Global Human Rights Defence

The interdependent relationship between democracy and women’s rights

The interdependent relationship between democracy and women’s rights
Treasury Building at the Woman Suffrage parade”. Source: Library of Congress/ Washington D.C., 1913.

Author: Idil Igdir

Department: Women’s Rights Team

The effect of institutions and their role on women’s rights

The long-standing struggle for women’s empowerment and gender equality is an endeavour shared by the world, regardless of culture and political situation. The degree of difficulty and seriousness of this fight may, nevertheless, be linked to the form of government that women encounter in their own countries. Consider, for instance, the shameful scandal that occurred with Roe vs. Wade, threatening to end the constitutional right to abortion, did not take place in the United States but in countries like North Korea or Afghanistan, where authoritarianism prevails. In which country would it be more possible to turn things around and ensure human rights? Despite America’s structural flaws and complex practical system, it continues to fall into the category of democratically ruled countries. It means that women and international organisations can have more hope for justice and law to be served and upheld in the United States, as the institutions envisioned by democracy work better than in many other places.

Therefore, when we look at the world from the other side of the veil, the existence of one-person or one-party authority looms like an insurmountable wall in the face of the fight for gender equality, as the effectiveness of institutions fades away. An apt example is the constant calls by world leaders, organisations, associations and many more actors for the Taliban to keep their promise to protect women’s rights when they returned to power in August 2021. Unfortunately, the clock is turning back once again for Afghan women as there is no law or democracy to rely on in the country.

Hereby, democracy appears both as the strongest ally of feminism and the most appropriate form of governance to ensure the necessary transition conditions for gender equality in a society (Alonso & Lombardo, 2018). However, before understanding the principles of democracy and how they are interdependent with women’s rights, it is important to comprehend that the more institutions lose their independence and effectiveness to political pressure, the more likely they are to slip into authoritarianism and possibly even dictatorship. In other words, “the institutional bodies mirror the relations of power” (Ruíz, 2013).


Shedding light on the intertwining of democracy and gender equality

Democracy is a form of government that is considered by many to be the ideal form for people to live in a country. This word of Greek origin is composed of the words “demos“, which means “people”, and “kratos“, which means “power” or “rule” (Dahl, N.D). This conceptualisation makes it possible for us to comprehend what democracy is in the simplest and shortest way by looking only at its origins.

Still, it has never been possible to acquire democracy under a single concept. Democracy is divided into different forms;

  1.   Citizens can have direct power to decide the laws by vote, under which they will live without having elected representatives as proxies; i.e. direct democracy;
  2. Or, by elected officials, chosen by the citizens themselves, who will vote on behalf of their constituents, which is called representative democracy (Dahl, N.D).

Yet, even these two concepts diverge into sub-forms among themselves, according to the procedure and cultural history of the countries. Therefore, these definitions are only the tip of the iceberg for understanding democracy and its intertwined relationship with gender equality.

There are many basic principles that we can identify in order to have a democratic society. “Participation of citizens”, “equality”, and “control over the abuse of power” are the three principles we can examine in this article to shed light on the topic (Day, 2022).

  • Participation of citizens, equality and control over the abuse of power: from the process of democratisation to the empowerment of women 

Women’s rights or, more generally, gender equality, refers to the state of having equal opportunities and rights in any subjects and fields. Accordingly, one of the obligations that the democratic system must provide is equal treatment (Day, 2022). Hence, democracy presupposes equality and thus opposes discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. This means refusing any form of subjugation to women, contrary to what the patriarchal system imposes (Day, 2022). Thus, in a democratically governed country, women cannot be prevented from exercising their democratic rights due to their gender. When the Taliban, for instance, barred girls under sixth grade from attending school solely on the grounds of their gender on March 23rd, 2022, we once again witnessed a blow to the principles of democracy and, correlatively, to women’s rights in Afghanistan (Belquis & Asma, 2022).

Furthermore, the status of equality encompasses economic and social as well as political rights. Equal access to the right to vote and the free exercise of rights is one of the main references to this concept. For instance, as women gradually gained the right to vote around the world, “the expansion of women’s rights has gone hand-in-hand with the establishment of democracy, and women have played a key role in the transition from authoritarianism to democracy” (Moghadam, 2008). Therefore, granting women’s suffrage, like in Argentina and Turkey, has played an important role in the democratisation process of the socio-political order in these countries (Moghadam, 2008). In other words, it triggered a positive butterfly effect with this groundbreaking initiative at the time.

“The sky is now her limit”. Source: Library of Congress/ Bushnell, Elmer Andrews, 1920.

Argentina gave women the right to vote during Juan Peron’s first government in 1947. As a
result, the equality and participation of citizens, which are the basic principles of democracy, were improved and advanced in the country (Johnson, 2021). After this date, women’s participation in politics was supported and even pioneered reforms (Hammond, 2009). Turkey, on the other hand, was living its “revolutionary time” with the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, thanks to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, despite the difficulties of the period. Thus, Turkish women gained the right to vote and be elected, first in municipalities in 1930 and the general elections four years later (Ayyildiz, 2004).

