On October 13th, 2023, the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe (FROMDEE) hosted an academic conference on “Democratic Backsliding and Electoral Autocracies”. This brief provides a short summary of the keynote lecture and research presentations featured at the conference.
The most recent report by the V-Dem Institute concludes that “72 percent of the world’s population […] live in autocracies by 2022” and “the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2022 is down to 1986 levels” (V-Dem Institute, 2023). In Europe, these declines have manifested in the previous Polish government undermining judicial independence, in tightened political repression in Belarus, and most prominently in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But the rise of electoral autocracies and democratic backsliding are not confined to Europe – their strategies of propaganda, corruption, electoral manipulation, as well as attacks on judicial and media independence are a global phenomenon. The October 13th FROMDEE Conference gathered researchers from economics, law and political science to bring insight into why and where reversals are taking place, and what measures are needed to reverse the negative trend. This policy brief provides an overview of the research shared at the conference.
Populism and Autocracy – the Case of Russia
In the keynote lecture, Arturas Rozenas (New York University) focused on the roots of populism, challenging the common view of illiberal democracies as a mix between democracies and dictatorships. Rather, dictatorships evolve into populist dictatorships that then take one of two paths: either the path to democracy, or the path towards electoral autocracy, illiberal democracy, or totalitarianism. In this framework, populist dictatorships have historically made use of populist elements we recognize from modern times, i.e., democratic-seeming institutions misused for the ruler’s purposes.
In a populist dictatorship, Rozenas continued, there is a monopoly of power. Institutions such as elections and parliamentary representation, serve not to allocate power but to legitimise it. The transition from passive to active dictatorships coincided with a move away from the common notion of a king or similar leader deriving rightful power from God to rule the masses, to a reality built on the idea that the ruler’s legitimacy stems from the masses. This historic transformation should however not be interpreted as a transition to democracy. In fact, Rozenas showed that for most of recent history, the majority of elections and expansions of suffrage took place in dictatorships rather than in democracies. These seemingly populist institutions serve not only to legitimise governments, but also to coopt the population in a public display of the ruler’s strength. Rozenas argued, that in an active populist dictatorship, the ruler creates a setting which suppresses dissent and expectations of dissent, through institutionalised expressions of support (in the form of political participation, elections, large rallies etc.).
Turning to the Russian setting, the first thing to notice is the deep tradition of autocracy – from tsarism to Stalinism. In Russia, the words “society” and “the people” briefly blossomed during past revolutions or uprisings but have largely been absent in the Russian language and are once again on the decline under the rule of Putin. Further, the Russian population has time and again been exploited by its rulers during succession crises for displays of power and dominance. Examples of this are the mandatory elections held under Stalin two weeks after the invasion of the Baltic States in 1939 and more recently under Putin in the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine in 2021. Such populist autocratic strategies are nothing new in Russia, concluded Rozenas – rather they derive from the internal logic of dictatorship that has played out throughout Russian history.
Continuing the notion of the “absent” Russian society, Olha Zadorozhna (Kozminski University) began her presentation by explaining that protests are infrequent in Russia and have surprisingly few attendees given the country’s large population. While there were mass protests in the run-up to the collapse of communism in the 1980’s and protests took place against corruption in 2017-2018, and in relation to the arrest of Alexey Navalny in 2021, protests in Russia are typically not motivated by an overarching ideology or broader political questions. Rallies in favor of authoritarianism and ethno-nationalism are a more common occurrence. Moreover, there are few indications that the invasion of Ukraine, sanctions and subsequent economic downturn have negatively affected the Russian population’s support for the regime. Still, literature has shown that war-related deaths can mobilize opposition against war participation (e.g., the U.S. participation in the Vietnam War). Considering this, Zadorozhna evaluates whether the deaths of Russian soldiers provoke a reaction among the Russian population. By combining social media data on fallen soldiers with protest activity for the first four months of the Russian invasion in 2022, the study find that casualties lead to an increase in protest activity, indicating that deaths can in fact mobilize public opposition in Russia.
