Political Science Now

Theme Panel: Women’s Engagement in African Politics: Opportunities and Constraints

Women’s Engagement in African Politics: Opportunities and Constraints

Sat, September 5, 4:15 to 6:00pm, Hilton, Continental Parlor 2

Session Description

Our discipline has long been concerned with the problem of gender equality, in general, and the underrepresentation of women in positions of power, in particular. In recent years, the share of women holding political office around the world has increased dramatically, in part due to the implementation of policies designed to increase women’s representation. In response, political scientists have begun to study the effectiveness of such policies, as well as the implications of increased female participation in politics more broadly. These questions are particularly pertinent in Sub-Saharan Africa, where gender inequality is still quite large, despite some of the highest rates of female representation in the world.
Building on this burgeoning literature, the papers on this panel seek to understand the opportunities and constraints faced by women engaged in politics across Sub-Saharan Africa. Arriola and Johnson evaluate the impact of women’s economic rights on the degree to which female representatives are appointed to high-level cabinet positions across Sub-Saharan Africa. Clayton and Tang explore whether and how legislative quotas, a common tool to increase women’s representation, shape female candidates long term success in winning office, as a function of changes in both electorate preferences and candidate resources in Lesotho. Gottlieb, Grossman, and Robinson empirically evaluate the assumption underlying calls for the increased representation of women in government, namely that female voters in Sub-Saharan Africa hold different political preferences than their male counterparts. Michelitch and Weghorst explore the impact of religion on citizens’ attitudes about women’s rights in mixed-religion African countries, in an effort to isolate the effect of religious belief separately from political and economic factors. Nielsen documents the unintended negative effects of development assistant aimed at gender equality by tracing its impact on women’s civil society organizations in Sierra Leone.
Together, these five papers explore women’s engagement with politics at many different levels – as voters, civil society organizers, and politicians – and the diversity of ways in which they engage politically, including forming attitudes and political preferences, mobilizing for women’s rights, and seeking political office. In understanding these processes, we consider the causal impacts of economic, political, and social factors in shaping women’s equality and political power across the continent. These studies reflect the rich diversity of methods in political science, including both cross-national and within-country research designs, as well as the use of qualitative interviews, public opinion data, field experiments, and the construction of novel cross-national datasets.