Breaking the Cycle of Gender Exclusion in Political Party Development – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Posted: March 24, 2020 at 2:45 pm

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Political parties around the world face a crisis in public confidence. Many citizens view them as inaccessible and unresponsive to their concerns. Parties pose specific challenges for women, who face both formal and informal barriers to participation, including opaque nomination procedures, violence, and parties with hypermasculine cultures.

The formation of new parties during periods of political transition represents a potential opportunity to break these patterns. Transitions can be openings to transform the broader political, legal, and social barriers to an inclusive kind of politics. In these moments of flux, the development of new party branches and rules, as well as the renegotiation of broader institutional frameworks, can enable women and other marginalized groups to push for greater political representation within party structures.

What factors influence the level of gender inclusion in processes of party development? This question is central for policymakers, advocates, and practitioners seeking to support inclusive democracy and gender equality in transitional societies and beyond.To shed light on this topic, this study investigates gender inclusion in three types of party formation that commonly unfold during political transitions:

For each of these three cases, the study examines how the origins and characteristics of these parties and their respective transition contexts influence the degree of gender inclusion these parties exhibit. Insights from Bolivia, Nepal, and Uganda expand the analysis to additional regions.

To support gender inclusion within newly formed political parties during and following political transitions, international assistance providers should:

Political parties are central to democracy. They provide organized channels for citizen participation in decisionmaking and enable peaceful competition for political power. They also select candidates for political office and often decide which issues make it onto policy agendas. As a result, they can play an important role in ensuring the political inclusion of women and other marginalized groups.1

Gender equality in political parties also has crucial implications for democratic legitimacy and resilience. On a basic level, a democracy without the participation of half a countrys population is not a democracy. Women and men are entitled to equal civil and political rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international commitments.2 Furthermore, a growing body of evidence indicates that womens political participation can lead to tangible democratic gains, including greater policy responsiveness to diverse citizen needs, reduced risk of conflict recurrence, and higher levels of political stability.3 Parties that take womens participation seriously can also benefit electorally by accessing new groups of voters and signaling their commitment to social change.4

Yet parties around the world have historically been patriarchal and exclusionary organizations. Women face both formal and informal barriers to political participation, including opaque processes for nominating candidates and parties with hypermasculine cultures. Women are often relegated to supporting roles and contend with direct resistance to their participation and leadership.5 Some parties have made formal commitments to gender equality, but most fall short of living out such commitments or achieving a high degree of inclusion.6

Processes of party formation represent a potential opportunity to break these patterns. The development of party structures, constitutions, and rules can enable women and other marginalized groups to push for greater representation. Moreover, party formation often occurs in periods of mobilization and political flux, creating openings to unsettle existing power structures and bring new issues onto political agendas.

Saskia Brechenmacher is a fellow in Carnegies Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, where her research focuses on gender, civil society, and democratic governance.

Yet the factors shaping gender equality and inclusion in early party development are poorly understood. Why do some nascent parties establish rules and norms that promote womens participation, whereas others do not? What factors impede or enable greater equality, and what are the entry points for change?

In multiparty systems, parties can form under many different conditions. Some parties originate in periods of authoritarianism, survive political liberalization, and then adapt to multiparty competition. Others form during political transitions or once multiparty competition already has been established. This study focuses on parties formed in transitional contexts, such as following a negotiated peace settlement or the ouster of an authoritarian leader.

Such openings offer unique opportunities to transform the political, legal, and social barriers women face in politics and society.7 For example, peace negotiations or constitutional reform processes can enable women to press for institutional commitments to electoral parity and rights protections.8 At the same time, political transitions do not automatically facilitate greater gender equality in politicsthey also can lead to womens renewed marginalization.9 Understanding why and how nascent parties integrate or exclude women at such times is crucial for preventing patriarchal institutions and processes from returning.

This study focuses on three types of party formation that commonly unfold during political transitions:

In all three cases, the newly formed parties build on established organizationswhether they are originally social movements, armed movements, or dominant parties. These different origin stories influence the membership of nascent parties, their organizational structures and rules, and their ideological orientationsfactors that, in turn, are likely to shape the opportunities for and barriers to gender inclusion in the early phase of party development.

In addition to these internal party characteristics, the transition contexts themselves also influence early party development. For example, existing research underscores that womens mobilization in civil society and participation in transitional negotiations, as well as international pressure in favor of womens participation, are crucial to ensuring that gender equality is on political parties agendas.10 The political contexts in which transitions unfold can also incentivize party leaders to embrace gender equality measures, so as to bolster their international legitimacy or co-opt their political rivals, for instance.11 Lastly, some transitional processes produce legislative reforms that promote womens participation in political parties, such as mandated quotas for party candidate lists, whereas other processes further entrench their exclusion.

To examine gender inclusion in party formation in various transitional contexts, the study therefore focuses on two central questions. First, how do the origins of partiesspecifically, the gender characteristics of the entities they originate frominfluence the degree of gender inclusion in early party development? Second, how do the transition contexts in which party formation occurs interact with these internal characteristics to shape the level of gender inclusion in nascent parties?