Other populist strategies to ensure support for Putin in Russia relate to political participation and the judiciary. Nicholas James (University of Oxford) analysed electoral rule changes in the Russian Duma – from mixed member majoritarianism to proportional representation (PR) – by measuring their effect on floor participation. Applying a difference-in-differences framework, James found that deputies experiencing a change from PR included less words in their speeches following the switch (about 15-20 percent of an average speech). This effect should be understood in the political context of the ruling party’s (United Russia) increased influence during this time period (2010s). In fact, James concluded, the results point in the direction of the regime tampering with the Duma in an impromptu and reactionary manner with the overall goal of obtaining closer control and the appearance of support for the regime.
Yulia Khalikova’s (University of Hamburg) presentation gave further insight into how ostensibly democratic institutions can be exploited to make an authoritarian regime appear legitimate. In her work, Khalikova considers judicial references to international law that may be employed strategically, without necessarily adhering to the spirit or content of the law. Looking specifically at international law citations in 601 judgements made in the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) between 2000 and 2021, Khalikova find evidence that the RCC has increasingly cited international courts when making judgements on topics related to politics and physical rights, indicating that state policy influences citation patterns. The change in citation patterns also points to the RCC currently using international law to support the regime and uphold its legitimacy, meaning that international law – adopted with the ambition of enhancing democratic values and ensuring human rights – is misused for undemocratic and repressive purposes.
Censorship and Propaganda
Information control is an important feature of autocratic regimes. Philine Widmer (ETH Zurich) considers the Chinese setting – where the regime controls the amount of foreign information available on the internet via a countrywide firewall. Research has shown that autocracies make use of censorship strategies to control their citizens, but these are associated with high reputational costs and can be overcome by tech-savvy citizens. Using a machine learning algorithm, Widmer first predicts a newspaper article’s alignment with the Chinese regime before comparing the placement of more/less aligned articles on news websites. Her results show that front-page news stories in Chinese newspapers are more aligned with the regime’s stance than other content. Front-page placement in turn matters for information uptake. Widmer ended the presentation by comparing the additional cost of finding less aligned articles to the technological costs required to access outside media (e.g. VPNs). For an autocracy to achieve its information control objectives, independent news may just need to be relatively harder to access. It does not need to make it impossible to access for all citizens.
Censorship is typically accompanied by, and complementary with, propaganda. Restricting other narratives allows autocratic regimes to spread their own. While propaganda is a common feature within autocracies, Jaakko Meriläinen’s (Stockholm School of Economics) presentation evaluated the effect of autocratic propaganda in a democratic setting.
Meriläinen’s study focuses on a rogue experiment in which some Finnish children in the 1970’s were taught history and social sciences using material from the Soviet Union – material which was in essence Soviet propaganda. By exploiting geographical and cohort variation, Meriläinen use a difference-in-differences approach to compare the 213 exposed children to children taught the regular Finnish curriculum. The long-term outcomes show that exposed children had lower incomes in adulthood, worked fewer months per year and were engaged in more left-leaning and publicly beneficial occupations (such as, nurses and firefighters).
Information and Accountability
The use of technological innovations to access otherwise restricted information was central to Arieda Muço’s (Central European University) presentation. She studies the spread of the Xerox photocopying machine in communist Hungary in the 1980’s – a setting characterised by limited freedom of speech and restrictions on the media. She reported that areas with early placement of Xerox machines are found to exhibit higher shares of pro-democratic voting. Muço ascribes these outcomes to the fact that the machines allowed for the spread of information and eased coordination of the opposition, suggesting that new technologies and information can act as key facilitators in the fall of autocratic regimes.