Consequently, “these processes are closely intertwined and indeed mutually dependent: the fate of democratisation is bound to the fate of women’s rights and vice versa. Separating the two is conceptually muddled as well as politically dangerous” (Moghadam, 2008). To go even further in the case of Afghanistan, before the Taliban came to power in 1996, Afghan women went through a series of liberal reforms to bolster their participation in a wide range of fields, from the arts to politics (Osman & Zeweri, 2021). Moreover, with the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment Act in the Afghan Constitution in 1964, women began to demand more rights (Osman & Zeweri, 2021). Yet, when the Taliban came to power in the country in 1996, the struggle for gender equality that had been successful over the past years, including women’s suffrage, was revoked by the Islamist group. Fortunately, in 2002, after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghan women regained the right to vote and be elected again, with the end of repressive Islamic authoritarianism in the country (Osman & Zeweri, 2021).

Before jumping to controlling the abuse of power, in the light of the principle of “governance and power of the people”, to which the very name of democracy refers to, the participation of the citizens is one of the essential constituent elements of this form of government. Nevertheless, this cornerstone is a situation that will not occur with the participation of less than half of the society but entirely. Thus, “the quality of democracy is determined not only by the form of institutions, but also by the extent that different social groups participate in these institutions” (Moghadam, 2008). Furthermore, this level can only be reached by ensuring that women get to the place they deserve instead of being excluded from society and having the same opportunities and rights as any man. Societies that were once authoritarian should be pushed more to accept the presence and participation of women in order to break the stigma and stereotypes labelled by the populist and dangerous politicians who once abused their power.

So the danger also lies in the loss of control over institutions and politicians and thus in the abuse of power. If a government seeks to act above the law or if the judiciary is seen as everything other than independent, democracy cannot be assessed in a country. That is, “when the levers of the State are moved to favour only a certain segment of society at the expense of others” (Day, 2022). For instance, abortion and reproductive rights are critical subjects exposed to populist rhetoric in de-democratisation processes. Even with enacted laws, women are still not safe when the situation comes down to their bodily rights in many countries. Politicians and even the judiciary itself are going above the law and abusing their power to prevent women from exercising their most basic right. Poland, in this case, can be considered an apt example. Even though it is located in Europe and is a Member State of the European Union along with 26 others, it has become an undemocratic country due to the right-wing government’s abuse of power which ultimately caused the destruction of the once-independent judiciary (Marques, 2022). This led to the brutal decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal on October 22nd, 2020, ruling that “abortion on grounds of severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the fetus’ life was unconstitutional” (Amnesty International, 2022). Thus, the process of de-democratisation and the rise of populism have correlatively increased the oppression of women’s rights. Faced with the utterly inconceivable news, “both the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission have found that the Constitutional Tribunal does not meet fair trial requirements due to its lack of independence from the legislative and the executive powers” (Amnesty International, 2022).



As Valentine M. Moghadam (2008), the chief of the section for Gender Equality and Development in the sector of Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO in Paris said: “Women may need democracy in order to flourish, but the converse is also true: democracy needs women if it is to be an inclusive, representative, and enduring system of government”. Hereof, democracy is a necessary form of government for women to have the equality they deserve in society and live free from discrimination and oppression by the system. However, when institutions and religion are subjected to the manipulative game of politics, the system favours privileged male groups, which means a constant threat to the voices and even the existence of women.

Moreover, women have been and continue to be the key players in advancing and developing democracy and cultural changes in societies. In a democratic country, everyone is treated equally, and the rule of law is ensured within the framework of respect for human rights. For this reason, gender equality deeply seeks democracy to continue the process of women’s empowerment in political, civil, economic and social rights.



Amnesty International. (2022, January 26). Poland: Regression on abortion access harms  women. Retrieved 26 May 2022, from

Alonso A. & Lombardo E. (2018, September 14). Gender Equality and De-Democratization              Processes: The Case of Spain. Cogitatio. Retrieved 22 May 2022, from

Belquis A. & Asma E. (2022, April 1). Taliban’s Ban on Girls’ Education in Afghanistan. United                        States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 22 May 2022, from

Dahl A. R. (n.d). Democracy. Britannica. Retrieved 22 May 2022, from

Day J. (2022, April 12). 14 Principles of Democracy. Liberties. Retrieved 21 May 2022, from

Hammond G. (2009, January 1). Suffrage in San Juan: The Test of Women’s Rights in Argentina. JSTOR.  Retrieved 26 May 2022, from

Johnson J. (2021, April 1). ​5 FACTS ABOUT WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN ARGENTINA. The Borgen Project. Retrieved 25 May 2022, from

Ayyildiz J. (2004, December 5). THE CONTRIBUTION OF TURKISH WOMEN TO THE MODERNIZATION OF TURKEY. Atatürk Society of America. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from

Marques F. C. (2022, May 5). Abortion Rights Falter as Democracy Slides. Bloomberg. Retrieved 26 May 2022, from

Moghadam M. V. (2008, August 20). The Gender of Democracy: The Link Between Women’s Rights and Democratization in the Middle East. Carnegie Endowment For International Peace. Retrieved 22 May 2022, from

Osman W. & Zeweri H. (2021, October 11). Afghan women have a long history of taking leadership and fighting for their rights. The Conversation. Retrieved 26 May 2022, from

Ruíz J. F. (2013, September 24). Power, Gender and Democracy. From Domination to Gender Equality. Scielo. Retrieved 22 May 2022, from



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.