Can political gender equality produce educational gender equality? Evidence from developing regions.
By Maike Kusserow
- Introduction: educational and political gender inequalities in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Evidence of the effects of female representation on women’s education
- Studies of political gender quotas in India and Africa
- Tentative evidence from Uganda
- Pitfalls of political gender quotas
Introduction: educational and political gender inequalities in sub-Saharan Africa
On average, women have a Human Development Index (HDI) that is 5.9% lower than that of men. In less developed countries, the disparity grows to 13.8% . The UNPD’s Gender Inequality Index (GII), which encompasses health, education, political representation and labour market outcomes, estimates the global loss in achievements due to gender inequalities to be 0.441 . Yet, this figure is even higher in less developed regions, with Sub-Saharan Africa scoring 0.569 on the GII while OECD countries stand, on average, at 0.186 . This article examines two gender gaps in particular–political and educational and the relationship between them.
Regarding education, though great headway has been made in the past two decades in achieving gender parity, girls remain disadvantaged in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, where according to UNICEF in 2018, 94 girls for every 100 boys, attended primary school, and only 85 attended secondary school . Furthermore, UNESCO shows that in 2016, 9 million girls, as compared with 6 million boys, are expected to remain completely excluded from education .
On the other hand, Sub-Saharan Africa has proven itself a frontrunner in gender equality in the political sphere. The 1990s and early 2000s saw many countries in the region adopt affirmative action policies, introducing women into local and national government bodies . These policies have paved the way to achieving female representation figures that far surpass many Western countries. Rwanda most prominently tops global rankings at 61% female seats in parliament – its 30% quota in all decision-making bodies having been implemented in 2003. The likes of South Africa, Mozambique, Burundi, Uganda and more, all stand above 35% compared to the US at 24% for instance .
Sub-Saharan Africa’s leadership in women’s political representation and concurrent trailing in educational gender equality, begs the question of how these two domains of gender equality are related. In particular, can female political representation put more girls in school?
Evidence of the effects of female representation on women’s education
On the one hand, women in politics are likely to steer policy agendas towards improving the lives of fellow women . On the other hand, their mere presence on the political stage may also generate a role model effect, lifting the educational aspirations of other women and girls . Quantitative evidence on the effect of female representation on women’s outcomes in the developing world has largely come from India, due to the country’s policy of randomly assigning one-third of all villages to female-only leadership elections. Random assignment means that all other factors which could also determine women’s outcomes, should, on average, be equally distributed between the group of villages that was assigned to female leadership and the group that was not. Hence, on average, the only difference between these two groups should be whether they were subjected to the female leadership rule or not, and it thus becomes possible to credibly attribute subsequent changes in girls’ education to the presence of a female leader. Beaman et al. (2012) collected data several years after this policy was implemented which reveal that in villages reserved for female leadership, the gender gap in parental as well as girls’ own aspirations for their future (as compared to those for boys), narrowed by 25% and 32% respectively . They also found that the educational gender gap itself entirely vanishes and attribute this to improved aspirations fostered by female role modelling. This is strong evidence that when women enter the political stage, society’s estimation of female value rises, and parents as well as girls themselves invest more in their future.
In Africa, research on the effect of female representation on women’s education is scarce. Dimitrova-Grajzl and Obasanjo (2019) analyze data on GII components for African countries and find no correlation between the presence of a gender quota and women’s education . When they differentiate between types of quotas, they do find that legislative candidate quotas (whereby parties must nominate a certain percentage of women as parliamentary candidates) as opposed to reserved seats (where a certain percentage of seats are reserved for women-only elections), are associated with higher secondary enrollment for girls. They argue that different quota designs lend different degrees of legitimacy to women MPs, which impacts their effectiveness as MPs.
Tentative evidence from Uganda
My research focuses on Uganda, given the lack of quantitative studies of the country’s quota system and its effects – especially on women’s education. The Ugandan gender gap in primary school has decreased markedly thanks largely to the 1997 policy of universal primary education . However, the gap persists from late primary school onwards, with secondary and tertiary gender ratios at 0.89 and 0.27 respectively .
To investigate the potential role of female political representation in lifting these ratios, I study Uganda’s 1989 implementation of a parliamentary gender quota. The policy, whereby each district has to elect a female representative, caused a large spike in representation from virtually zero to 34 female MPs (or 12% of seats). I look at cohorts born between 1959 and 1987, calculating the average difference in education of women who completed their education before the quota’s implementation and women who completed it after implementation – those who actually witnessed the rise in female representation while in school. I then compare this difference to the same difference amongst men. Comparing women’s education alone, before and after the quota risks capturing the impact of countless other factors affecting education over time. However, by subtracting the female difference from the male difference, the factors experienced by both men and women can be differenced out. This adds some credibility to the claim of isolating the effect of the quota on women’s education.
Results show that girls who were in school during the spike in female representation saw nearly one more year of education, a 4% higher probability of having finished primary school and 18% higher probability of having entered school at all. These are large, statistically significant, effects, considering that for women who completed their education before the quota, average years of education stood at 3.34 and primary-completion and school-entry rates were 20% and 57% respectively.
Nonetheless, these conclusions should be drawn cautiously, given the difficulty of definitively isolating the effect of the parliamentary quota. Although the double-differencing method eliminates some confounding factors, a definite causal interpretation of the above effects relies on there being no factors affecting education which varied over time (from before to after the quota) while also varying between women and men. In truth, one such factor, which is difficult to control for, is the growing women’s movement and the fact that regardless of the quota, since as early as the 1940s, it is likely that women’s education was increasing at a faster rate than men’s as a result of gradually improving societal attitudes.
Pitfalls of political gender quotas
Quotas are undoubtedly an effective means of increasing female representation, however, there is ongoing debate on whether they are detrimental to meritocracy and whether women elected within a quota system suffer from less legitimacy. In Uganda in particular, the quota’s design has been accused of being a patronage-spreading tool . Since it is a reserved seat quota whereby every district in the country must proffer a female MP, the incumbent party’s frequent district-creation has led critics to claim it opens its doors to women MPs only to illicit loyalty and geographically advance their influence, illegitimating female MPs in the eyes of the electorate. Policy recommendations regarding gender quotas should thus take into account the diversity of quota systems and their relative advantages and disadvantages.
Though much more research is necessary to be able to draw generalizable conclusions, women’s political presence might be a promising tool to promote women’s education in the developing world. Indeed, female schooling can be most effectively promoted through direct supply or demand-side policies; however, synergies between gender equality in different domains should certainly be welcomed and further explored.
About the author:
Maike Kusserow has recently graduated from the University of Warwick with a BSc in Economics & Politics with study abroad at Sciences Po Paris. She is German-Colombian and grew up between East Africa, Germany, Austria and Colombia. She is passionate about issues of gender inequality and has a great interest in development economics. Her research, “Can political gender equality promote educational gender equality? Impacts of a parliamentary gender quota on women’s education in Uganda”, is available upon request.