Providing citizens with information was also a key feature in Enrique Seira Bejarano’s (Michigan State University) presentation. He began by discussing two potentially related trends: in Latin America recent years have seen (i) increased levels of corruption and (ii) increased dissatisfaction with democracy among citizens. The number of corruption-related news articles have increased threefold in Spanish and doubled in English and the share of people perceiving corruption to be the greatest challenge to their country has doubled in the last decade. The study uses two empirical strategies to identify the effect of corruption on democratic values. Firstly, Seira Bejarano described an observational study, in which data on major corruption scandals were combined with Latinobarometer data on support for democracy. The authors find that corruption scandals increase corruption perceptions while decreasing stated support for democracy. Secondly, Seira Bejarano reported the results of a randomized controlled trial in which some respondents were shown videos of a politician accepting bribes. This had a negative effect on preferences for democracy and on trust more broadly. Both studies show that revelations of corruptions decrease the support for democracy, suggesting a potential tradeoff between the public’s belief in democratic institutions and increased transparency which is important for accountability but can also expose corruption.
Yet another threat to democracy is the rise of right-wing populism – currently a reality in many well-established democracies across Europe. In Germany, the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) enjoys around 21 percent of voters’ support according to recent polls. To understand their rise in popularity, Navid Sabet (Goethe University Frankfurt) builds on previous literature on cultural conflict as a driver for right-wing party support. The paper he presented examines the role of violent conflict in the form of terrorist acts. It evaluates whether acts of terror can alter the political landscape and shift support to the far-right. To avoid selection problems, the authors compare successful terror attacks to attacks that failed. Sabet reported that successful small-scale attacks (predominantly targeting migrants) increase AfD’s vote share by about 6 percentage points in state elections (in the time period 2013-2021). The acts of terror were found to increase voter turnout, by mobilizing otherwise idle voters, but also by gaining votes at the cost of other parties. Exploring the mechanisms behind these results, the authors study the language used by political parties and the way successful attacks were covered in the media. Relative to coverage of unsuccessful attacks, media coverage used a more negative tone, more words related to Islam and terror and fewer words related to right-wing populism. This suggests that media plays an important role in shaping the public’s response to acts of terror and that far right parties are able to exploit this dynamic.
The 2023 FROMDEE Conference brought together academics from different fields to shed light on some of the main challenges to democracy today. In part, the research presented supported the prevailing narrative that democracies are backsliding in many parts of the world. However, by analysing how autocracies and populist leaders operate, the presenters also highlighted the vulnerability of dictatorships.
Arturas Rozenas cited the example of a rally in Bucharest in 1989, which was organised to display support for Ceauşescu’s regime and descended into an anti-government protest. Dictatorships can benefit by coopting the populist elements of democracy but, in doing so, they risk creating a vehicle for genuine democratic expression.
The audience learned about autocracies’ efforts to control the flow of information but also about citizens’ ability to circumvent restrictions whether in 1980s Hungary or present-day China. Several presentations focused on the extent of autocratic control in Russia but even in this setting, the death of soldiers in Ukraine motivates citizens to participate in protests.
Recent trends suggest that democratic institutions should not be taken for granted in any country. Societies can become more resilient to the threat of democratic backsliding, in part by better understanding how both democracies and autocracies operate and what makes them vulnerable. Researchers around the world are using innovative methods to expand our knowledge in this area, as reflected in the presentations at the 2023 FROMDEE Conference.
- V-Dem Institute. (2023). Defiance in the Face of Autocratization. Democracy Report 2023. University of Gothenburg. Varieties of Democracy Institute (V-Dem Institute). https://www.v-dem.net/publications/democracy-reports/
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
There is anecdotal evidence that countries with female leadership in policymaking are more efficient in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. This paper studies whether countries with high female representativeness in political and social layers respond differently to the Covid-19 outbreak. We explore patterns at a cross-country level, which enables us to consider the variation of gender implicated institutions. Our findings indicate that it is women’s social representation, rather than female political leadership, that has the potential to capture cross-country variation in Covid-19 policy responses. Our study confirms that well-functioning and effective institutions are not established from the top-down but rather from the bottom-up.
