Campaign Skills - Liberia

In February 2013, WCI worked with the USAID Mission in Liberia to hold a 64-person focus group discussion on the role of women in peace and security. Group leaders stated that while they have made great strides in areas such as community development, agriculture and education, their lack of representation in local governance limits the scope and breadth of their peace-building activities.  Without holding formal positions in local government, women are unable to take part in key decisions that linger as a result of Liberia’s conflict—specifically regarding land ownership, gender based violence, and ritualistic killings. While Liberia has implemented a number of laws and resolutions to encourage women to participate in the political process, there are still obstacles. 

The first obstacle is a lack of skills and knowledge of potential female candidates managing their campaigns and developing political strategies. The second impediment to increased participation is the negative cultural biases held towards women in leadership positions, including a lack of understanding of the importance and benefits women bring to local office. Government ministries and local NGOs are planning activities to promote women’s participation, but do not address these challenges. These activities focus on support women in the few months leading up to a campaign. In this context, WCI in partnership with the National Rural Women’s Program of Liberia (NRWP), and in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Development (MOGD) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), worked to increase women’s participation in the political process through a skills building and mentorship program both for women candidates and their communities. 

While the local elections that were the focus of WCI’s project were cancelled and program activities were cut short due to the spread of Ebola in Liberia, WCI was still able complete most of the project components with success. Though the elections have been postponed (and have still yet to happen), the project has resulted in candidates and campaign staff who have a strong training base with which to run and populations in target communities with a stronger understanding of voter rights and responsible citizenship. Ebola’s spread in Liberia also disrupted the implementation of the full monitoring and evaluation of the project and necessitated the cancellation of the activities aimed at increasing collaboration and support between candidates. WCI is currently exploring opportunities to restart this important project. 

Before the project was forced to conclude, the following results were achieved:

A.    Campaign Skills

Women candidates and their staff members were trained in campaign skills through a 3-part training series. In all, 60 candidates and 30 chiefs of staff were trained. 

•    Training 1: Introduction to the ideas of the campaign and the need for campaign strategy.  They look specifically at their own strengths and weaknesses as a candidate and identify their needs for members of their campaign team.  For homework they are asked to identify their campaign team members and cultivate their support.

•    Training 2: Focused on campaign strategy and research.  Candidates need to know how to assess what people in their communities want and need.  Based on this information they develop a platform of action.  What are the pillars upon which their candidacy will stand?

•    Training 3: Focused on messaging and media outreach.  How will community members understand the platforms of their candidates?  How can a candidate use the media to reach out with their ideas?  In this session WCI trainers will video record their candidates to help them analyze their own skills as public speakers and the clarity of their campaign messages.

While complete assessments of candidates were not possible, the trainings were incredibly valuable for participants and candidates and their staff learned the importance of successive trainings, learning from each other and learning from collective experience. Candidates were able to self-reflect critically in order to improve their skills, identifying areas for improvement and combatting the belief that strong leaders do not admit weaknesses. 

The women candidates were incredibly enthusiastic, but had never had the structure to strategically design campaigns. For candidates and citizens alike, the challenge is to move away from old ideas of campaigning and try new approaches. The participants in WCI’s campaign skills trainings were able to utilize these tools to improve their campaigning and avoid traditional mistakes. 

B.    Civic Education
WCI conducted trainings to prepare citizens for upcoming decentralized elections. The main goal of the training was to illustrate the importance of voting for qualified candidates who will work in the interest of the local people. Voting for the right reasons is a major part of responsible citizenship. To explain this, WCI organized a structured skit activity that encouraged participants to act out both positive and negative qualities a candidate may show and the ways these qualities affect their community. The skit highlighted the need for voters to think critically when choosing a candidate to represent them.

The second portion of the training focused on gender roles in politics and citizenship. During an activity, participants chose qualities that are most important in a good leader and then discussed strong male and female leaders within their community. A discussion was then held to determine the strengths and weaknesses of these leaders, thus showing that both men and women are capable of leadership. Finally, the need for women voters was explained through Forum Theater. Participants discussed ways in which husbands may pressure their wives to vote in a certain way. Skits were performed to an active audience who were able to enter the skit and change the storyline to make it more positive, thus illustrating problem-solving methods. This activity encouraged engagement in a problem and empowered women to realize their important role in being active civic members.

All told, WCI trained 10 trainers in each county to further enact step down trainings, which in turned reached another 450 community members. 

C.    Collaboration and Support Between Candidates
The bulk of the programming at the end of the program was focused on collaboration and support between women candidates in the lead up to the election. This was to take place through the development of county level action plans, networking events, mentorships and media campaigns. Development of the county action plans had begun in the 3rd quarter of 2014 but implementation was halted along with the cancellation of networking events and advocacy activities in targeted communities. While this was an unfortunate result of the national situation, women candidates collaborated throughout the training program, sharing successes, failures and lesson learned in their counties while strategizing for the elections. 

WCI’s final program activities would have emphasized linkages nationally, between counties and large numbers of women candidates. Further, many of the participants in WCI’s project collaborated on Ebola response activities and supported effective social mobilization and messaging campaigns by leveraging the leadership skills learned together in the campaign skills training.