Women’s Leadership in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia: Changing the Conversation


On 16-17 April 2015 the National Democratic Institute hosted the inaugural cross-regional forum on Women’s Leadership in Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, made possible with the financial support of USAID and in cooperation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The forum gathered more than 60 women from 15 countries representing not only the political arena and decision-making bodies, but also representatives of civil society groups, business and media that work on advancing women’s political participation. The primary purpose of the Forum was to establish a foundation for inter-regional exchanges and to identify main interest areas and key priority for the participants.

Gathering women leaders from both Southeast Europe (a region recovering from conflict and seeking to integrate into the European Union) and Eurasia (where democratic transitions are challenged by autocratic regimes) was itself a unique feature of the forum. Women from both regions noted the wide-ranging political, economic, and national security differences among their countries. But it was also clear that the agenda for gender equality and women’s political participation is shared.

Starting with outlining the latest general trends in the area of gender quality in both regions, the first day of the conference focused on policy-oriented sessions concerning women’s political representation, economic empowerment, influence of peace and security on gender equality, and cooperation among government, civil society and the private sector on fostering women’s leadership in these areas. The second day of the forum considered the use of the particular tools, such as empirical and public opinion research and technologies to be used by women to advance policy objectives.


General Conclusions & Recommendations

Discussion Group I: Promoting Women’s Political Representation:

  • It should come as no surprise that there was widespread agreement that political parties are essential for women’s political participation and representation due to the fundamental role political parties play in the democratic process.  Selecting and preparing prospective political representatives and leaders, as well as advancing a gender equality perspective within the political party system, is considered to be an urgent function. Political parties are perceived as the primary actors of change to create gender equality in political and public life is to be achieved.   

  • Among the barriers to women’s political participation within parties the participants underlined the following: centralized decision-making process within the parties; masculine culture and practice; absence of transparent electing of candidates within the parties; the dominance of men selected to represent the party abroad; over representation of men in media; women struggle to obtain “winnable” seats on candidate lists and to attain positions of genuine power in party structures; stereotypical biases too often curtail the ability of women to enact their political agendas; inadequate distribution of party resources among candidates.     

  • Taking into consideration those barriers it is important to make political parties to institutionalize gender equality in the parties’ policies and practices, integrate gender into the party’s electoral strategy and the party programmes, and promote gender-sensitive governance through development of clear strategic documents such as political parties’ gender action plans.   

  • There is a need for substantive partnership with men in the process of promotion and implementation of gender equality principles and standards.


Discussion Group II: Cross-sectorial cooperation of women politicians, business leaders and civil society activists:

  • One of the main conclusions reached by all participants was that any progress in gender equality issues has always been depending on the ability of women to work across all ethnic, religious, political divisions, and to get allies within other sectors of society and the support of powerful men.

  • While women from different sectors think differently about many issues it is important to find the issues of common interests and ground that affect all women and set common goals.

  • In case of women in politics, support of experts and civil society sector is essential to bridge party lines and to overcome party differences, and create formal and informal women’s networks and platforms.

  • Women’s issue coalitions are the most powerful tool for social change and promotion of indivisible human rights in the situation when women still do not count for 50% of decision makers in politics and in economy.   

  • One of the most important lessons learned from the present and past coalitions discussed by the participants was transfer of knowledge and best practices from experienced and well known women politicians and activists to young generation women. Personal mentoring methodologies for young women should be considered in addition to systematic strategies of collective capacity building.


Discussion Group III: National Action Plans for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325:

  • Among the key challenges in setting the National Action Plans for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security” participants identified the following: to set clear indicators and priorities that translate the goals of the resolution to the local context; to identify responsible institutions for the implementation of the action plans; lack of gender equality sensitivity among the state institutions and understanding of the concept of human security, which are responsible for the implementation of the Resolution; making the Resolution a topic on a political agenda within the country.

  • The majority of the national action plans were mostly focused on the improvement of the position of women in the national security institutions rather than embracing all aspects of women’s empowerment tackled with the Resolution, that should lead to understanding security as human security that includes: economic security of women, combating violence against women in conflict and post-conflict context, raising awareness on women’s environmental concerns and enhance participation of women at decision making on issues of security, peace and reconciliation in conflict or post-conflict circumstances.    

  • Human security is concerned primarily with the security situation of women and other marginalized groups at the local level; therefore the NAPs 1325 goals and targets should be translated into needs and concerns of local women and men in the communities, while keeping in mind different needs which minority groups might have.

  • Transparent and participatory process of drafting the NAP 1325 as well as continued cooperation between state institutions and civil society is a key factor for success in the development and implementation of the national action plans. Sharing good practices and experiences from other countries can be also vital for successful implementation of the UNSCR 1325.