In light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting actions developed and implemented by countries worldwide, questions have been raised about government policy responses and what can trigger them. The pandemic brought forward the need for measures that help mitigate the spread of the virus such as hand washing, reduced face touching, face mask policies, and physical distancing. In many countries, the implementation of lockdowns and social distancing measures had a large impact on employment, including reductions in working hours, furloughs, and work from home arrangements (Brodeur et al., 2020; Coibion et al., 2020; Gupta et al., 2020). There are notable concerns about the potential damage non-pharmaceutical interventions can inflict on economies and labor markets (Andersen et al., 2020; Kong and Prinz, 2020). Further, the implementation of these measures requires certain institutional and individual behavioral changes. While some countries were successful in developing and implementing policy responses that addressed the challenges of the pandemic, others have experienced considerable difficulties.
There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that countries with female leadership in governmental policies are more efficient in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Several articles from prominent media outlets, such as CNN, The Conversation and Forbes, hypothesize that female leaders are systematically better at managing the pandemic and that this divergence can be attributed to gender differences in management style and risk-taking behavior.
This policy paper explores whether countries distinguished by higher female representation in government policies, both in development and implementation, responded differently to the Covid-19 outbreak, and if so, how the response differed from other countries. For this purpose, we identify two layers of female representation: political representation and social representativeness. The layer of political representation considers the role of women’s representation in public policy design and implementation at the top level of executive and legislative institutions. Social representativeness captures women’s representativeness in different layers of society and spheres of life. It reflects social norms, legal inequality between men and women in different spheres of private, economic, and business life, as well as realized gender inequality, e.g., in labor market participation, education, or local leadership.
With respect to political representation, we address the question of whether countries distinguished by a higher female representation at top executive and legislative levels differ in terms of policy responses to Covid-19. With respect to social representativeness, we aim to capture the variation in these responses that may originate from differences in the expected reaction of the public, which in turn is driven by women’s representativeness in different layers of society. We derive evidence-based conclusions capturing the role of female leadership at the country’s executive and legislative level, as well as the role of gender representativeness in other layers and institutions of society.
The motivation for this research stems from the extensive literature on differences in values and social attitudes between men and women. For example, women have been shown to be more trustworthy, public-spirited, and likely to exhibit ‘helping’ behavior (Eagly and Crowley, 1986), vote based on social issues (Goertzel, 1983), score better on ‘integrity tests’ (Ones and Viswesvaran, 1998), take stronger stances on ethical behavior (Glover et al., 1997; Reiss and Mitra, 1998) and behave more generously when faced with economic decisions (Eckel and Grossman, 1998). Thereby, one may ask to which extent these differences transmit to public policies in societies where women are better represented, either politically or socially. While our study primarily concerns Covid-19 policy responses, we discuss other related literature on the relationship between women’s representativeness and public policy in the next section.
Our analysis shows that it is the women’s social representativeness layer, which can explain government reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic. This goes in line with the institutionalist literature, suggesting that more a gender-balanced character of institutions translates into policy measures and related outcomes. With this finding, our study suggests further evidence on the central role of institutions. Consistent with the existing evidence, we claim that well-functioning and effective institutions are not established from the top-down, but rather from the bottom-up (Easterly, 2008; Dixit, 2011; Greif, 2006). In such institutions, women’s participation in labor markets, businesses, and other spheres is essential as these are factors that distinguish countries in their response to the pandemic. While the evidence provided is suggestive, it opens further avenues for studies to assess causal relationships.
Covid-19 Policy Measurements
To conduct our analysis, we collect data from a number of different sources. For data on the Covid-19 situation and government policy responses, we use the Our World in Data portal. This online platform compiles a number of data sources, most of them updated on a daily basis. Statistics on female participation and leadership is retrieved from the World Bank and UNDP. Summary statistics of the variables are reported in Table A1 of the Appendix.
The policy response variables are based on a number of different measures implemented by national governments. These are aggregated into three composite indices: Stringency, Containment & health, and Economic support. (The index methodology can be found here.) We present the components of the three indices in Table 1 and a detailed description of the policy measures and their scoring in Appendix C.
