Researching the politics of development



What does ESID’s new gendered political settlements framework offer feminist analysis?

7 November 2014
By Sophie King.
Political settlements analysis has been largely gender blind and, as Professor Sylvia Tamale noted at a recent Gender and Political Settlements workshop in Kampala, can read like Ancient Greek to even the most experienced feminist scholars. So what does ESID’s new gender-sensitive approach to political settlements research reveal about women’s political inclusion and influence in different country contexts?
ESID expects the new framework to enable researchers to make more accurate and detailed readings of the dynamics of political struggles over gender equality policy. In turn, such readings can support activists and progressive policy actors to unpack the factors that facilitate a marginalised group’s ability to influence policy and its implementation in pursuit of more inclusive development outcomes.
The framework is based on Sohela Nazneen’s extensive work for ESID on the politics of women’s empowerment including a systematic review of the literature on women’s political inclusion during the research inception phase. Kate Pruce presents the framework and describes how it can be operationalised here. Over the last 12 months, researchers in Bangladesh, Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda have been testing out what this framework has to offer feminist analysis, using two policy arenas: domestic violence legislation and girl-child education policy. The research is ongoing, so this post focuses on the lessons emerging across country contexts in relation particularly to the politics of domestic and gender-based violence policy adoption.

Historical trajectories of women’s inclusion

The research is already demonstrating that historical analysis of women’s inclusion in politics and policy spaces is critical to understanding current political space for women’s influence over policy,and the future implications of contemporary decisions on space for raising gender equality claims and concerns. During a public event for discussion of emerging findings in Kampala on 25th September 2014, leaders of the Ugandan Women’s Movement discussed how early alignment with the President and a continued culture of treating male politicians as paternal figureheads have sowed the seeds of patronage politics that activists are now struggling to navigate. In Rwanda, the 1994 genocide was a critical turning point for women’s equality, in part out of necessity when over 56% of the post-genocide population were women, mostly with little education. An understanding of the different means through which women have gained access to national and local political representation over time, and particularly the clientelistic character of parliamentary gender quota fulfilment, has been key to assessing the constraints on the gender equality agenda in the Bangladesh case.

Ruling coalitions: incentives and interests

The emerging findings support propositions within political settlements analysis that public institutions distribute resources in line with the interests of dominant groups within the ruling coalition; and that these coalitions generally only pursue policies which redistribute power or resources when marginalised groups (such as women) increase their leverage within the coalition, or when such policies increase the regime’s hold on power.While universal primary education and access to education for girls has brought additional dividends for relevant Ministries and local government departments in many countries, the passing and implementation of domestic violence legislation does not generate ‘goodies’ for those involved but, rather, challenges entrenched social and cultural norms.
In Uganda, the successful passing of the legislation required extensive mobilisation among both elite and popular activists, including the mobilisation of hundreds of rural women to sleep out on the steps of parliament. The movement had to align itself closely with the President and had to make significant compromises on the content of the bill. There has also been little implementation.
In contrast, in Rwanda, there were strong incentives to pass and implement Gender-Based Violence legislation in a post-genocide context and at a time when the regime was strongly in need of international support. This close fit with Presidential interests has meant that implementation could be advanced further than in the Uganda case.
Similarly, in Bangladesh, legislation was passed ahead of a review of progress towards meeting the requirements of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and at a time when the government needed support from civil society actors professing secular values.

Actors, ‘informality’, and the role of ideas

What has come through strongly from early comparative analysis is that ESID’s gendered framework provides a revelatory lens into the informal relationships, the contest of ideas, and the role of transnational discourses and actors shaping policy outcomes. Across all four cases, strong relationships across civil and political society and between critical actors inside the policy-making machinery have emerged as key to advancing transformative legislation.
In Ghana, the National Domestic Violence Coalition was highly systematic in marshalling public support from a diverse array of social groups, from cultural and religious leaders to male parliamentarians. But behind the scenes, it was the women’s caucus that mobilised social networks within parliament. It was also only when a former civil society activist gained leadership of the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection in a cabinet reshuffle that significant progress was made in pushing for passage of the bill.
Similarly, in all four cases, international ideas and actors have played critical roles in advancing such a challenging agenda, not only in the form of rights-based discourses and international conventions, but importantly, in terms of South-South learning exchange and advisory work between civil, legal and political activists. In Bangladesh, those framing the Domestic Violence Act sought advice from the Indian women’s movement, for example, who advised them about how to avoid the issue becoming side-lined as a Western agenda.
Ultimately, in all four cases the research so far suggests that the interests and incentives shaping the behaviour of dominant groups within the ruling coalition are the most significant determinants of policy content and the extent to which policies are implemented. The research also suggests, however, that a careful consideration of how ideas are framed is key to policy adoption and attitude change, and that getting transformative ideas onto a national legislative agenda is a foundational awareness-raising step towards the longer haul challenge of achieving gender equality. In both Rwanda and Uganda, framing domestic violence as an obstacle to household and national development, and framing men as protectors of their daughters, mothers and sisters, rather than as perpetrators, have been important strategies in seeing legislation passed.

So what value does a gendered political settlements analysis add?

This can only offer a taster of the lessons emerging, but working papers on each country case study are expected in January 2015. At minimum, however, discussants at the Kampala workshop agreed that the framework takes feminist analysis beyond the usual debates on gender quotas and institutional analysis of gender machineries towards a more thorough examination of the informal relationships, political processes, actors, and ideas shaping policy adoption in their respective country contexts. It remains to be seen whether the framework provides as useful a lens into processes of policy implementation as it has for policy adoption, and the extent to which it facilitates prediction about what kinds of policy processes and advocacy strategies are most likely to be successful in what kinds of context.