This study defines gender-equitable political parties as ones in which women and men participate equally in party leadership and decisionmaking, have equal chances of being nominated and elected, and influence party policies and priorities without fear of backlash or reprisal. Recognizing that few parties meet this standard, the analysis focuses on relative degrees of inclusion and highlights the barriers that inhibit womens equal participation and the enablers that help foster such participation.

To do so, the study examines the formal institutions that impact the respective statuses of men and women, such as nomination processes and quota rules, as well as informal norms and institutions, such as womens experiences of violence or harassment within parties. The research also evaluates women members individual capacities and access to resources relative to those of men. Underpinning the analysis is the recognition that womens and mens experiences in politics are shaped not only by gender but also by other intersecting identities, such as class, ethnicity, or sexuality. Depending on the context, these identities may be more salient than gender, or they may compound gender-based discrimination.12

The study draws on in-depth analysis of three parties, each corresponding to one of the three main pathways of party formation:

Each case study examines how a given partys origins and transition context influenced gender inclusion in early party development, as well as ongoing barriers to intraparty gender equality. Shorter case studies of political parties in Bolivia, Nepal, and Uganda offer comparative insights from a wider range of additional regional contexts.

The primary casesEnnahda, the ANC, and the MPPwere selected because of these parties political significance (measured in terms of their electoral share over past election cycles) and the access the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had to in-country networks that could facilitate contact with relevant party officials. The three countries where these political parties are located are also relatively stable politically, a fact that enabled greater research access. The analysis draws on an in-depth review of existing research and secondary literature as well as eighty-five semistructured interviews with male and female party leaders, party members, and civil society representatives in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (December 2018); Tunis, Tunisia (February 2019); and Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa (September 2019). Research participants were identified through local research assistants or NDI offices, and they were selected to ensure variation in gender, seniority, and pre- and post-transition political roles. The authors conducted additional interviews with subject matter experts on Bolivia, Nepal, and Uganda (see the appendix for more information on the research methodology).

The study is structured around the three aforementioned pathways to party formation. Each section begins with an analytical overview of how the respective pathway interacts with gender, then presents the main case study, and ends with comparative insights from an additional case. The final section of the study summarizes the main findings from each of these pathways, as well as cross-cutting themes, and proposes recommendations for political parties, policymakers, and aid practitioners that work in transitional contexts.

Although nonviolent social movements typically do not participate in electoral politics, they sometimes institutionalize as political parties in periods of political rupture. For example, previously restricted prodemocracy movements may seize the opportunity to run in elections, as the Solidarity movement did in Poland during its democratic transition.13 In other cases, movements or parts of movements transform into parties because they come to view this as the best strategy for advancing their goals.

For women, social movements have been a key channel for political engagement. Often broad-based and decentralized, such movements tend to have lower barriers to participation than formal political groupings, including armed organizations or political parties.14 Women have spearheaded movements focused on gender inequities, such as the womens suffrage movement in the United States, and they have participated in movements focused on other social and political goals.15 Although these movements often reflect and reproduce gendered social hierarchies, they can also create spaces in which traditional gender roles can be challenged.16

These patterns have important implications for gender inclusion in early party development. Under what conditions do women make the leap from being members of a movement to becoming party officials or politicians? The following section examines how such a transition unfolded for Ennahda in Tunisia and concludes with comparative insights from the Movement for Socialism in Bolivia.

Ennahda first emerged in Tunisia in the 1960s as a religious social movement that sought to revive Islam in Tunisian society.17 Confronted with other sociopolitical currents of the 1970s, the movement gradually embraced a more political agenda, a development that provoked harsh repression by the secular, authoritarian Tunisian regime.18 Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Ennahda was forced to operate underground, as most of its leaders were either imprisoned or in exile.

Following Tunisias 2011 revolution, Ennahdas exiled leaders returned to the country, and the movement registered as a political party for the first time. It began rebuilding its structures, relying on its existing support networks. In the 2011 elections for the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), the party received 37 percent of the vote and entered into a coalition government.19 Womens rights became a highly contentious issue in the lead-up to the elections and during the subsequent constitution-drafting process. Even prior to the revolution, Tunisia was known in the region for its progressive personal status code (which ensured gender equality in different areas of family law), high rates of female labor force participation, and an array of gender equality reforms. Many secular Tunisians feared that Ennahdas rise would threaten these gains.20

A closer analysis of Ennahdas track record with respect to gender inclusion reveals a more positive picture. Faced with strong civil society mobilization, party leaders supported a vertical gender parity measure, which mandated that parties alternate female and male candidates on their electoral lists. They also backed a vertical and horizontal parity law for municipal elections (which mandates that each list must alternate between male and female candidates and that parties must have the same number of male- and female-headed lists across all constituencies in which they are running).21

The party has been relatively successful at recruiting women to run for elections, and it has given a platform to religious and rural women who had previously been excluded from politics. Many of these women would not call themselves feminists, but they nonetheless are committed to womens empowerment. However, women remain underrepresented in leadership positions and are still rarely placed on top of Ennahdas candidate lists. They face barriers to advancement and influence that are the product of a patriarchal society and the partys conservative ideological orientation. When it comes to Ennahdas political objectives, the party is not monolithic: it encompasses moderate and traditionalist strands. While many female party members express their commitment to womens rights, the party has blocked gender equality reforms, particularly on the issue of inheritance.