As seen in Table 1, the Stringency and Containment & health indices have some common dimensions; containment & closure policies (C1 – C8) and public information campaign (H1). Both are rescaled to a value from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest). The Economic support index records measures such as income support and debt/contract relief and does not share any common dimensions with the other two policy response indices. The scale of the index also ranges from 0 to 100 (100 = full support). The extent of heterogeneity in government policy responses across countries is illustrated in Figures 1 – 3. While containment and closure policies are stricter in many Asian and Latin American countries, economic support is more extensive in many European countries, Canada, New Zeeland, and few other countries.
Table 1. The structure of the Covid-19 policy measurements.
Figure 1. Stringency Index
Figure 2. Economic support index.
Figure 3. Containment & health index.
Female Representativeness: Layers and Indicators
Multiple studies in economics and political science suggest that the gender of public officials shapes policy outcomes (Chattopadhyay and Duflo, 2004; Iyer et al., 2012; Svaleryd, 2009). Evidence suggests that increasing the number of women in higher ranks of public administration (legislative bodies and ministries) has a substantial impact on the political office and policymaking (Borrelli, 2002; Davis, 1997; Reynolds, 1999). On the other hand, a number of studies demonstrate that gender has no association with policy outcomes (Besley et al., 2007; Besley and Case, 2003; Bagues and Campa, 2021). The role of the institutional setting and environment can, thus, be decisive in this regard. Women are also found to be more concerned about social policy issues and prefer higher social spending than men (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Abrams and Settle, 1999; Aidt and Dallal, 2008). Further, women are more likely to use a collective or consensual approach to problem and conflict resolution rather than an approach founded on unilateral imposition (Rosenthal, 2000; Gidengil, 1995).
In our study, the political representation layer is measured as female leadership at a country’s executive level (representation in government cabinets) and participation at the legislative institution (parliament) level. To assess this, we consider the following indicators: 1) the presence of a female president or prime minister and proportion of women in ministerial positions, and 2) women’s representativeness in legislative bodies measured as the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. The variation of these indicators across countries is illustrated in Figures B4 – B6 in the Appendix.
Our approach to social representativeness is in line with social role theory. This framework provides a theoretical explanation of a structural approach to gender differences (Eagly, 1987; Eagly and Karau, 2002; Wood and Eagly, 2009). It claims that men and women behave according to stereotypes associated with the social roles they occupy, and these differences can, in turn, influence the role of women in local governance and leadership. In line with other research on gender, the social role theory proposes a rigorous framework for analyzing the gendered aspect of government organizations. For instance, evidence shows that women tend to be more collaborative and democratic, hence demonstrating a more caring and community-oriented behavior (Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).
The gender aspect of local governance indicates that the personal preferences and opinions of leaders predominate and shape policymaking (Besley and Coate, 1997). Female leaders (including municipality heads) are more inclined to favor the inclusion of citizens in the decision-making process (Fox and Schuhmann, 1999; Rodriguez-Garcia, 2015), implying that the society is a more informed and engaged stakeholder in the public policymaking (Ball, 2009). Given that municipalities are taking on a greater and more interactive role in citizens’ well-being, they become a key channel in reinforcing trust in government. Furthermore, the literature finds an interrelationship between female voters and government outcomes, whereby women’s enfranchisement affects government size and spending (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Miller, 2008, Aidt and Dallal, 2008). As such, this can lead to improvements in government outcomes and policy effectiveness. The evidence from Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Resilience Ranking suggests that success in containing Covid-19 while minimizing disruption appears to rely more on governments fostering a high degree of trust and societal compliance.
Furthermore, the patterns of gender relations in societies reflect formal and informal institutional rules and policies. Gender equality enhances good governance and helps to further improve relationships between government and citizens (OECD 2014). Similarly, Elson (1999) argues that labor markets are structured by practices, norms, and networks that are “bearers of gender”. Societies with better legal frameworks for women have more balanced gender participation in labor markets, governance, and leadership, along with more equal gender roles and less gender-biased stereotypes. We anticipate that better representation of women in policymaking in such societies is also reflected in the choice and effectiveness of Covid-19 policy measures.
