What can African parties do to address gendered funding inequalities?

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Gaining support from political parties has been an uphill battle for women aspirants and candidates in the 30 years since two of the most celebrated democracies in Africa, Cabo Verde and Ghana, had their first post-transition elections. In Cabo Verde the number of women elected to parliament in early 2021 increased significantly following the adoption of a gender parity law in 2019, but the two countries have long lagged behind the world average in terms of women’s representation in parliament. One of the critical barriers has been gendered inequalities in access to electoral financing and the impact on political recruitment and selection.

In a new study, Funding Demands and Gender in Political Recruitment: What Parties do in Cabo Verde and Ghana, we focus on what parties have sought to do to address gendered funding inequalities in Cabo Verde and Ghana. We found that in both countries, political parties were mindful of the gender funding gap as a barrier to equality and took actions to address the issue. Yet gendered funding inequalities are more of a problem in some contexts than in others. Standing for election in Ghana is much more cost intensive than in Cabo Verde. The reasons for this are primarily differences in type of electoral system, access to public funding and levels of centralization and inclusivity in candidate selection.

In the single member district electoral system in Ghana, costs of standing for parliament are many. These include the specific costs associated with running primary or general election campaigns, such as publicity costs (posters, t-shirts), meeting costs (rental space, refreshments), and transportation and communication costs, as well as those to the delegates or voters who will cast their ballots in primaries and general elections. One unsuccessful female aspirant who had participated in two rounds of primaries over two election cycles said she would not try again because ‘money matters too much’ and the practice was ‘unsustainable’ (interview, 4 May 2016). The link between money and campaigning creates a situation whereby women feel unable to compete because they have fewer resources and less access to resources than men.

In the proportional representation electoral system in Cabo Verde, by contrast, political parties help to fund political campaigns, but the funds are not enough. One MP explained: ‘The resources are always scarce. The funds which the party provides are mostly to guarantee the basics’ (interview, 27 July 2017). And although parties fund the electoral campaigns, a viable list position can still be costly to individual candidates. One MP explained: ‘To reach out … I need to travel. I need to gather people, and rally people to meetings. So, the difference is not only that you have the ideas, you have the proposal, your merit, but it is also because you are able to mobilize’ (interview, 26 June 2017). At least before the parity law, women rarely qualified for the top list positions and were often among those who had to spend extra resources on mobilizing for the insecure mid-range list positions.

What then are parties doing to address gendered funding inequalities? As a first response to the significant cost of standing for parliament in Ghana, the two major political parties adopted a gendered electoral financing scheme – namely, a 50 percent discount on filing fees for female aspirants during the party primaries. But the discount did little to reduce the costs of standing in party primaries. Rather, respondents argued that the filing fees are a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the overall cost of standing for parliament and so reducing them made little difference.  

As a second response to the cost of standing for parliament in Ghana, one of the parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), during the 2015 primaries, opened their primaries to all registered voters, expanding the selectorate from hundreds of delegates to thousands of voters, and hoping in the process to reduce the role of money in campaigns. More than a few NDC aspirants and candidates, however, felt that opening up the primary selection process made standing for office even more expensive—like running two general elections. The NDC primaries in 2015 did, however, yield more women candidates than in previous years.

In Cabo Verde, we found two funding related arrangements, one was the outcome of the constitutional negotiations in the late 1990s and one adopted by Movimento para a Democracia (MpD). The first measure concerned party responses to a clause in the 1999 Electoral Code which aimed to incentivize political parties to present more women on their electoral lists by giving them a reward. The Code was not followed by any prescribing law, however, and so the reward mechanism was never specified and never implemented.

The second measure, adopted by one of the parties, was to popularize candidate selection. The MpD reformed its candidate selection process ahead of the 2016 elections by introducing popularity polls, or sondagens, in the larger constituencies—going out to all citizens, not just party members. Polls were supposed to overcome local power struggles, give favorable list placements to those candidates popular among the electorate, and reduce money spent on mobilization.

Even if Ghana can be classified as a high-cost intensity case and Cabo Verde as a low-cost intensity case, raising money was a barrier to female candidates in both contexts. Political parties in both countries engaged in a process of popularizing candidate selection to reduce the costs of running for everyone. Only in Ghana, however, were the costs of running salient enough for parties to implement gender-specific measures. 

Looking beyond Cabo Verde and Ghana, political parties can play a stronger role on the continent in addressing gender inequalities in political funding. Gender quotas can increase gender balance in parliaments, but more measures are needed to secure the recruitment and selection of diverse candidates into politics, including measures that target gendered funding inequalities. In seeking more inclusive and representative democracies in Africa, both the large and the small steps political parties take matter.

Vibeke Wang is a Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute and has published widely in Comparative Political Studies, International Political Science Review, and Politics & Gender, among other journals.

Ragnhild Muriaas is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Bergen and has published on gender and political financing in Cabo Verde, Ghana, Malawi and Zambia in journals such as African Affairs and the American Political Science Review. 

Gretchen Bauer is professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. She has published widely on women’s political leadership in Africa.

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