Discussion Group IV: Women’s Economic Empowerment – From Personal to Global:

  • Economics across the region is not a top priority discussed among women in politics although it is crucial and very important development that impacts the opportuniteis for women as well as perceptions about their contributions. Women decision makers should drive adialogue to set an economic agenda and provide women's view on economic development. The dialogue should go beyond labor market discrimination and education to issues of economic development and budget allocation for women's economic empowerment. Pushing the agenda to include discussions and strategies around  economic systems and how they can better address gender inequalities and needs of women and men and quality of their daily life was as noted as important.

  • Participants discussed about the two approaches around women’s economic empowerment, women as victims or women as agents. The reality is that these are overlapping and complimentary. The growth of gender policy field started as women as victims. Then health and reproductive rights emerged as well as women in politics. Gender legislation, gender mechanisms and law flowed from these important developments. Issue of women in security and particularly economic security is trending as a more acknowledged area for development. While gender formation requires a holistic approach, advocates cannot do everything everywhere in all spheres. The interventions around economic empowerment were discussed with this framework in mind. 

  • Understanding this context is crucial for realistic and relevant solutions in addressing issues concerning women’s economic empowerment.

  • In small groups participants identified the following areas for possible policy interventions in their countries:

  • child care services support/shared economy of care;

  • alimony – models to ensure payments;

  • better distribution of home unpaid work and care economy between women and men – positive campaigns;

  • gender friendly entrepreneurship policies (access to finance, tax policies, etc);

  • education as a key strategy for women’s economic empowerment but in all fields (traditional and untraditional for women);

  • mentoring and support from women leaders – good role models;

  • solidarity among women;

  • promoting socially responsible businesses (whether they contribute to gender equality);

  • empowerment of women in rural areas;

  • social innovations – we need new ways to address gender inequalities;

  • deconstructing men’s leadership/what are the results of it?

  • Levels of possible interventions – individual/family; organizational/institutional; local level – communities; national/state level; regional; global.


Panel Discussion: Tools for Women’s Leadership: Research, Communication and Technology:

  • Advancing equality in policy and politics requires change in attitudes toward women leaders to reduce barriers to their political participation and support to those already elected to public office.

  • Tools such as research, communication and technology can create a supporting environment for change and increase the political will to take this task seriously.  

  • Public opinion research allows advocates to identify target groups, to evaluate effective messages and, choose the rights messengers and make specific word choices in order to talk effectively about the value of women in politics.

  • Technology, such as social media, enables advocates to change the conversation and question stereotypes about women as well as expose everyday experiences with sexism.

  • Strategic data-based communication campaigns allow to focus attention on a range of women’s issues more effectively and to provide opportunities to bring more people into a conversation about political implications of gender.  

  • Successes of Georgia and Ukraine, as well as challenges inherent in mobilizing women to push back on patriarchal systems (within political institutions, society at large or media) were highlighted.


At the Forum’s conclusion, participants worked in country groups to devise strategic goals around gender equality and women’s participation, and identified the steps that they, as leaders, both collectively and individually, need to take to realize their visions. Participants also discussed the role of international actors in this process.

Among the priority issues to be dealt with in their countries the participants listed the following:  

  • Improvement of gender equality legislation

  • Improvement of national gender equality mechanisms

  • Rule of law and proper implementation of existing gender equality legislation

  • Economic empowerment of women

  • Cooperation and solidarity between women from different sectors of the society

  • Creation and stregnthening of Women’s Parliamentary Networks

  • Prevention of gender-based violence

  • Prevention of sexism and mysogyny.


At a personal level participants recommended the following actions to influence the policy and political agenda:

  • Acting as a role model

  • Mentoring of young women politicians

  • Being active through social media.


As country representatives participants identified the following actions:  

  • Rasing awareness on gender quality situation within and outside the country

  • Promote women’s enterpreneurship

  • Pushing for gender quality on a political arena

  • Advocating for policy and legal change

  • Networking within and outside the country

  • Starting the dialogue between government, civil society and political parties.


The activities of the international actors directed at providing support gender equality advocates to network and to enhance peer-to-peer learning were recognized by all the participants of the Forum. Importance of such activities lay in exchange of concrete ideas, and in ability of participants to discuss challenges and opportunities based on their personal experiences. Additionally, the participants listed the following:   

  • Need for international actors to engage in a broader consultative process with local stakeholders to identify locally recognized priority issues, needs and constraints while paying a special attention to the context.

  • Further support to the regional cooperation and networking, specifically to enhance lessons sharing.

  • The need for technical and methodological support.

  • The need for financial support.

  • Mediation between different groups inside and outside the countries.  

  • Maintaining continuous pressure at the governments in fulfilling their international obligations in the field of women’s rights and gender equality.