Building on the above theories explaining the relevance of women’s representativeness in diverse societal layers for policy development and implementation, we identify three indices that have the potential to capture the effect of social representativeness – Women, Business and the Law index (WBLI), Gender Development Index (GDI) and Gender Inequality Index (GII). The WBLI is composed of eight indicators, covering different areas of the law related to the decisions women make at various stages of their career and life. These indicators include mobility, workplace, salary, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension. Hyland et al. (2020) show that, globally, the largest gender inequalities are observed in the areas of pay and parenthood. That is, women are most disadvantaged by the legal system when it comes to compensation and how they are treated once they have children. The index scales from 0 to 100 (100 = equal opportunities). The diagram in Figure 4 illustrates how the components of the WBLI index measure key activities of economic agents throughout their life.
Figure 4. The linkages of 8 indicators in Women, Business and the Law index (WBLI)
The second index, the GDI, measures gender inequality in the achievements in three basic dimensions of human development: Health, measured by life expectancy at birth; Education, measured by expected years of schooling for children and mean years of schooling for adults aged above 25; and Command over economic resources, measured by estimated earned income. The same dimensions are included in the Human Development Index (HDI), and the GDI is defined as the female-to-male HDI ratio (i.e. perfect gender equality corresponds to a GDI equal to one).
Turning to the third index measuring social representativeness, the GII reflects gender-based disadvantages in the following dimensions—reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. The index measures the loss in potential human development due to gender inequality in achievements across these dimensions. It ranges from zero, where women and men fare equally, to one, where one gender fares as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions. One of the dimensions of the GII, women’s empowerment, has a sub-dimension – “Female and male shares of parliamentary seats”, one of our indicators measuring political representation. Generally, we do not consider the two layers being as mutually exclusive, but intersections are expected to be minimal.
Central to our study, the three indices capturing social representativeness in a country encompass the institutional quality of its society from a gender development perspective. The distribution of each index across countries is shown in Figures B1 – B3 (See Appendix B).
Women’s Representativeness and Covid-19 Policy Responses: Partial Correlation Analysis
In this section, we explore the relationship between Covid-19 policy responses and the measures of political representation and social representativeness. For this purpose, we explore (i) correlations between the indicators and indices of the political and social representation layers and (ii) partial correlations between these measures and policy response indices.
We start with a correlation analysis of the different indicators in the layers. It shows that the WBLI is in high correlation with other representativeness variables. This index captures the legal equality between women and men which has been shown to be “associated with a range of better outcomes for women, such as more entrepreneurship, better access to finance, more abundant female labor supply, and reductions in the gender wage gap”. (WB, 2021). One can think of the GDI and GII indices, as well as the political representativeness indicators, as reflections of a broad policy framework in diverse areas of social, business, and legal activities. A legal environment that promotes gender equality, even if not sufficient by itself, is likely to lead to progress in these areas. Indeed, Hyland et al. (2020) show that greater legal equality between men and women is associated with a lower gender gap in opportunities and outcomes, fewer female workers in vulnerable positions, and greater political representation of women. This way, the WBLI may capture key predispositions for women’s representativeness in society. Further, Hyland et al. (2021) show that the WBLI index is in high (partial) correlation with country GDP per capita, polity score, legal origin, religion and geographic characteristics. This evidence suggests that the WBLI may have the capacity to reflect important country characteristics which ultimately shape cross-country institutional variation.
Table 2. Scatterplot table for GDI, GII and Women, Business and the Law Index, Proportion of seats in parliament held by women and Proportion of ministerial seats held by women.
Next, we explore partial correlations of these indicators with Covid-19 policy responses (Table 3). In this analysis, we control for a number of factors that potentially confound the relationship between a particular policy response and representation layer. Specifically, we control for (i) the number of infected cases per million inhabitants, (ii) the number of deaths per million, (iii) GDP per capita, and (iv) life expectancy. The number of infected cases and deaths enter the model in order to control for country differences in the spread and consequences of the virus. GDP per capita captures the stage of country development, accounting for cross-country differences in resource capacities and constraints. Both of these control variables are claimed to have an important role in Covid-19 related research (Coscieme et al., 2020; Aldrich and Lotito, 2020; Elgar, Stefaniak and Wohl, 2020; Gibson, 2020; Conyon and Thomsen, 2020). Life expectancy is an important proxy for country inhabitants’ resilience against the virus, conditioned by health and health infrastructures.
