Washington, DC 202.408.9450 © 2012 Women's Democracy Network. All rights reserved.
Women’s Leadership Schools: Inspiring a New Generation of Leaders
Washington, DC – According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union the percentage of women in parliament in Bangladesh is 19.7 percent; in Cameroon13.9 percent; in Georgia 12 percent; and Guatemala13.3 percent. To address the low levels of women’s leadership in decision making, the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) country chapters are conducting Women’s Leadership Schools (WLS) to inspire a new generation of women to take the necessary steps to overcome obstacles and obtain top positions in politics.
Since the launch of the WLS in these four countries in 2012, the chapters have conducted five schools in each country, reaching nearly 500 women. The confidence and motivation gained at the schools has encouraged participants to run for political office, earn leadership roles in a political party or organization, serve as election observers, register to vote, and join civil society organizations.
Through the schools, the chapters have developed a network of graduates who are reaching out to other women in their communities. And the effort has earned the support of organizations such as the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bangladesh Alliance for Women’s Leadership, Steps Towards Development, Interfaith Vision Foundation Cameroon, municipality of San Benito Petén, United Nations Development Programme, United States Agency for International Development,the and University of San Carlos of Guatemala.
The WDN Chapter members who serve as WLS program managers work diligently to ensure women from numerous sectors of society are represented at each workshop. As a result, students included candidates for elected office, civil society representatives, entrepreneurs, journalists, local government representatives, lawyers, political party members, farmers, municipal council representatives, teachers, trade union representatives and university students.
In Bangladesh, Chapter members Selima Ahmad, Nasim Firdaus, Rekha Saha, Ridma Khan and Shamima Ahkter have conducted schools in Bogra, Gazipur, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Marjina Akhter said of the school, “This training will help me be assertive, to turn into a leader. Now I believe that women are eligible leaders and one day I can be a very good leader.”
And Rina Akter said, “This training has changed my ideology on women’s participation in politics. Before this training, I had no clear picture of leadership development. Now I realize that women can change society, women can make decisions on their own, and women can be great leaders in their party.”
In Cameroon, Bernadette Asah, Judith Angah and Stella Anne Fomumbod reached women in
Bambili, Bamenda, Douala, Limbe and Dschang through the WLS. Program managers noted how the school has assisted both the students and their own ability to be effective leaders.
Fomumbod stated, “The [WLS curriculum] is regarded as valuable by our students […] because although some women had attended a leadership training in their lives, they attested that the contact and sessions of this one by WDN was extraordinarily enriching […] Women are really hungry for this knowledge […] and wished to have a permanent school for that.”
Asah stated, “I must say I have gained a lot of my position as program manager and also gained a lot of assertiveness and courage in my efforts to bring change in the lives of women. Before becoming a program manager […] I used to refuse positions, especially following nominations in my group. This was due to timidity and non-assertiveness. In my social group, Struggling Women of Bamenda, I have been rejecting leadership positions for 15 years, especially the post of president. Following the skills I acquired serving as a program manager, I decided to accept the nomination by members […] and to my great surprise, I was elected president of the group [and received] an overwhelming majority of votes.”
In the country of Georgia, chapter members Nini Chanturia, Nino Shalamberidze and Natia Shekiladze conducted schools in Batumi, Kutaisi, Tbilisi and Telavi. An additional component of the WLS program in all four countries included the identification of student mentors. During each workshop, the program managers selected one participant who had showed exemplary leadership skills to assist with planning and leading a future WLS workshop.
The student mentor Salome Dadiana in Georgia praised the effort and said, “As a student mentor I tried to use leadership skills, assist the program managers, and I felt more responsibility […]. I saw what energy and motivation the [program managers] need to handle the WLS. I had the opportunity to assist the [students] and use the knowledge which I gained. I was glad to share my opinion and achievements.”
Sofo Basilashvili said, “The Women’s Leadership School gave me a better understanding of leadership skills […] my promotion to my position [as the chairwoman of the Women’s Club and as the public relations manager of the Kutaisi branch] in my political party is connected to the WLS […]. My goal is to become a good politician […] being a participant of WLS […] is a step towards my goal.”
In Guatemala, chapter members Karina Flores, Matilde Terraza, Patricia China and Sonia Segura reached the women through the WLS in Cobán, Guatemala City, Panajachel and Quetzaltenango. When the program managers asked the students to write an encouraging letter to themselves that they could use as a motivating tool:
Cecilia Pérez wrote, “I’m just impressed about your job, how hard-working you are, and this training has showed you how to see the results of your hard work even though you did not see this result before […] now you know that each effort you do has success and important results in many people’s lives. I encourage you to keep your motivation to lead […] as you already learned that motivation is very important and is the main core of a leader […] your [ability to motivate] will make you different than other leaders.”
Nélida Corado wrote, “I do not have any doubt that the knowledge you acquired from the WLS today will be utilized to empower those women who do not have the opportunity to attend the school. Move forward by applying what you have learned today.”
The WLS program was launched in October 2011 through funding from the United Nations Democracy Fund. The curriculum was developed by Rachel Woods, Chief Executive Officer of Leadership TREK® Corporation®and a member of WDN Council. The curriculum includes eight key areas of leadership development: how to build influence and persuasiveness; effective interpersonal relations and appropriate use of assertiveness; trust building; effective decision-making; team building, conflict management; strategies for finding win-win solutions; how to delegate effectively; goal setting; and action planning for results. At each WLS, students are provided with a curriculum that reviews the traits of an effective leader, are challenged to immediately apply these skills through practical exercises, and are connected with women leaders in their community that can serve as mentors beyond the workshop.
Chapter members in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Georgia and Guatemala are currently in the process of completing the final round of schools. A unique component of the final school is the south-south cooperation which will support efforts to build the WLS into a sustainable project that can serve as a platform for women to attain leadership positions around the world.