Women and Democratization in West Africa: The Case of Cercle d'Autopromotion Pour le Developpement Durable

Article excerpt

Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Judith Teichman (University of Toronto), who's comments helped to improve the work.

Introduction

Women's empowerment within society is more successful when accomplished through gradual and pragmatic approaches (Boserup, 1970). This argument is widely used by policy makers, though its logic often fails to significantly improve the situation of women in developing countries. Indeed, while considering the case of women's empowerment within the African context, an informed analyst is quickly struck by an impressive paradox: while women's participation in the economy is particularly high, according to the United Nation Population Fund (UNPF, 2008), the economic and political empowerment of women is still among the lowest in the world, as measured by the Gender Equity Index (Social Watch, 2005). This is the case even in states such as Benin and Mali, which are considered to be among the most democratic in the region. This leads one to wonder, "Is democratization a sufficient condition to ensure the empowerment of women within the society?". This concern is especially relevant while adopting Waylen's perspective, which holds that any serious analysis of democratization should incorporate a gendered perspective (Waylen, 1994).

While many scholars agree that women's political empowerment within society heavily depends on the context within which it occurs (Dietz, 1991; Waylen 1994; Lynne, 2003; Chazan, 1989; Kandiyote, 1988), others stress the fact that women have an active role in their own empowerment (Filomina, 2006; Boserup 1970; Tinker, 1976; Rogers, 1980). The central thesis of this paper reconciles both arguments and argues that, within the context of West Africa, while mobilization through economic empowerment is insufficient in order to involve women in democratization because of its too pragmatic nature (which indirectly points to the gender inequality problem), inclusion of women in democratization is likely to be initially related to it because of the context of the Sub-Saharan patriarchal ideology and the persistent economic crisis.

This study is a unique attempt to analyze the interplay between gender relations, democratization, and economic empowerment of women through microfinance in West Africa. It incorporates references to the case study of Cercle d'Autopromotion pour le Devlopement Durable (CADD), a Microfinance Institution (MFI) in Benin that is working towards women's empowerment and is active in fostering a more women inclusive democratization.

Methodology

This essay will examine women-inclusive democratization in five parts. First, it will briefly look at the success of democratization in Benin as compared to other African countries. Secondly, it will examine the economic and political indicators that characterize women in Benin as compared to women in other African countries. Democratization is presented using the Freedom House Index (FHI) while gender, economic, and political indicators are assessed using quantitative measures such as the Gender Equity Index (GEI).

Third, it will assess the context in which democratization occurred in Benin and West Africa in terms of a gendered analysis. Fourth, it will present microfinance through a community-based group that focuses on consumption issues and is proposing solutions for women's empowerment within African democracies. Here, particular attention will be given to both women's impact on democratization through such an organisation and the effectiveness of this form of organization on women's economic and social empowerment. Fifth and finally, this essay will try to find alternatives for democratization that are more women inclusive within the African context.

Assessing Benin's Success in Democratizing and Including Women in the Democratization Process

According to Freedom House's widely used Political Rights and Civil Liberties Index, Benin is ranked fourth in Africa in terms of political rights and civil liberties. …