As part of a conservative religious movement, Ennahda members traditionally have sought to reshape gender relations along Islamic lines. Prior to the revolution, most of the movements leaders were men. Two internal characteristics, however, helped facilitate gender inclusion during the formation of the party.

First, even though most Ennahda members advocated traditional gender roles in accordance with conservative Islam, the movements leadership moderated its stance on these issues during the period of state repression. Second, the important informal roles that women played in Ennahda prior to the revolution increased their standing and influence within the movement during the countrys political transition.

Leadership support: Although Ennahda embodied a conservative view of gender relations, its leaders entered the transition period willing to make concessions on womens rights and other doctrinal issues to demonstrate their democratic credentials.22 This pragmatic stance was the product of a gradual evolution. In its early years, Ennahda focused on religious issues without professing a clear political doctrine. As the movement expanded, different factions emerged: progressive Islamists advocated for a reformist Islam that framed Tunisias personal status code and other gender equality protections as compatible with religious doctrine, while a dogmatic wing with links to the Muslim Brotherhood viewed these reforms as un-Islamic Western impositions.23

Starting in 1989, heightened state repression pushed Ennahdas exiled leaders toward ideological moderation. Seeking to raise domestic and international support, they started focusing their demands on human rights, religious freedom, and democracy rather than political Islam.24 For example, Ennahdas leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, began arguing publicly that Tunisias gender-progressive personal status code could be viewed as compatible with Islamic thought.25 These shifts did not necessarily filter down to Ennahdas base: women active in the movement at the time note that doctrinal debates about gender equality were not a priority, amid a focus on surviving harsh repression.26 Ghannouchis evolving stance, however, signaled increased acceptance of gender equality by the movements leadership.

The leaderships moderation proved critical during the transition. The nascent party initially lacked clear positions on gender issues; members disagreed on the role that sharia should play in governing womens rights and politics more broadly.27 Yet, despite the conservative orientation of many grassroots activists, Ghannouchithe newly elected party leadersupported the rise of other pragmatists to leadership posts. Faced with pressure from civil society regarding womens rights, party leaders argued against explicit references to Islamic law in the constitution and in internal party debates. They also emphasized the need to support gender parity measures to demonstrate the partys ideological moderation and attract new voters.28Ultimately, conservatives on the partys Shura Council lost these internal debates by a wide margin, setting the party on a more moderate ideological track.29

Womens informal roles in the movement: A second factor shaping Ennahdas stance on gender inclusion was womens participation in the movement in the pre-revolution period. When Ennahda first emerged, most of its members were men. In the late 1970s and 1980s, women members began taking on more active roles within universities, but the movement never implemented any formal mechanisms or structures to promote womens participation, and its leadership remained mostly male.30 However, despite womens underrepresentation in leadership positions, their roles as advocates, supporters, and conduits of information became central amid state repression. Women in exile supported Ennahda prisoners and their families, while those in Tunisia kept the movement alive through their social networks.31 They adopted new roles as their male relatives went to prison, including as liaisons with international organizations, as advocates for prisoners rights, and as providers for their familiesoften at high personal cost.32

These sacrifices raised the profile of women within Ennahda; both women and men recognized that women had been the guarantors of the movement in the pre-revolution period, and the movement relied on womens clandestine networks to regroup following the departure of then president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.33 According to one female Ennahda leader, it was through womens resistance that the movement could come back so quickly in 2011. When men were imprisoned, it was women who had kept it alive.34 Womens experiences with advocacy and mobilization during this period also prepared them to take on new public roles. Ahead of the 2011 elections, the party thus drew on a cadre of women with strong social ties to the movement to place on its electoral candidate lists.35 The period of dictatorship was a type of training for women, recalls a female Ennahda parliamentarian. Those who had a past of activism were prepared [for the elections].36

Several features of Tunisias transition pushed the party to promote womens political participation. Most notably was the adoption of a formal quota that requires all parties to alternate female and male candidates on their electoral lists, as well as a constitutional commitment to gender parity in all elected assemblies.

How did Tunisias transition context shape these institutional outcomes? For one thing, Ben Alis departure produced a significant political opening that allowed gender equality advocates to push for institutional reforms. Moreover, womens rights organizations effectively mobilized for womens political inclusion, coordinating quickly and drawing on strong coalitions with labor unions and other parts of civil society. In addition, feminist lawyers secured representation in the transitional organs charged with designing the countrys new electoral framework. Ennahda had political incentives to support their quota proposal so as to signal the partys commitment to democracy and moderation. Finally, the electoral parity rule ensured womens representation in the NCA, where many of them collaborated on institutionalizing gender equality commitments, despite challenging ideological divisions in the early transition period.

Caroline Hubbard is the senior gender adviser and deputy director for the Gender, Women and Democracy Program at the National Democratic Institute, where she has worked since 2010 to support the aspirations of women to lead in legislatures, parties, electoral processes, and civil society.

A significant political opening: Ben Alis departure triggered a formal transition aimed at transforming Tunisias political system rather than simply arranging a transfer of power. This reform process provided multiple opportunities for gender equality advocates to promote womens political inclusion, including the preparations for holding the countrys first democratic elections and the drafting of the new constitution.

