. The fact that the training was aimed at women, was particularly interesting, as the empowerment of women is the most efficient way to speed up development.’ So she immediately accepted NIMD’s invitation to contribute in preparing Ghanaian women with political aspirations for the elections in December.
‘How to convince people to vote for you?, seemed the first logical question’, Anita de Horde explains, ‘but it remained awfully quiet. We proposed the 17 candidates several answers, which some copied vigorously. I then asked them to focus on their constituency: what is necessary in your district? To this, they answered practically: “we want to build new roofs, improve the housing conditions, hand out condoms”. Brigitte then stepped in and suggested that as a politician you should not merely seek to bring projects to your region, but also contribute to policy and lawmaking.’
‘I talked about what you can and cannot do and achieve as a Member of Parliament’, explains Brigitte van der Burg, number 4 on the list of the VVD. ‘I had also recently studied this, as I am new in Parliament.’ Brigitte van der Burg has made an incredible step, not having worked in politics but immediately attaining her number 4 spot. ‘I experienced what these women were about to experience. “Who is this woman?”, I heard people think, when I entered the political arena. I had to make clear who I was, why I wanted to be in politics and what my focus points would be - to convince first my party and then for the larger audience, what I would do for the VVD.’
The women in the training program had already been elected by their respective parties. Yet, it is difficult for a woman to compete against an opposing male candidate. There is a knock-out system per district. And women have a disadvantage to start with, as female political participation is not per se stimulated in Ghanaian society. Specifically the financial resources needed to be a candidate are sometimes hard to find.
‘”Poor but bold” was one of the slogans the women made in an afternoon workshop I led’, Anita de Horde reminisces. ‘Money was a big issue. The impression amongst some participants existed that after participation in the two-day training, they would go home with campaign funding. A Ghanaian woman, a lecturer at the University of Accra, led a session on fundraising. Not just actual money, but also support in kind. She gave the participants concrete advice. “If your uncle, brother or brother-in-law owns a cab, let him carry your picture on this car.” Responding to ladies’ request for money, she posed them a question: “Would you prefer to have a mango or mango seeds?”’.
‘I was very impressed by these women. They came from all over the country to participate in the training. They worked from 7AM to 6:30 PM and after dinner they continued. They were extremely motivated, which gave me a lot of positive energy and made me realize how privileged I actually am to be a Member of Parliament’, Brigitte van der Burg says, looking back at the experience. ‘One of our participants has won the elections and is a Member of Parliament now. The value of fellow female support was also an important lesson drawn from the training. Everyone exchanged contact details and realized that helping peers could enhance the position of women in politics. It was very inspiring.’