Civil War and Trajectories of Change in Women’s Political Representation in Africa, 1985–2010


In recent decades, the expansion of women’s political representation in sub-Saharan Africa has been nothing short of remarkable. The number of women legislators in African parliaments tripled between 1990 and 2010, resulting in African countries having among the highest rates of women’s legislative representation in the world. The dominant explanations for this change have been institutional factors (namely, the adoption of gender quotas and presence of proportional representation systems) and democratization. We suggest that existing research has not gone far enough to evaluate the effects of one powerful structural change: the end of civil war. Using Latent Growth Curve modeling, we show that the end of long-standing armed conflict had large positive impacts on women’s political representation, above what can be explained by electoral institutions and democratization alone. However, post-conflict increases in women’s legislative representation materialize only after 2000, amid emerging international and regional norms of women’s political inclusion. In countries exiting armed conflict in these recent years, women’s movement into national legislatures follows a trajectory of social change that is much faster and more extensive than what we observe in other African countries.