Beyond Presence: Gender Quotas, Female Leadership, and Symbolic Representation
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This dissertation examines how electoral gender quotas affect citizens' attitudes and behavior towards women in political office. A policy experiment with the random assignment of local-level single-member electoral districts reserved for female community councilors in the southern African nation of Lesotho provides causal evidence to this line of inquiry. Using a unique dataset by merging Afro-barometer surveys with archival data, I first exploit the random assignment of Lesotho's quota policy to examine how the policy changes female citizens' engagement with local politics. Counterintuitively, I find that female citizens are less politically engaged under quota-mandated female representation, but present evidence that this result likely stems from the perceived illegitimacy of the quota policy. This dissertation then examines how the quota affects citizens' perceptions of local chiefs. I find that exposure to quota-mandated female representatives significantly reduces the perceived influence of the predominately male chieftaincy in structuring local governance. Finally, I present results from survey data as well as field experimental tests conducted in Lesotho to reveal how the quota has affected citizens' explicit and implicit gender biases, both in the political sphere and more broadly. Here, I find that exposure to quota-mandated representatives weakens young women's preferences for male politicians by challenging existing stereotypes around appropriate gender roles. By examining how quotas mediate the symbolic effects of greater numbers of women in politics, this dissertation develops new theoretical insights into the ways in which quotas fit into classic theories of political representation. This task is particularly relevant given the rapid pace with which countries continue to adopt electoral gender quotas at both the national and subnational levels.
- Political science