Two attributes of the process facilitated womens advocacy: the length of the transition and its relative openness to civil society. Initially planned to take only one year, the constitution-drafting process ultimately took almost three. The longer timeframewhile marked by significant instabilityallowed for greater consensus building on contentious issues and gave womens organizations time to mobilize and respond to various draft provisions.37 Moreover, throughout the transition, political actors remained sensitive to the pressure brought to bear by civil society, which they viewed as the driving force behind the countrys revolutionary opening. All of the parties wanted to be very close to civil society, notes one civic leader.38 This openness enabled womens civic organizations to exert significant outside pressure in the tradition of Tunisias long history of feminist activism and gender equality reforms.

Womens mobilization in civil society: Throughout the transition process, Tunisian womens groups were the primary drivers of gender inclusion, pressing for a formal rule to ensure womens participation in all transition organs and advocating for gender equality clauses in the new constitution. Their activism made it significantly more costly for parties like Ennahda to push gender equality off the agenda.

Tunisian womens organizations benefited from a long history of mobilization, as well as strong coalitions with other trade unions and human rights groups. After the revolution, influential womens organizations, such as the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, quickly formed a coalition to advocate womens participation in the transition process; they effectively argued that political parties revolutionary legitimacy depended on their commitment to womens rights.39Together with newly formed womens groups, they mobilized for gender parity on parties electoral lists ahead of the NCA elections. This mobilization helped support the feminist activists pushing for electoral parity within formal transitional bodies.

Womens groups continued pushing for gender equality commitments during the constitution-drafting process, motivated in part by fears of Islamist pushback against gender equality gains. After the NCA released the first draft of the new constitution, which included a controversial clause referencing womens and mens complementary rather than equal roles in the family, they organized large-scale protests and successfully pressured Ennahda to change the language in the draft. Importantly, womens groups had the backing of other parts of civil society, including influential trade unions, and of key government figures.40

Womens organizations also worked directly with NCA delegates. They strategically identified political allies within parties, including in Ennahda, and tried to bolster their standing in party debates by offering legal advice, giving feedback on written drafts, and convening gatherings to raise awareness on gender issues.41 Womens activism in this period ensured that gender equality remained on the agenda of the NCA and helped foster greater engagement on gender issues even among NCA delegates who lacked a strong feminist agenda.

Womens representation in formal transitional organs: In addition to womens mobilization in Tunisian civil society, their representation in formal transitional organs was key to passing institutional reforms that committed political parties to greater gender inclusion. At the beginning of the transition process, the commission charged with devising the timetable and rules for the NCA elections included feminist experts. Ben Achour, the professor leading the commissions legal expert committee, deliberately selected several female professors with expertise on gender issues, who in turn lobbied for other feminist colleagues to be included.42 Together, they elaborated Decree Law 2011-35, which required parties to implement gender parity on their electoral lists.

Political parties initially opposed their proposal.43 Advocates specifically lobbied Ennahda, recognizing that having the support of Islamists would force other parties to change their positions. Despite internal disagreement, Ennahdas National Executive Bureau ultimately voted in favor of the proposal. Faced with pressure from civil society, party leaders felt that they could not say no without undermining Ennahdas image as a reform-oriented actor.44 Additionally, with a pipeline of women to draw on for the elections, party leaders predicted that they would potentially benefit from the measure.45 In the end, feminist activists secured a partial victory: parties accepted the vertical parity rule while still placing mostly men atop their electoral lists. Given the small number of seats per district and the fact that votes were split among several parties, male candidates thus still stood a better chance of being elected.

Despite these shortcomings, the provision ensured that women made up one-third of the NCA delegates. They held several prominent posts and actively participated in the drafting process.46 However, intense partisan polarization between Ennahda and secular parties initially impeded effective cross-party collaboration on gender issues in the NCA.47 Given Ennahdas numerical strength, most of the women delegates were from within its ranks, but their views did not necessarily align with those of feminist politicians.48 Womens rights became a particular flashpoint after the release of the first draft of the constitution, which included the controversial article referencing womens and mens complementary statuses. Though this clause was abandoned following widespread protests, similar disagreements emerged around the relationship between the state and Islam as framed in the new constitution.

Yet subsequent draft revisions bolstered protections for womens rights, and partisan divisions over womens rights decreased over time. In the final voting process, a group of mostly female NCA membersincluding many Ennahda womencame together to push for stronger language on gender equality in the constitution, including a groundbreaking article calling for gender parity in all elected bodies.49With the support of civil society, they underscored that gender equality and parity were natural extensions of the revolutions ideals, a position that made it difficult for parties to oppose the measure.

In the end, the constitutional clauses on gender equality passed. Several months later, the NCA also reintegrated the vertical parity provision into a new electoral law, though efforts to include horizontal parity failed. Womens representation in the NCA thus proved important to enshrining commitments to gender equality in Tunisian politics in the countrys constitution and the new electoral law, thereby committing Ennahda and other parties to these principles over the long term.

Since the initial transition period, female Ennahda politicians interviewed for this study reported that they had gained greater confidence and political skills.50 Many are proud of Ennahdas track record with respect to womens political inclusion and their participation in writing the Tunisian constitution.51 Moreover, both moderate and conservative women in the party have come to embrace electoral quotas and use them for their own advancement.52 At the same time, obstacles to gender inclusion in the party persist.

