Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Gender and Changing Patterns of Political Participation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Five Waves of the Afrobarometer Surveys

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Gender and Changing Patterns of Political Participation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Five Waves of the Afrobarometer Surveys

Article excerpt

Generally speaking while the struggle for equal political and civil rights between men and women goes back to antiquity, it was not until after the role women played in the Second World War that global efforts to promote equal opportunity for women in decision-making roles gained prominence. In view of the fact that in a democracy all people regardless of gender, should ideally have political equality and with it equal participation or representation (Lijphart, 1997; Tripp & Kang, 2007), the need for women to access political rights received a major boost in the international arena and continues to do so through the efforts of such global organizations as the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA); the InterParliamentaiy Union (IPU); the National Democratic Institute (NDI); the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women)1.

Despite these efforts, voting attending meetings and other forms of political participation are highly imbalanced as there is unequal representation and consequently unequal influence (Isaksson, 2010; Isaksson, Kotsadam, & Nerman, 2012; Lijphart, 1997; Kenworthy & Malami, 1999) as political representation and influence are often systematically skewed in favour of more privileged citizens, especially, men (Lijphart, 1997). This phenomenon is not unique or limited to the developed world but experienced in developing nations equally. For instance, according to data by the InterParliamentaiy Union (IPU) women comprise only 20.4% of parliamentarians in subSaharan Africa, slightly higher than the global average (Bawa & Sanyare, 2013), while the continent of Africa has only two female heads of state, a situation which shows that political inequality is as much an African issue as it is a global one.

Despite the continuing gendered nature of political participation in sub-Saharan Africa, the bulk of the research on gender gaps in political participation has been done in the Western context, albeit not absolutely (Barnes & Burchard, 2012; Mehrotra, 2012). It is against this background of the continuing gendered nature of political participation in subSaharan Africa that we undertake the present study. Specifically, using five waves of the Afrobarometer data, we track changes in the gender gap in two measures of political participation in selected countries of sub-Saharan Africa. We then explore the degree to which these trends can be explained by individual attributes and national indicators of economic and political structure.

Literature Review

In eschewing the traditional notion of political participation, in recent decades, there has been consensus amongst scholars of politics that political participation encompasses two broad types: the conventional or formal forms of participation or 'campaign oriented' (e.g., voting, political party membership, running for office, contacting political officials), and the unconventional or informal forms of participation such as participation in strikes and demonstrations or 'cause oriented' (Lijphart, 1997; Mehrotra, 2012; Norris, Lovenduski & Campbell, 2004). Within the context of the conceptualisation of the multi-faceted nature of political participation, for example, it has been found (e.g., Norris et al., 2004) that there is no gender gap in voter turnout at national, regional or local elections in the United Kingdom, that women are more likely than men to be involved in 'cause oriented' activities but significantly less likely to be involved in 'campaign oriented' activities.

This largely corroborates studies that have found that voting participation is less unequal than other forms of participation (Lijphart, 1997). Coffé and Bolzendahl's (2011)findings from a systematic study of 18 African nations to assess gender disparities in registration to vote, did not document a significant variation between women and men in electoral participation. …

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