In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Democracy 12.3 (2001) 111-125

[Access article in PDF]

Women and Democracy

Regional Differences and Contrasting Views

Jane S. Jaquette

The global trend toward political liberalization has been at the center of comparative politics research for more than a decade. During the same period, the unprecedented mobilization of women has also received substantial attention, largely from feminist scholars but also from foundations, human rights groups, and international donors. Yet little of the literature on democratization has considered women's attitudes or participation.

Changes in women's voting behavior, their increasing role in national legislatures, and their continuing activism in civil society will affect the quality of democratic leadership, the priorities of policy making, the building of democratic political cultures, and the responsiveness, transparency, and sustainability of democratic institutions. Without a clear understanding of the role that women play in these historic changes, the full meaning of the changes themselves cannot be understood. The trajectories of women's movements and the vitality of women's organizations are important indicators of how well democratic institutions are working on the ground.

Women's political participation affects (and is itself shaped by) democratization, and gender analysis can contribute to a deeper understanding of democratic transitions. This essay presents some of the findings that are emerging from research on women's roles in democratizing states and links them to regional differences in processes of democratization. The diverse paths followed by women's movements in democratizing countries and the contrasting attitudes toward autonomy among women's movements are instructive examples of these regional differences. Another aspect of the relationship between women and [End Page 111] democracy explored here is the trend toward the use of gender-based quotas to promote women's participation in electoral politics. If this trend continues, the composition of national legislatures will change substantially over the next decade, with potentially far-reaching effects on policies and leadership. The final section of this essay examines egalitarian feminism and difference feminism, demonstrating their contrasting views of the role that women should play in the worldwide diffusion of liberal democracy.

Regional, historical, and institutional variations among national cases are significant. Race, class, ethnic, religious, and urban/rural differences make generalizations risky, but there are significant benefits to be had from taking gender into account as routinely as we consider other persistent differences within emerging democratic electorates. A focus on women promises to illuminate important questions regarding democratization, from gender gaps in attitudes and voting to the effect of gender quotas on legislative representation and policy outcomes.

The women's movements that emerged throughout the world in the last quarter century were in large measure a response to changes in the international system. The UN Decade for Women (1976-85) promoted women's rights and the integration of women into development at a time when many states were governed by military, communist, or authoritarian regimes. In the 1990s, women's nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were active in a series of UN meetings: on the environment in 1992, on human rights in 1993, and on population in 1994. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 revealed that a shift had occurred, with the political integration of women joining economic development and women's rights as a major concern. 1

The Decade for Women triggered the formation of thousands of women's organizations across the globe. These in turn strengthened civil societies and helped stimulate and reinforce democratic transitions. Women's organizations continue to play an important role in democratizing states, but over the past 15 years their goals and strategies have been shaped in large part by the nearly universal adoption of market-oriented economic reforms. The shift from transition politics to institutionalized democratic governance brought with it a decline in the visibility and influence of women's movements, and women in general have been disproportionately harmed by cuts in government spending that have weakened social safety nets and reduced budgets for health and education. 2

Women's Movements and Political Transitions

In most cases, democratization and the political mobilization of women are mutually reinforcing. Latin America provides good...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 111-125
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.