Entrenched patriarchal norms: Patriarchal norms still impede womens access to power within the party. The percentage of women in internal party structures has increased, but women remain underrepresented in leadership roles.53 In early 2019, only six out of twenty-seven members of the partys political bureau were women.54Women are still marginalized, a female Ennahda parliamentarian stated. The higher you go up, the fewer women there are.55 Women leaders and members also experience verbal harassment and gendered attacks in the media from both political opponents and party colleagues.56 Senior party leaders note the need to change societal attitudes to address these challenges, but they appear to dismiss the partys role in taking preventative measures.57

In addition, women are rarely ranked in the first slot on Ennahdas national electoral lists, which decreases their chances of being elected to parliament.58(Oftentimes, many candidates are competing for relatively few spots, so the odds of being elected from the first slot are far higher than being elected from lower slots.) The party has not taken any measures to address this challenge; male leaders argue that it is easier for lists headed by men to succeed, and they point to the need to change [voters] mentalities.59 This problem is not unique to Ennahda. Indeed, it reflects womens experiences in most male-dominated Tunisian parties.60 For example, parties often consider candidates access to funds in selecting the head of their candidate list, a practice that disadvantages women since they often have fewer resources than men.61 The 2019 elections were a case in point: the number of women in parliament decreased from 31 percent to 22 percent, despite the vertical parity rule.61

A mixed track record on gender reforms:Although men and women in Ennahda emphasize the partys commitment to womens rights, divisions between conservatives and moderates, the partys fears of losing its conservative base, and internal gendered hierarchies continue to muddle Ennahdas positions on gender-related policy issues. Since the transition, women in the party have worked with allies in other parties to pass certain gender-progressive bills, including a 2016 law requiring both vertical and horizontal gender parity in municipal elections, as well as a law to protect women from domestic violence and sexual harassment.63

Other issues, such as gender equality in Tunisias inheritance law, have been more contentious, with Ennahdas leadership adopting a strictly conservative stance. Not all women within the party supported this position, though few have spoken out publicly.64 Some female members have called for debating the issue openly, even as they criticized efforts by secular parties to paint them as reactionaries. Others characterize the debate over inheritance reform as an elite issue and emphasize the need to address other urgent problems facing Tunisian women, such as poverty.65

The case of Bolivia offers noteworthy parallels with and contrasts to the case of Tunisia when it comes to advances in gender inclusion in parties formed from social movements in periods of political transition (see box 1).

The Movement for Socialism (MAS) emerged in Bolivia in the early 1990s with the aim of defending the interests of indigenous peasant unions.66 In contrast to the rise of Ennahda, the transition of MAS into electoral politics occurred gradually: it first ran candidates in municipal elections, and its support base grew as social unrest swept the country in the early 2000s. After the movements leader, Evo Morales, won the presidency in 2005, he called for a national Constituent Assembly (CA) to reform the countrys institutions.67

The ascent of MAS significantly increased the participation of rural, indigenous women in Bolivian politics. The party spearheaded the adoption of a new gender-progressive constitution and a gender parity system for party lists; in 2010, Morales inaugurated the first parity cabinet. By 2014, womens representation at the national level exceeded 40 percent.68 What factors contributed to this push for womens inclusion within MAS, and what challenges to gender equality persist?

The case of MAS highlights the importance of internal pressure within the movement in driving gender inclusion. MAS emerged as a left-wing political movement that sought to empower indigenous communities.69 The movement initially lacked clear gender equality goals; its leaders suggested that gender inequities would erode once colonial oppression was overcome.70 The partys commitment to indigenous empowerment nevertheless meant that its leadership was open to indigenous womens demands for change. For example, Morales became the first Bolivian president to promote indigenous women to positions of leadership.71

Mobilization by indigenous womens organizations was central in pushing the party toward greater inclusion. Women in MAS were relatively well organized. Many (mostly male-led) indigenous organizations had parallel women-only organizations that provided a space for semi-autonomous mobilization.72 These organizations, especially the Bartolina Sisa National Federation, played key roles in mobilizing for Moraless candidacy, though they initially did not advance explicitly feminist goals for representation.73

After MAS rose to power, indigenous womens organizations leveraged their positions as key allies of the new government and their significant organizational base to make more explicitly gendered demands.74 For example, they drew on indigenous traditions of complementarity to advocate gender parity in political institutions, pressuring Morales to appoint more women to cabinet positions.75 They also exerted significant influence in the Pacto de Unidad, an alliance that coordinated indigenous organizations positions during the constitutional negotiations. As a result, these broad alliances demonstrated a strong commitment to representing not only indigenous demands in general but also the specific demands of indigenous women.76

Two additional external factors reinforced gender inclusion within MAS. First, as was the case in Tunisia, the CA convened by Morales in Bolivia provided an opening to push for institutional reforms. A gender quota ensured that women had a seat at the table during the writing of the new constitution.77 Most parties only complied to a minimal degree, but women still comprised one-third of the delegates and made up 47 percent of MAS delegates.78

Second, women during and after the CAs convening mobilized across ideological, ethnic, and class lines to advance womens political inclusion.79 Although Bolivian women had traditionally been divided between the urban, mostly mestiza, camp of feminist activists and the indigenous movement, after Moraless election, feminist groups recognized the need to overcome this divide.80 They organized workshops throughout the country and jointly campaigned with indigenous counterparts for laws on parity and violence against women in politics.81

