Why African Women Participate Less In Politics Than Men

Why African Women Participate Less In Politics Than Men

Women are less likely than men to participate in politics in Africa. This gender gap affects everything from attending community meetings to contacting elected officials, joining others to raise public issues, expressing a partisan preference and even voting.

On average, women also participate less than men even when they have the same level of education, are in work, are the same age, and express the same level of interest in political affairs.

This gap has important political consequences. The most important is that elected officials are less likely to consider women’s concerns when they’re making policies. This matters because women and men tend to have different policy preferences.

The gender gap in African politics is well documented. But it is often treated as a predictable outcome of poverty and patriarchy. It’s true that economic conditions and patriarchal cultural norms contribute to the gender gap. However, they can’t account for the wide variation in the size of the gender gap from country to country.

To understand the origins of the gender gap – the first step to knowing how to encourage women to participate at the same rate as men – I did a study to determine what country-level factors correlate with it. The aim was understand what conditions shape women’s access to, and comfort with, politics.

As I will explain, the increased participation of women in Senegal presented a good case study to examine the factors that encourage female engagement with political processes in Africa.

The methodology

For the study I relied on the Afrobarometer, a public opinion survey carried out across 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Using four rounds of survey data from 2005 to 2013, I put together a data set that enabled me to look at the relationship between the country-level gender gap and various other country-level characteristics.

The data was averaged across the five forms of political participation: attending community meetings, contacting elected officials, raising awareness on social issues, expressing partisan preferences, and voting.

I also looked at economic and political variables. The economic variables included per capital Gross Domestic Product (GDP), industrialisation, and female participation in the labour force. The political variables were openness and duration of democracy in each country.

I found a range of differences. For example, the results show that in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries on the continent, women participated more than men. The gender gap is also smaller in Sierra Leone than it is Liberia, and much larger in Zambia than in Malawi.

But the gap was much larger in former French colonies. There, women participated at 75% the rate of men. That’s compared to 85% the rate of men in countries that weren’t formerly French colonies.

But the gender gap was virtually nonexistent in countries with higher rates of female representation in the national legislature (around 40%). Here women participated at 93% the rate of men.

Expanding participation

As of November 2018, only 3 countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61.3 per cent, Cuba with 53.2 per cent and Bolivia with 53.1 per cent; but a greater number of countries have reached 30 per cent or more.

As of November 2018, 49 single or lower houses were composed of 30 per cent or more women, including 21 countries in Europe, 13 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 11 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2 in the Pacific and 1 each in Asia and Arab States; more than half of these countries have applied some form of quotas – either legislative candidate quotas or reserved seats – opening space for women’s political participation in national parliaments.

Gender balance in political participation and decision-making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them.

Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women’s caucuses – even in the most politically combative environments – and by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform.


Agency Report

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