Democracy: Do African women really like it less than the men?

Maty_Konte+profileBy Maty Konte, UNU-MERIT (

For Citation: SITE4Society Brief No.11-2018
Related to SDG Goals: #SDG5 (Gender Equality & Empowerment of Women and Girls)
SITE focus: Engagement and Governance
Regional Focus: Africa
Based on: Konte, M., and S. Klasen “Gender difference in support for Democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Do social institutions matter?”  Feminist Economics, 2016, Volume 22, pp. 55-86

Context: The level of democracy and its stability depend strongly on their legitimacy. In other words, the level of democracy in a country is determined by the degree to which its citizens support democracy. Using public opinion surveys in Africa, scholars have attempted to identify the determinants of support for democracy in this region, where democracy has had a relatively short history and has not yet been fully consolidated. Surprisingly, results have shown that women are less supportive of democracy than Picture1men. There are two possible explanations of this observed gender difference. First, it may be due to the socioeconomic differences between the two genders. However, it has been demonstrated that results remain true even after controlling for education, employment status, and many other individual socioeconomic characteristics that may explain this gender gap, leading us to question what the underlying factors are that explain this political preference difference between men and women. Second, it could be caused by the non-egalitarian institutional and contextual environment where women live. A representative feature of this would be ‘social institutions’. Social institutions can be defined as long-lasting norms and codes of conduct rooted in traditions, customs, and cultural practices. They can be formal or informal and guide individuals’ behavior and interactions (Branisa et al. 2014), leading to the following research question.  

Research Question: Does gender discrimination in social institutions (e.g., family code, inheritance, access to resources, access to public spaces, and physical integrity) tend to reduce women’s degree of support for democracy in Africa?

Motivation for Research Questions: It seems paradoxical that women should prefer democracy less than men. This raises the question of whether women’s preferences and WTWtt28k3ufcJCjs2uQWRNgoXVd55m7Wqq39HpZg8uIchoices may hinder the much-needed legitimacy of democracy in Africa. However, previous research strongly indicates that gender discrimination in social institutions has negative economic and social repercussions. For instance, discriminatory social institutions have been shown to slow down the achievements of some of the Millennium Development Goals, including food security, fertility and education (See, OECD(2010, 2012), Branisa et al (2013), and Asian Development Bank (2013).On the other hand, little is known about the possible impact of gender discrimination in social institutions on politics. It is thus of major importance to assess how discriminatory social institutions affect women’s attitudes and choices in politics to inform policies for women’s full and effective participation in political life.

Methodology Used: The empirical analysis is based on a dataset that merges information from the Afrobarometer data with data from the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Afrobarometer data is a collection of nationally representative surveys in Africa that provides a wide range of information that measures public attitudes on economic, political, and social matters. The study starts with evidence using the data from round four and then extends the analysis with a dataset that combines rounds two, three, and four, covering over 67,000 observations across nineteen African countries. Variables taken from this data are at the individual level, including people’s responses to the question of whether they think that democracy is the best political regime. The main indicators of gender discrimination in social institutions are the SIGI and its five sub-components. The SIGI is an aggregate index based on discrimination in the family code (such as inheritance rights), physical integrity(domestic violence), women’s civil liberties (women’s freedom to move alone and access public space), women’s access to resources (access to land), and finally the extent to which sons are preferred to girls in a given country.

In the empirical specification, the dependent variable is a dummy variable indicating whether a respondent supports democracy or not. The key explanatory variables are a dummy gender for the sex of the respondent and the indicators of gender discrimination in social institutions measured at the country level. In addition we include a term of interaction between the dummy gender and the SIGI index. Adding the term of interaction helps to test whether women who live in countries with lower levels of gender discrimination in social institutions show  a higher degree of support for democracy than women who live in countries with higher levels of discrimination in social institutions. To figure out which of the subcomponents of the SIGI are more relevant in explaining the gender gap in support for democracy, we also use the five subcomponents of the SIGI separately.


Because of the nature of the dependent variable which is a dummy and the structure of the data that merge individual information with country-level data, we estimate a multilevel logit model with random intercept. This model allows us to take into account the double structure of the model where individuals are clustered within countries. The multilevel logit model with a random intercept allows us also to control for different country-level variables while having controlled for the country-specific effects.


  1. Being a woman decreases the probability of supporting democracy compared to being a man. This result is apparent regardless of the individual socioeconomic characteristics that are controlled for. This confirms the previous findings in the literature.

E_INVERTED SDG goals_icons-individual-RGB-052. However, most interestingly, the impact of gender on support for democracy becomes insignificant once gender discrimination in social institutions is accounted for! This indicates that the observed gender gap in support for democracy in Africa can be explained by the environment in which women live.

3. In fact, women who live in countries where discriminatory social institutions constrain them to live under autocracy at home are less supportive of having democracy outside the home.

4. The term of interaction between gender and discriminatory social institutions indicates that women who live in countries with a high degree of discrimination in the family code have a lower degree of support for democracy than women who live in countries with lower discrimination in the family code.

5. Similarly, women in countries where their civil liberties are restricted as well as women in countries with a high incidence of physical integrity tend to be less supportive of democracy than other women from countries with egalitarian social institutions. 

Policy Insights and Recommendations: 

  1. Policies for stronger legitimacy of democracy in Africa should target the factors that offset support for democracy for each segment of the population, including women, who represent roughly half of the population in Africa.
  2. Picture2The way women are treated in a society determines their political participation and their degree of support for democracy. When women live in a friendly environment that protects their rights and freedom, they have a high degree of support for democracy. However, institutions that are discriminatory toward women could decrease the level of support that a country needs to promote democracy.
  3. Countries that implement effective laws friendly to women, that are against harmful practices such as early and forced marriage, will nurture democracy better.
  4. Measures to ensure free movement of women and safe access to public spaces will promote a stable democracy.

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