This collaboration pushed indigenous women to articulate more explicitly feminist demands while simultaneously expanding the range of socioeconomic issues feminist groups had traditionally worked on. As a result, the constitution was written in intersectional language, codifying key principles such as gender parity in legislative elections. Coalition building between feminists in civil society and feminist parliamentarians also ensured the passage of a new electoral law that operationalized this gender parity principle despite significant resistance, including within MAS.82

Over the course of its thirteen years in power, MAS became less responsive to grassroots demands; the numbers of women and indigenous people in high government posts declined as an ever-smaller entourage around the president and vice president amassed power.83 Moreover, while reforms initiated during Moraless presidency increased the number of women in politics, women politicians still face high levels of violence aimed at deterring their participation and empowerment, particularly at the local level.84 Women political figures suffer harassment, threats, and sometimes more brutal actsas in the case of Juana Quispe. This local Bolivian councilwoman was murdered in March 2012 after refusing to resign from her mayoral seat.85

In response to high levels of violence, gender equality advocates lobbied for legal reform. In May 2012, following several years of advocacy and spurred to action by the murders of Quispe and a second councilwoman, Bolivias parliament approved the groundbreaking Law Against Harassment and Political Violence Against Women. Yet, despite the MAS governments stated commitment to gender inclusion, the law has faced no shortage of implementation challenges, including the reluctance of the male-dominated judiciary to prosecute cases under the law.86

Since the end of the Cold War, many civil wars have ended in negotiated settlements rather than outright military victories. Such peace settlements often allow armed groups to transform into political parties.87 In other cases, insurgent movements win wars and are restructured into ruling parties, as was the case in Ethiopia and Rwanda.88 Although women are often important participants in armed movements, their experiences in transitions from armed groups to political parties have not been systematically examined.89

Studies of gender in armed movements nevertheless suggest several factors that may influence gender inclusion in the party development period. First, armed movements stated ideological commitments to womens emancipation and womens actual roles and influence within these armed groups both are likely to shape womens ability to transition into formal politics following the end of armed conflicts. Armed organizations vary significantly with respect to internal gender relations. Some groups recruit women based on gender equality commitments, establish organized womens wings, and promote women into leadership positions. Others confine them to low-level supportive roles or rely heavily on forced recruitment and coercion.90 These dynamics shape the resources, skills, and organizational networks available to female participants in the postconflict period, as well as the commitment of male leaders and members to womens political inclusion.

Second, armed movements, even those committed to social transformation, tend to be patriarchal and male-dominated. As they become parties, these movements may retain hierarchical organizational structures and cultures that value militarized conceptions of masculinity, making it difficult for women to access power at the highest levels.91 Research also suggests that even though the exceptional circumstances of armed struggle may disrupt traditional gender norms within armed groups for a time, women may face pressure to return to their traditional roles after conflicts end.92 The way conflicts conclude likely affects these dynamics by, for example, reinforcing tendencies to centralize power or forcing parties to broaden their bases of support, share power with other political actors, or incorporate new constituencies.

The following section examines gender inclusion in the ANCs transformation from a liberation movement into South Africas ruling party. It concludes with additional insights from the Maoist movement in Nepal.

The ANC has governed South Africa since the countrys democratic transition in 1994. Founded in 1912, it began as a nonviolent movement fighting for the liberation of the countrys majority population of black South Africans. Harsh repression by the apartheid regime pushed the ANC into exile, making it difficult to engage in peaceful mass action.93 In 1961, the ANC and the South African Communist Party came together to form a military wing, known as uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which began carrying out military operations against the apartheid government. Guerrilla warfare became one of the four pillars of the ANCs struggle, alongside international advocacy, underground political organizing, and mass mobilization.94

In the late 1980s, worsening economic conditions, increasing internal dissent, and a changing international landscape brought the South African apartheid government to the negotiating table.95 In 1990, the government lifted the ban on the ANC and released senior movement leaders from prison while others returned from exile. South Africas subsequent democratic transition unfolded in two phases: initial multiparty negotiations to agree on key constitutional principles (19901994), followed by elections and an interim governance process leading to the passage of a new constitution (19941998).

During this transitional period, the ANC took important steps to support gender inclusion in the newly formed party. First, it implemented a formal rule: female ANC leaders and activists secured a 30 percent gender quota for party structures and electoral lists. As a result, one-third of ANC representatives in the 1994 parliament were women.96 Two prominent women leaders, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, were elected to the ANCs National Executive Committee, and the ANC Womens League was reestablished in South Africa.

The ANC also endorsed progressive provisions in the new constitution, including a commitment to nonsexism, a gender equality clause that supersedes customary law, and the creation of a statutory Commission on Gender Equality. However, the partys senior leadership remained mostly male. Over time, weakening feminist mobilization within the party and persistent patriarchal norms made it difficult to put legislative gains into practice.

