Using information technology to boost democracy is not new; in Poland in the 1980s, cassette tapes of speeches by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa were passed from factory to factory, delivering a message of openness and freedom. What is new is the speed and breadth at which information travels, as evidenced by the impact Twitter and Facebook had in spreading the story of the Arab Spring.
At the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works in nearly 70 countries to support and strengthen democracy, we are constantly employing new technologies, giving citizens a more organized voice, transforming political parties and enabling governments to respond to citizens in fresh and exciting ways.
Technology also presents new opportunities for women who want to take their rightful place in helping to shape public affairs. The latest technologies – from simple SMS messages and emails, to social media networks and mobile money – can lower barriers to fundraising, publicity and communication with constituents and voters.
This matters because of the high hurdles – including discrimination and cultural bias – that continue in many countries to hold women back from full and fair participation in public life.
On the occasion of NDI’s annual luncheon on May 29 in Washington, D.C., I will be discussing these issues and more with Tina Brown, editor in chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast; Stephanie Cutter, former deputy campaign manager of Obama for America 2012; Shelly Esque, vice president of Intel; Ping Fu, chief strategy officer of 3D Systems; and Laura Inés López Padilla, president of the board of Mexico’s Network of Support for Women Municipal Leaders (REAMM). We will be honoring women’s organizations abroad that work to create greater roles for women in political and civic life. American filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney will deliver the keynote address.
This year, REAMM has been chosen as the recipient of the $25,000 Madeleine K. Albright Grant for its work to increase the number of women leaders in Mexico at the local and national level. REAMM participated in the successful campaign, “2% and More Women in Politics,” to improve enforcement of a provision in Mexico’s federal election code that designates 2 percent of federal political party funding for women’s leadership training. When party leaders declined to spend the money for its assigned purpose, the group used social media and an online petition to spotlight the problem and press the federal electoral body to step in.
But while women have attained prominence in national politics in Mexico, just 6.1 percent of 2,400 municipal presidents are women. REAMM has conducted training programs with municipal women’s institutes and will use the grant to bring the success of national efforts like the 2 percent campaign to states and communities across Mexico.
At NDI, we are proud to support REAMM and hundreds of groups in every region of the world that are striving to promote women’s political participation and leadership. At the luncheon, I will look forward, as well, to launching the Madeleine K. Albright Women’s Project, a global fund dedicated to helping women participate, compete and lead in political life.
As I have often said, “Success without democracy is improbable. Democracy without women is impossible.”
The times and digital landscape may be changing, but our commitment to women’s leadership is not. I hope you will join us on May 29, either in person or through our live stream at www.ndi.org.
Madeleine K. Albright is former U.S. Secretary of State and chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute.