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Women Empowered for Leadership believes in a world with fair, just and inclusive societies that offer equal rights and opportunities to all people –women and men– to take part in decision-making processes that affect their lives.

Despite important progress made particularly in terms of the numerical political presence of women at the national level, this still falls short of the broader goals for women’s equality and participation set out in international agreements.

The women in our focus countries experience serious obstacles that limit their chances to acquire the training and experience to seek leadership positions in civic organisations, political parties and public institutions. This limits women’s ability to put their needs, ideas and priorities on the political agenda and have them taken into account by political and policy decisions. The lack of an enabling environment, reinforced by negative stereotypes in the media, also makes it difficult for aspiring women leaders to overcome these obstacles.

As a result, women’s presence in sub-national politics and senior management of influential civic organisations and public administration remains low, as does societal support for women’s leadership.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, important political and societal changes are currently taking place. While WE4L’s MENA countries are relatively stable, the political turmoil, religious conservatism and violent conflict in the larger region have an impact on people’s lives every country, posing serious threats to women’s safety and security. At the same time, the evolving political and societal environment provides an ideal opportunity for women’s contributions to gain traction. By taking up leadership positions, they can contribute to reverse repressive tendencies and strengthen democratic institutions.

In Southern Africa, a main obstacle for women’s leadership lies in the socio-cultural domain. While various (supra) national policy tools and legal instruments strengthen women’s position on paper, these are not implemented in practice. The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Barometer on Gender and Development shows progress on women’s equal participation in education, but not in government representation, particularly at the local level, where it seriously lags behind. Now is the right time to build on previous results and ensure that women can access senior and higher positions, including at the sub-national level. Our WE4L programme will build upon the areas of progress for women’s political leadership identified by the SADC Gender Protocol Barometer in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe as a priority for the post-2015 agenda.