Several characteristics of the ANC facilitated gender inclusion in the postapartheid party formation period. First, the movement was ideologically committed to social transformation, and by the time of party formation, it officially recognized gender equality as a standalone movement goal. Second, women were central participants in the anti-apartheid struggle, which led them to build alliances, gain legitimacy, and recognize the importance of womens autonomous mobilization for gender equality. Third, womens participation in the armed struggle challenged traditional gender norms and gave rise to women leaders with strong struggle credentials. MK remained a male-dominated organization, but its influence on the party formation process was counterbalanced by other parts of the movement.

Transformative movement goals: Although the ANC emerged as a male-dominated organization, the movements commitment to social transformation provided an ideological basis for female members to press for greater inclusion.97 As a result, by the time of party formation, senior ANC leaders had officially recognized gender equality as a goal of the movement, a decision that enabled feminist activists to make more specific demands.

In its early years, the ANC focused primarily on national and racial liberation, often at the expense of gender issues.98 Female members of the movement rarely framed their concerns in feminist terms. Beginning in the 1980s, however, women began denouncing chauvinism in the movement more explicitly and speaking openly about the intersection of gender, class, and racial oppression. Several factors explain this shift: womens experience training alongside men in MK, the growing influence of transnational feminism, and the disappointing experiences of women in liberation movements in neighboring countries.99

By the period of party formation, womens liberation in South Africa therefore already had become a prominent issue for debate in the movement, and male leaders provided rhetorical support for womens struggles.100 In 1990, the ANCs National Executive Committee officially recognized womens emancipation as a standalone movement goal, thanks to the lobbying of senior women in the party.101 As political scientist Shireen Hassim notes, the fact that the ANC favored a structural transformation rather than merely a transfer of power and that it had, as a result of a slow process of internal transformation... committed itself to eradicating gender inequalities enabled activists to press for specific gender equality commitments in the party formation period.102 Moreover, even though the ANCs male leaders were not necessarily feminists, several understood the relevance of gender equality to the movements goals. The countrys first president, Nelson Mandela, in particular, was open to women activists concerns and offered support at critical junctures.

Womens broad-based participation: A second key factor shaping gender inclusion in the ANC was the movements reliance on the broad-based participation of women. The ANCs armed struggle was always just one pillar of its strategy; the movement also relied heavily on nonviolent mobilization and advocacy. Throughout the twentieth century, women participated in every pillar of the movement, even though the ANC excluded them from membership until the 1940s and appointed men to most formal leadership roles.103 Women mobilized against early apartheid laws, organized women workers, and founded the cross-racial Federation of South African Women, which, by the 1950s, had established a Womens Charter demanding equal rights for all South Africans. In the 1970s and 1980s, women joined MK, became international spokespersons for the ANC through the ANC Womens Section, organized in underground units, and strengthened the mass democratic movement in South Africa.104

The broad scope of womens participation in the ANC had several consequences. First, it pushed the movement to recognize women as essential constituents and supporters of the anti-apartheid cause. Second, it helped the ANC form a strong cadre of women activists connected through cross-class and cross-racial networks, including the exiled ANC Womens Section and organizations in South Africa. Third, the act of coming together in South Africa and connecting with feminist movements and activists in other countries helped women recognize their shared experiences of marginalization. As a result, they increasingly saw the need to mobilize for gender equality as a separate goal within the broader liberation struggle.105

Drawing on their existing networks, women in the ANC intentionally prepared for the movements transformation into a political party.106For example, the ANC Womens Section organized several meetings to connect South African women and build agreement on shared priorities for the constitutional negotiations and the party formation process.107 As part of these meetings, South African women learned from other womens experiences in Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe that they could not wait until the countrys first elections to push for gender equality.108

They agreed to press for a 30 percent gender quota for the ANCs National Executive Commitee, among other priorities.109 We recognized that its one thing to be in a liberation struggle, and its different to be in a political party, one female ANC leader remarked. We knew that once we transformed into a party, it would be easy for the men to say thank you very much, but now we can handle this.110 They thus entered the transition period with a clear list of gender equality demands, preexisting alliances, and structures like the Womens Section (reestablished in the country as the ANC Womens League in 1991) that served as the basis for subsequent organizing.

Womens participation in the armed struggle: In addition to the key roles that women played in nonviolent mobilization, their participation in MK also was an important factor in advancing gender inclusion within the movement. Their involvement challenged traditional gender norms within the ANC and gave rise to several women leaders with strong struggle credentials.

MK began as a predominantly male body, but following the 1976 Soweto uprising, increasing numbers of women left South Africa to join the armed struggle. They trained together with the men, enduring the same grueling physical regimen.111 In practice, relatively few were deployed in combat operationsinstead, they often served as couriers, nurses, and smugglers of arms and explosives.112

Yet, according to female MK combatant Thenjiwe Mtintso, women members of MK had to be taken seriously. They had to explode the myth of women as inferior on a day to day basis. They did not articulate feminism but had to prove themselves in the field and gain respect.113 Womens participation in MK, the arena in which the most committed members were located, was thus symbolically significant, highlighting their equal status within the movement.114 Several female MK members became prominent political leaders after the transition, including Thandi Modise, Dipuo Mvelase, and Mtintso.115

At the same time, women in MK also experienced limitations typical of male-dominated, hierarchical armed organizations.116 Few women made inroads into leadership positions, even as women pressed for change in other parts of the ANC.117 Some women, particularly younger ones, who joined the movements training camps experienced sexual harassment and abusean issue that the ANC tried to silence or at least downplay.118

The challenges women experienced within MK, however, did not determine the degree of gender inclusion in the ANC overall. In the party formation phase, the influence of MKs hierarchical structure and patriarchal culture was mitigated by other pillars of the movement that were more open to womens participation, particularly mass democratic organizations.

