Proposal preview

Female political institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa

One of the already accepted sessions to WEHC2018 is titled: African Women at Work in Historical Perspective: New Methods for the study of Female Inequality in Economic Participation, 1800-2000. Our proposal add to this important work by focusing on female political participation in SSA.
There is a fair amount of consensus that successful economic development depends on the development of the right political and economic institutions (e.g. Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson 2001). Gennaoili and Rainer (2007), Bandyopadhyay, and Green (2012), Michalopoulos and Papaioannou (2013) showed how the extent of pre-colonial political centralization is strongly related to current development outcomes.
The research suggests that when it comes to ensuring that the positive effects of economic growth in turn enhance female empowerment, a crucial ingredient is most likely the nature of the traditional political institutions and in particular the direct role women play in them. Despite being subject to discrimination in most spheres of social and economic life in Africa, in some places and among some ethnic groups, women have traditionally had access to a diversity of positions of authority. Very early examples include legendary female pharaohs, such as Cleopatra and Nefertiti who ruled ancient Egypt, and the Queen Candaces of Ethiopia in the second century. In contemporary times, women have served as presidents, vice presidents, or prime ministers in: Liberia, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Gambia, Central African Republic, Malawi, Burundi, Senegal, Mozambique, Gabon, Uganda, and Guinea Bissau. Rwanda leads the world with 64% of legislators in national parliament (the lower or single house) being women. In many parts of Africa, particularly in the rural areas, the traditional political structures exist and work alongside modern formal democratic institutions. Women often seem to have a prominent role in these chieftaincies. Well-known current examples of paramount chiefs include Madam Ella Koblo Gulama of Sierra Leone and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. Female chiefs are also known in Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Female leadership is also still common in many parts of Ghana, where all the main chiefs have beside them a female ruler called a “queen mother”.
To date, however, there is very little empirical research pertaining directly to women’s’ role in traditional political institutions in Africa. This session invites papers on the variation in female political representation across Africa and how it influenced different spheres of economic development.


  • Sophia du Plessis Stellenbosch University South Africa

Session members

  • Sahar Parsa, Tufts University
  • Anja Smith, Stellenbosch University


  • Siwan Anderson University of British Colombia

This panel has Call for Papers open.
If you are interested in participating, please contact the panel organizer(s) to submit a proposal.

  • Sophia du Plessis, Stellenbosch University,, South Africa


Panel abstract

1st half

2nd half