Why We Need to Empower Women's Political Leadership Globally

Folks, the first-ever Women Startup Challenge just took place, and some important women-led startups really worked hard to raise money for their ventures. My team and I interviewed one of the ventures, Mina's List, about their inspiring work.
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Folks, the first-ever Women Startup Challenge just took place, and some important women-led startups really worked hard to raise money for their ventures. My team and I interviewed one of the ventures, Mina's List and their Founder/Executive Director Tanya Henderson, Esq., about their inspiring work.

What's Mina's List?

Mina's List: Empowering women's political leadership globally, was founded in 2014 as a non-profit organization dedicated to realizing women's equal (50%) and substantive political representation in national governments around the world.

Substantive representation means that elected women leaders are willing and able to advocate for women's interests in the political arena. Mina's List (ML) works collaboratively with in-country women's rights organizations and current women legislators to develop country specific trainings and an ongoing mentorship program to build the capacity and skills of aspiring women political leaders who commit to advance women's rights as elected leaders.

How did you choose the name?

First, the name Mina's List is a "shout-out" to the ceiling-breaking progress that the U.S. based organization, Emily's List, has achieved in promoting women's increased political representation in the United States.

Second, the name Mina is found in diverse regions around the world, with various meanings that can be associated with strong women leaders. For example:

  • The Dutch meaning of Mina is protector.
  • In Afghanistan, Mina means love.
  • Its English meaning is strong-willed warrior.
  • Lastly and the most meaningful to me, Mina is the name of the daughter of the woman parliamentarian who inspired me to start this organization.

Why did you found Mina's List, what was the need you were fulfilling?

Over the last several years, I have had the great privilege of working with women Parliamentarians from around the world. From this experience, I learned how tremendously effective a few courageous women can be when empowered as independent decision-makers in their national governments.

For example, in 2009, my friend and colleague, The Hon. Shinkai Karokhail, who is an elected Parliamentarian in the National Assembly of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, was the only member of the parliament to oppose a draft Shia Family Law, which included many provisions that would have rolled back women's rights in Afghanistan-- such as child marriage and prohibitions on women leaving the home without permission from a male relative. After Ms. Karokhail reached out to the international media, the President of Afghanistan agreed to accept amendments to the draft law. Ms. Karokhail then personally introduced over 50 amendments to make the Shia Family Law more just for Afghan women and girls. Ms. Karokhail is a powerful example of what women can do when elected to national governments and have the resources and tools to make independent decisions that advance women's rights.

Yet globally only 1 in 5 Parliamentarians is female and in 37 states women account for less than 10 percent of representatives in single or lower houses. The 2011 UN General Assembly resolution on women's political participation notes:

Women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalized from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education, lack of access to health care, and the disproportionate effect of poverty on women.

That's why I created Mina's List, to provide the resources and education that will balance the playing field and empower women, who will advocate for women's interests, get elected to national government.

How will Mina's List help people?

The purpose of Mina's List is to ensure that women and women's interests are equally represented in national decision-making and policies in every corner of the world. And while women constitute 50% of the population (and thus deserve equal representation), the presence of women in government is important not only to secure women's equal rights, but for the nature of governance itself.

Research shows that when women are empowered as political leaders, more laws are passed to promote women's rights and countries experience higher standards of living for all people. For example:

  • In Argentina, female parliamentarians introduced no fewer than 78% of the bills related to women's rights.
  • In Pakistan, women in Parliament played a key role in the passage of more than 20 laws in 4 years for the protection of women and children.
  • A World Bank study of more than 100 countries showed that higher percentages of women in Parliament directly correlated to decreased corruption in government, and data collected from 19 countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that an increase in women legislators results in an increase in total educational expenditure.

Empowering women's political leadership will have rippling effects on every level of society and the global condition.

What kind of traction are you getting with your product? How do you plan to scale?

Mina's List excites people. Everywhere we go, whenever we discuss our work, people want to know more. People believe Mina's List can change the world. We have already had requests for Mina's List services in several countries across the globe.

Earlier this month, Mina's List invited Afghan women Parliamentarians and women's rights activists to participate in the Listening Session as a first step for our Afghan Pilot Project, which will prepare 15 aspiring women political leaders for the 2015 Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan. In collaboration with our civil society partner organizations, Afghan Women's Network (AWN) and Afghan Women's Educational Center (AWEC), Mina's List hosted the Listening Session to gather information on the barriers that prevent Afghan women's equal and substantive political participation in Parliament.

Beyond our pilot project, we plan to expand to 2-3 countries each year. Our model is responsive to each country and culture's unique characteristics, making it very adaptable.

What has been the biggest challenge in founding Mina's List?

Raising enough funds to scale up and bring the program model to additional countries where women are the most politically marginalized.

What's one of the most entertaining emails/phone calls you've gotten about Mina's List?

This is a quote from one of the women parliamentarians in Afghanistan who participated in our first Listening Session with Afghan women:

"Many thanks for such a great initiative. We are very keen to work together in the future and to have such a strong group of women coming to parliament to promote and protect women's human rights in Afghanistan."

What does a morning in the life of a Mina's List founder look like?

As Founder and Executive Director of Mina's List, every morning I wake up and think, "What are the different hats that I will need to wear today?"

  • Will I be drafting program content for ML's Empowerment Training Workshops or will I be working with my lawyers on documents for my Board?
  • Do I have meetings with donors today to request funding or do I need to write content for my website?
  • Are there any speaking engagements or webinars on my schedule?
  • Do I have any international Skype calls scheduled with my in-country partner organizations at godforsaken hours?
  • Do I need to research political campaign laws in country X, Y or Z?
  • Am I working on a new marketing plan, have I completed [blank] grant proposal or am I focusing on a social media push for a CrowdRise campaign?

Then I jump into the shower, get dressed, and walk up to the third floor of my house (which has been converted into Mina's List cozy home offices). I say "good morning" to my staff of one and my two smart and bubbly interns, and start my workday, changing hats as needed.

How can folks support you in your startup?

Make a financial tax deductible contribution, and promote ML widely!

(Note: you can donate by clicking the button below...)

What social media platforms are you on?

Folks, please help out if you're able, because it's time we fund women-led startups, and Mina's List has really got their boots on the ground doing good work.