The ANC thus entered the transition period having formally committed to womens liberation and with strong networks of women activists who had gained legitimacy in the movement and articulated specific gender equality demands. Yet the partys senior leadership remained mostly male, and many male members did not view womens representation as a priority.

Several features of the political transition reinforced the internal demands women made for greater intraparty representation. For one thing, the negotiated settlement between the ANC and the apartheid regime created a political opening for broad institutional reforms and produced a rights-based political discourse that mitigated the armed movements influence. Moreover, women formed a cross-party coalition that lobbied for greater gender inclusion during the negotiation process, using both targeted advocacy and grassroots mobilization. In addition, feminist leaders were represented in the countrys transitional political organs and worked in conjunction with the broader womens movement.

An opening for rights-based claims: The nature of the South African transition created an enabling environment for women activists within the new party and in civil society to demand political inclusion. The ANC did not achieve an outright military victory; instead, it had to compromise with an entrenched political authority, as well as with other political parties and the various parts of the anti-apartheid movement. According to Hassim, these negotiations on the terms of a new democratic order offered new possibilities for the womens movement to pursue its claims at a national political level.119

First, the protracted negotiations to agree on basic constitutional principles created space for women to identify their political priorities and consolidate support for their demands outside of the party. For example, in the first round of constitutional negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa in 1992, only twenty-three of the more than 400 delegates were women.120 Womens groups used the breakdown in negotiations and the beginning of a new round of talks in 1993 to push for greater inclusion.121

In addition, the negotiated nature of the transition also led the ANC to suspend the armed struggle so as to facilitate negotiations, moderating the guerrilla arms influence on the transition process.122 Instead, the need to build political consensus produced a rights-based discourse that deemphasized nationalism and embraced liberal notions of equal citizenship. This shift opened space for activists to press for formal commitments on womens rights as a means of deepening South African democracy.123 That said, certain characteristics of MKincluding its hierarchical, secretive organizational culturecame to the fore at a later stage and did have a long-term impact on the party.

Womens mobilization inside and outside the process: A second key transition-related factor was the creation of an autonomous organization representing the womens movement. This body provided a forum for women activists to articulate their demands across political divides. Faced with resistance to a gender quota within the ANC and marginalized from the first round of constitutional negotiations, women in the ANC recognized the need for a broader coalition.124 In 1992, they came together with women from other political parties and civil society to form the Womens National Coalition (WNC). Many women were already linked through networks created during the anti-apartheid struggle, and others also shared the experience of suffering gender-based discrimination in a patriarchal society. They were willing to put aside their ideological differences to rally around joint priorities.125

Throughout the transition, the WNC exerted outside pressure during the negotiations while mobilizing women at the grassroots level. They successfully insisted that each political delegation in the multiparty negotiations include at least one woman delegate and that women be included on the technical committees charged with important substantive questions.126 They also formed a monitoring collective that channeled expertise to women on the negotiation teams and relayed information about the negotiations back to members of civil society.127

In parallel, the WNC conducted a nationwide campaign educating and mobilizing women across South Africa and seeking their input into a new Womens Charter. The negotiations ultimately moved more quickly than this grassroots process, and the charter was not completed by the time the interim constitution was passed. Though many of the final decisions about the constitution were made by members of a small, mostly male circle, the charter campaign ensured that attention to womens demands became a marker of the ANCs commitment to its grassroots constituencies.

Feminist leaders in transitional bodies: The WNC relied not only on the strength of the womens movement but also on close links to women politicians on the negotiating teams.128 Though women were numerically underrepresented in the transitional negotiations, feminist leaders such as Gertrude Shope and Frene Ginwla played important roles. They commanded respect from male colleagues owing to their long involvement in the liberation struggle, but they also had strong ties to the womens movement, which enabled them to promote a cross-racial agenda of gender-based justice.129

Ahead of the first democratic elections, they successfully lobbied Mandela to accept a quota for the ANC party lists, a measure that had previously been rejected at the party conference.130 This meant that almost 30 percent of the delegates in the CA were women, a development that had critical implications for the constitution-drafting process and the first parliaments legislative agenda. For example, female ANC parliamentarians pushed for the creation of the Joint Monitoring Committee on Improvement of the Quality of Life and Status of Women in South Africa to analyze the gender implications of government legislation and monitor the conditions experienced by women in the country. They also created a task force on violence against women and secured explicit references to nonsexism in the South African constitution and a gender equality clause that would supersede customary law.131

Women in the ANC thus emerged from the transition having secured both party-level and constitutional commitments to nonsexism and in favor of gender equality, as well as a voluntary party quota. A group of feminist parliamentarians successfully built on these gains to push for further legislation on gender-related issues. In the years that followed, however, several challenges to gender inclusion in the ANC emerged.

Read more here:
Breaking the Cycle of Gender Exclusion in Political Party Development - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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March 24th, 2020 at 2:45 pm