Gender Quota in Niger – Successful Tokenism?

Kang (2013) “finds that the effect of the gender quota law on the election and appointment of women hinged on a combination of three factors: the design of the law, the institutional context, and the agency of women’s activists who monitored the quota’s implementation.”

I’m on the fence about this one. On the upside, I’m happy to see that Kang highlights the importance of institutions in Africa, which are too often pushed aside as neopatrimonial and weak, thus unimportant (see Jackson and Rosberg 1981, Reno 1998, Bratton and van de Wall 1997, van de Walle 2001, etc).

Niger Grap

As a visual person, I wanted to see the changes for myself. Here’s a basic plot with the trend in women’s representation across elections in Niger.  I’ve labeled some key time periods (single-party rule, multiparty elections, and elections after the quota was implemented).  There are remarkably good statistics on this for Niger (compared to other countries where data on at least one or more elections is unavailable).

Some clear trends stand out.  First, women in Niger were late to join the national legislature.  The first woman wasn’t elected until 1989, whereas most African countries elected women in their first or second elections (by the mid-1970s).  After the first cohort of women (5.38% of the parliament) were elected under single-party rule, the number of female MPs declined in multiparty elections.  By 1999, women only made up 1.2% of the parliament.  It seems like the quota law has turned this around for the time being, bringing representation to 12.39% in the 2011 poll.

On the downside, this law smells of tokenism.  The 10% threshold is the lowest on the continent.  I wonder what will happen to the women once they are in office.  Will the women’s movement in Niger be able to push through the 25%, 30% or even 50% quota they hope to establish?  At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be much support from the ruling party.

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3 Replies to “Gender Quota in Niger – Successful Tokenism?”

  1. I like the Nice Fancy data analysis . I don’t know too much about gender politics in Niger, but just a couple of things: (1) It should not surprise you that there were no women in the National Assembly until 1989. In fact, there were no National Assembly in Niger during the military dictatorship between 1974-1989. Actually, real legislative elections were held for the 1st time in 1993. (2) Women voice is increasingly rising in Niger. In both the elections of 2004 and 2011 the threshold of 10% was slightly crossed. The expectation is that even without having a high fixed threshold women representation will go crescendo. (3) Gender politics is very sensitive issue in Niger. Lawmakers are very careful about it. Keep in mind that, for some reasons, Nigerien societies have been under tremendous pressure from western feminist organizations to adopt the family code. These pressures produced counter-purposes insofar as they transformed Nigerien societies into increasingly conservative societies regarding gender and family issues. (4) A new trend of feminism “Islamic feminism” has now emerged and it is making a lot of success in correcting some of the inequalities that women suffer. Women representation is not part of its agenda but it might indirectly influence that aspect as well.
    I love your blog!!

  2. Nice Fancy data analysis . I don’t know too much about gender politics in Niger, but just a couple of things: (1) It should not surprise you that there were no women in the National Assembly until 1989. In fact, there were no National Assembly in Niger during the military dictatorship between 1974-1989. Actually, real legislative elections were held for the 1st time in 1993. (2) Women voice is increasingly rising in Niger. In both the elections of 2004 and 2011 the threshold of 10% was slightly crossed. The expectation is that even without having a high fixed threshold women representation will go crescendo. (3) Gender politics is very sensitive issue in Niger. Lawmakers are very careful about it. Keep in mind that, for some reasons, Nigerien societies have been under tremendous pressure from western feminist organizations to adopt the family code. These pressures produced counter-purposes insofar as they transformed Nigerien societies into increasingly conservative societies regarding gender and family issues. (4) A new trend of feminism “Islamic feminism” has now emerged and it is making a lot of success in correcting some of the inequalities that women suffer. Women representation is not part of its agenda but it might indirectly influence that aspect as well.
    I love your blog!!

    1. Thanks for the comments and for reading. I’m pretty ignorant about Nigerien political history in general.

      1) What about the National Assembly elections in 1965 and 1970? These were under the one-party state, PPN-RDA, but at the same time period, most of Africa were one-party states, with women in the National Assembly. Of course I am not at all passing judgments here. The US House only had a little over 1% more women in 1989 than Nigerien National Assembly. I just find it to be an interesting case.

      2) I definitely agree with you here and am skeptical about the role of the quota for long term women’s empowerment. I am anxiously awaiting a “natural experiment” where a country removes its quota. Then we’ll see whether they work as a temporary solution or if the decreased competition they generate for women has negative effects on the long term capacity for women to run in open elections against men.

      3) This is a great point! And something that is very common across sub-Saharan Africa. Are western feminists attempting to a neo-colonization of the mind by pushing their constructed “international norms” onto other countries?

      4) If so – then trends like Islamic feminism are certainly an alternative route that attempts to influence local informal institutions and then match these with formal ones. This is juxtaposed to international feminism which attempts to impose international formal institutional models in contexts where these clash with informal institutions already in place. My philosophy is always – buy local if you can, otherwise you might end up with bitter tasting bananas.

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