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Developmental Leadership Program (DLP)
We are an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development
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Non-elite pathways to women’s political leadership in Sri Lanka and Indonesia

09 June 2020

Image: Women protest for their rights in Indonesia. Nur Taufik Zamari, Unsplash.


How women from non-elite backgrounds can be supported to contest elections.

  • What explains the prevalence of women from elite backgrounds in representative politics?
  • How do women politicians conceptualise leadership and representation and how does this differ according to their background and experience: (a) grassroots politics; (b) development/NGO action; and (c) elite political families?
  • What are the experiences of elected women from diverse backgrounds?
  • What role can NGOs, the women’s wings of political parties, and feminist organisations play in increasing the number and diversity of women elected into parliaments?


Why women working in grassroots politics or development organisations are under-represented in state or national assemblies. Better strategies for NGOs and feminist organisations to recruit and support women in election campaigns.


This comparative project will examine a diverse group of women actors in Indonesia and Sri Lanka to better understand why women working in grassroots politics or in national development organisations do not seek and/or attain seats in state or national assemblies.

Women’s representation in political office is critical to achieving gender justice, to advance women’s interests, and for inclusive development leadership. These positive outcomes are hampered across Asia due to women’s under-representation and the elite backgrounds of women elected into legislatures. In Indonesia, there is a lack of capable women candidates willing to contest elections while women working in grassroots social work and the development sector do not pursue a career in politics. In Sri Lanka, the introduction of a local government quota in February 2018 increased women’s participation, yet the elite backgrounds and/or lack of experience with constituents’ concerns leaves many questioning the capabilities of elected women and their ability to promote the concerns of women.

“Women are tarnished by early activities in local level politics, preventing advancement in political careers.
Women in the development sector suggest a preference for ‘clean politics’ of civil society and relative freedom of activism. This project will test these propositions, and identify how women politicians have successfully navigated gendered social norms (cultural expectations) and public perceptions to cultivate legitimacy as political leaders.”

Tanya Jakimow, Principal Investigator


Tanya Jakimow, The Australian National University
Ramona Vijeyarasa, University of Technology, Sydney
Asima Siahaan, Universitas Sumatera Utara, Indonesia
Aida Harahap, Universitas Sumatera Utara
Yumasdaleni, the National University of Malaysia
Mario Gomez, International Centre for Ethnic Studies
Viyanga Gunasekera, International Centre for Ethnic Studies
Nadine Vanniasinkam, International Centre for Ethnic Studies


Sri Lanka, Indonesia

Map to highlight research countries, Indonesia and Sri Lanka

Map to highlight research countries, Indonesia and Sri Lanka


June 2020 – December 2022



The team are holding a workshop from 2nd-4th of February entitled ‘Retheorizing Gender and Political Leadership from Asia and the Pacific: Lessons for a more diverse Australian political landscape‘.

The team have also created a video, ‘Pathways to Politics for Grassroots and Development Sector Women in Sri Lanka and Indonesia‘.

Sign up to the DLP Leadership Observatory for more information on DLP projects or visit the DLP Twitter account to join the conversation #LeadershipObvs.

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