Gender quotas, or a minimum requirement of female participation in the political process, have recently become a very popular tool in developing countries. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of countries now have some sort of gender quota; while the vast majority of developed countries do not (Bush). What remains to be studied thoroughly is the effect of these quotas on the general perception of the citizens in these countries. In other words, are these quotas being implemented in order for countries to appear more democratic, or for some other reason? Quotas are commonly dismissed because they are often not met, even when constitutionally mandated, and are frequently seen as a façade put on by autocratic leaders to appear democratic in order to garner international support (Quota Project). However, the results of my study show that on a general level, this assumption is not true. Furthermore, the results of my study can pinpoint the groups most significantly affected by the implementation of gender quotas.
In order to determine how democratic people perceived their country, I gathered data from a public opinion survey given in several sub-Saharan African countries. The survey was given in 5 rounds and is available at www.afrobarometer.org. Since the survey was given in five rounds, I was able to track the changes in perception over time and then relate those changes with when the country implemented a gender quota. For example, Lesotho adopted a gender quota between rounds after round 3 of the survey, but before round 4. Therefore, I could assume correlation between gender quotas and perceived democracy if I saw an increase in perceived democracy in Lesotho after round three. The graph below shows average responses for each country in each round of the survey. The question was, “How democratic do you perceive your country?” The respondents could answer from 1 to 4 with 1 being the least democratic and 4 being the most democratic.
As the graph indicates, there was no obvious relationship between gender quotas and perceived democracy. However, I had wanted to find that gender quotas increased, or at least affected, the level of perceived democracy, and so I continued the study with a statistical analysis.
I first studied the countries and rounds as a whole unit. One of the most significant findings of this research was a negative change between rounds 2 and 3 of the survey. In other words, something caused people to view their countries as less democratic between those two rounds. I took this information and discovered that every country with a gender quota in my study adopted that gender quota after round 2. This means that while gender quotas may not have directly affected perceived democracy, they might have been used as a tool to combat a negative perception of democracy.
However, I also gathered more individual data on the respondents. This not only allowed me to specifically highlight the effect of quotas, but also allowed me to show if there were any specific groups that were more prone to view their country as democratic than other groups. I used several indicators for this analysis including age, level of education, urban or rural dwelling, perceived relative economic status, and overall interest in public affairs. By using all of these variables, the results of my research changed drastically.
Several other significant variables stood out in the results of this study. The first was age. The results showed that younger women perceived their countries as slightly less democratic than older women. While this finding is important, the difference between the two groups was very small and therefore does not say much about the effect of age on perceived democracy. Both relative living conditions and interest in public affairs had a positive effect on democracy. That is, those who perceived their living conditions as better than their neighbors perceived more democracy in the country. The same was true for those who were more interested in public affairs. Finally, and not surprisingly, the results showed that those who lived in more urban areas, presumably closer to government municipalities, perceived less democracy. This is probably due to their proximity to the corruption in government.
Education, however, was the most significant indicator in all of my results. I found that more educated women were less likely to perceive their countries as democratic. This finding was very interesting because it implies that as women are more educated, they are able to see deficiencies in their governments more clearly. These deficiencies cause these women to perceive less democracy. The hope would be that education would not just cause women to see these deficiencies, but also that it would motivate them to do something about them. With a stronger, more educated female population, government corruption in places like sub-Saharan Africa could decrease dramatically.
While I was not able to conclude that gender quotas increase the perception of democracy, this study still provided meaningful lessons. First, gender quotas may often be used as a tool to combat negative perceptions. Second, while other variables like age and living conditions are important, the best way to affect the perception of democracy, and hopefully enact more democratic policies, is to educate the women of developing countries.