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

Article excerpt


Although microfinance in developing countries is mostly used as a tool to lift poor women out of poverty, it is also increasingly being used as a medium to involve women into democratization process at the local level. The strength of Microfinance Institutions (MFI) as a mobilization medium is that they are able to reach large number of poor women because of a widely spread need for financial services. In this study, the author assesses the relevance of microfinance as a medium to foster democratization through the case study of CADD (Cercle d'Autopromotion pour le Développement Durable), a MFI with which the author had first-hand experience. Based in Benin, CADD regroups 3500 women that are directly involved into the democratization process. While CADD's mobilization of women is unique in that it regroups an unprecedented number of women in political struggle, this study finds that women's involvement into the democratization is not fruitful because of the very financial and business oriented nature of the MFI.

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


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.


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). …