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Public, political and digital participation

Masculinities and patriarchy

Women's political inclusion is a key strategy for creating inclusive political organizations and participatory processes that strive to deliver on attaining gender and sexual justice. While the numbers of women in parliaments and in local government have risen globally (IPU 2014; UN Women 2014); women still experience significant gendered barriers in accessing and participating in politics and policy making spaces. Women’s ability to enter politics and their effective participation depends on being able to access material and social resources. Studies have largely focused on the impact of gender quotas in women entering politics—but few have explored how women’s ability to mobilize funds and material support for political campaigns and their reproductive responsibilities influence their decisions to participate in politics. We need to understand and address these dimensions for women’s political empowerment. 

While studies on conflict resolution, peace building, and reconstruction have explored women’s ability to participate in these larger settlement processes and how women are excluded; few studies have explored how political violence and the threat of sexual harassment influence women’s ability to access participatory and political spaces and be active. This is key area where we need more evidence and policy measures that address these concerns, especially as these trends and dangers are being mirrored strongly in the growth of online and digital spaces. It is widely acknowledged that increasing the number of women in political parties, in elected offices and policy making spaces do not automatically lead to promotion of gender equity in politics. Women’s political inclusion is the first step, and creation of effective voice depends on: the terms of inclusion, the presence of critical allies (including male actors) inside the state and wider coalitions in civil society supporting gender equity concerns. We still lack systematic evidence on when do men become critical actors for promoting gender equity?

Research also shows that autonomous women’s movements are crucial for sustaining political pressure on the state and for strengthening women voice inside policy spaces. Moreover, international policy discourse has been critical as reference points for framing demands at the national level. There is a need to systematically explore how women’s movement actors and international discourses shape openings for gender equity in conflict settings.  

While globally the number of women in politics has increased, the patriarchal and male dominated nature of political and public spaces has not changed. Gender inclusive political spaces and promotion of gender equity in political processes can only be fully achieved once the nature of political processes change. There is a large body of research that shows how men in the family and at the community level and inside political parties have resisted the implementation of gender quotas or the promotion of gender equity policies (Goetz and Hassim 2003). Research also shows that men have in many contexts supported women’s political participation. This support has been motivated both by material and ideational interests. In many instances men from established political families and clan/ethnic groups have supported creation of gender quota so they are able to access political spaces through the women of their families, clans and ethnic groups. However, there is also evidence that men inside the state agencies have played the role of critical actors to promote gender equity concerns. Where men have played a critical role in most cases they have had links with autonomous women’s organisations and strong ideational reasons for promoting gender justice (Nazneen, forthcoming).   However research on how men can be effectively engaged to promote gender equity are few. What motivates men to become critical actors to promote gender equity within the state agencies? What processes engage men as change agents at the local level for higher levels of women’s participation and empowerment? How can male dominated culture and informal practices inside the parties be changed for greater political inclusion of women? This requires a focus on how informal institutions (norms, practices etc.) function. We need better evidence on how institutions and their gender cultures can be reformed.