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Gender and Political Participation

Session XI-09, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Feminist activists have long demanded institutional structures that promote and protect women’s rights at the highest levels of the state. This demand was further supported from the international community when the Beijing Platform for Action that resulted from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995 emphasized the “creation and strengthening of national machineries for the advancement of women at the highest possible level of government”. Women’s rights activists in many Muslim countries have organized extensively in demand of such structures, which may take the form of women’s ministries, commissions, or bureaus, that aim to pass legislation or design institutional protocols to expand gender equality, respect for women’s rights, and elimination of discrimination and violence against women. Despite such organizing, the design and impact of such machineries have varied across the globe, including throughout the Muslim region. While some have formed clearly mandated structures for mainstreaming gender concerns in all state agencies, institutions, laws, and plans, others are weak structures, formed to merely appeal to donors or sections to the electorate. Through case studies of women’s national machineries in Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, this research highlights the complexities of national women’s and human rights machineries of these countries, with attention to the ways in which they have varied from one another and throughout time. From the three, only Afghanistan benefited from a formal Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) that functioned from 2001 to 2021, while Turkey and Iran have had less formalized women’s advisory entities within the executive branch. In recent years and with coming to power of conservative parties and elites, women’s machineries also shifted to largely address women’s concerns within the context of family, thus undermining feminist movements’ claims that aimed to highlight equal opportunities and roles for women within the public sphere, as it has occurred in Turkey and Iran. The findings of this research will shed light onto the role and impact of national women’s machineries and illuminate the contexts, factors and ideologies that foster formation of entitles that aim to substantively represent women’s interests. Its analysis will analyze the role of the international community within war-torn Afghanistan, as well as an increasingly ostracized women’s rights movement from the global gender discourses as in Iran and Turkey.
  • Tunisia’s 10-year experiment as a representative democracy (from democratic consolidation in 2011 to its truncation in 2021) with gender parity policies in place is notable for the success rates of women serving as Deputies in Parliament. Consistent with previous findings that gender parity policies are critical for increasing women’s political participation, my research confirms that Tunisian women have outperformed other nations in gender representation (including established democracies in like the United States). Extant literature fails to address women’s political representation in Tunisia in a comprehensive way from the perspective of women participants. My study addresses this gap and provides needed analysis of how women actually experience representation. Applying a mixed methods approach, I contextualize statistical data on women in legislatures worldwide with ethnography and phenomenological data collection I conducted in Tunisia during the summer of 2021. This inductive research project provides a record of Tunisian women’s lived experiences with representation during Tunisia’s democratic period and examines how specific policies such as Decree Number 35 and Article 46 of the 2014 Constitution have impacted Tunisian women’s access to political representation. Data from my 2021 interviews reveal that Tunisian women are highly engaged in politics and motivated to participate in meaningful ways such as holding leadership positions in the Parliament; yet a common theme in their individual experiences is that there are significant barriers to entry, not only for obtaining parliamentary seats, but for achieving the leadership roles they seek once seated. Another theme is the questioning of the efficacy of Article 46 and Decree Number 35 following the downturn in the percent of women Deputies from 33% seated in 2014 elections to 25% in 2019. A concurrent change in Tunisia’s political landscape was increased political atomization, generating a greater number of parties, a development that combined with Tunisia’s “zipper” style parity policy contributed to the decline in women Deputies. These findings have the potential to shape Tunisia’s policy approach toward improving women’s access to political representation by providing an assessment of gender quota efficacy both in terms of quantitative outcomes for diversifying legislatures, and qualitative outcomes such as legislative efficacy and policy quality. Tunisia’s unique combination of post-Arab Spring democratic achievement and longstanding emphasis on women’s rights makes it a compelling case study to further our understanding of gender parity in representative politics – nationally, regionally, and in the global context.
  • Why after decades of universal suffrage in most Arab countries are women less politically engaged than men? Importantly, why does the gender gap in voting all but disappear or reverse in some of the more conservative states such as Jordan and Morocco? This book chapter leverages linking capital to explain why personal connections drive political participation among not only women, but also men within and across countries. Using a trove of field research and original survey data, it argues and shows empirically that where women enjoy linkages with politicians (that is, linking capital)--whether through shared gender or tribal connections--or through work relationships, the gender gap in political engagement narrows. Like previous studies in western countries which locate participatory differences in nonpolitical institutions such as the family and work, this paper shows that social institutions--including membership in kin-based and civil society institutions--lie at the heart of women’s participation in Arab countries. Electing women also improves engagement by reshaping networks and providing new sources of linking capital. In addition to providing a vivid picture of some of the pathways through which women exercise political agency in the MENA region, this book chapter has important implications for comparative politics and policymakers working to make public institutions accessible and accountable to citizens regardless of their gender or group identity.
  • As gender quotas become increasingly popular globally, new rules mandating gender parity in elected bodies are appearing in places that lack other aspects of inclusive democracy. Such is the case with the United Arab Emirates, which implemented gender parity for its advisory body, the Federal National Council, during the 2019 electoral cycle. However, observers have questioned whether and how such top-down reforms relate to citizens preferences. Are quotas merely artifacts of state feminism used to bolster domestic and international support for the regime or are they indicative of a deeper societal shift toward inclusivity? Yet, mapping citizen opinions about female participation in government is not a straightforward task. Prior to the recent entry of women into Gulf politics, long-standing discussions of identity politics centered around mechanisms for sharing power between regional and tribal actors. Thus, support for women in elected institutions is mediated by perceptions of relevant tribal identities, thus necessitating an intersectional approach. Research on the broader Middle East (Bush and Gao 2017, Kao and Benstead 2020) and more recently the Arab Gulf (al-Sharekh, and Freer 2022) has demonstrated the utility of intersectional approaches for understanding the complex relationship between gender and tribal identity. To add further complexity, it is difficult to empirically ascertain public support for women in politics due to the strength of state narratives and social desirability biases favoring female inclusion and discouraging overt discussion of tribal politics. This paper offers exploratory experimental data from UAE nationals enrolled at two prominent universities collected in the spring of 2021. It measures preferences for hypothetical candidates with randomized ascriptive attributes including gender and family names, alongside occupation, experience, education, and issue area. Results show that young males are less likely to support the female candidate overall, but no gender bias exists for female respondents. Furthermore, female candidates from some tribes are less likely to garner public support among young nationals. The paper also investigates how support for female candidates is shaped by different experimental frames, including reminders about the quota law and the presence of women on the council. Frames presenting women as already having an established presence on the council are associated with lower support for female candidates among male participants. Taken together the results are indicative of a society in transition. Despite generally high levels of support for women in politics, tribal identities complicate how female candidates are perceived by young educated nationals.