Significant correlations are observed between the WBLI and the three policy response indices. The correlation between the WBLI and Stringency (and Containment & health) index is negative, implying that lighter restrictions have been imposed in countries with better business and legal conditions for women. A positive correlation is observed between the WBLI and the economic support index, suggesting that countries with better conditions for women in diverse business and societal areas have provided more extensive economic support in the pandemic. This finding is in line with existing evidence showing that women are more concerned about social policy issues and prefer higher social spending than men (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Abrams and Settle, 1999; Aidt and Dallal, 2008). Also, lighter restrictions and more generous economic support do not presume any trade-off in terms of the allocation of financial resources constrained by a state budget.
Interestingly, we do not observe significant correlations between policy responses and other indicators of women’s representativeness. The only exception is a correlation between GDI and the Containment & health index, which is significant at the 10% level and hinges heavily on two outliers (if we drop the two outliers, the P-value of the correlation increases from 0.0931 to 0.2735).
Table 3. Scatterplots of policy responses and social representativeness and political representation variables.
In our partial correlation analysis, we do not control for the direct effects of the gender dimension of social norms and practices. Social norms, practices, as well as informal and formal rules can, however, explain a substantial part of the gender gap (Hawkesworth, 2003; Mackay, 2009; Franceschet, 2011; Elson, 1999; Froehlich et al., 2020) relevant for making decisions. Our measures of women’s political and social representativeness do not fully cover gender differences in norms and practices. As Hyland et al. (2020) point out, de-jure female empowerment does not necessarily translate into de-facto empowerment, especially in countries with social norms and informal rules that result in low representation of women in diverse societal spheres. The authors indicate that laws are actionable in a short period, while more time is needed to bring changes in social norms. In our paper (Grigoryan and Khachatryan, 2021), we attempt to address this issue by incorporating the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) into the model and evaluating the confounding effect on the covariates of the model. We show that the WBLI captures the effect of the gender gap owing to social norms and practices on Covid-19 policy responses as measured by SIGI. This result suggests that the endogeneity arising from the omission of a measure of such a gender gap is likely to be minimal.
Discussion and Conclusions
Our correlation analysis suggests that it is the layer of women’s social representativeness that can explain the policy reactions of governments in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This result is in line with the institutionalist literature on gender inequality and social role theory, which suggests that a more gender-balanced character of institutions translates into policy measures and related outcomes. Among the three indices constituting the social representativeness layer, the WBLI is, by construction, more inclusive in terms of capturing women’s role in diversified societal areas. From Table 2, we observe that the WBLI is the only index that is in strong correlation with all other indicators. We also identify strong dominance of the WBLI in correlations with policy responses: it is the only indicator that is significantly correlated with all three policy response measurements (Table 3).
To conclude, our results establish an association between female social representativeness, as measured by the (legal) equality of opportunities between men and women, and Covid-19 related policies. One potential interpretation of these findings concerns the central role of the gender balance in different institutions and layers of society in understanding policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. While it was parliaments and governments that implemented policies, we find that the measures undertaken correlate more strongly with factors related to the social representativeness of women rather than those related to their political representation. This suggests a dominant role of gender-balanced institutions at the ‘grass root’ level in terms of the scale and scope of the crisis response. Naturally, these institutions may result (or be correlated) with more gender-balanced political representation, but the latter alone is not helpful in explaining the variation in the reaction to the pandemic. These results underline the importance of balanced gender representation in the labor market, business, and other spheres of social life. Further investment and development of ‘grass root’ institutions that improve women’s socioeconomic opportunities, could provide a fundamental foundation for policy development in a crisis situation.
There could also be alternative interpretations of our findings. There is rich evidence that the gender dimension is deeply implicated in institutions (Acker, 1992; Chappell and Waylen, 2013; Lovenduski, 2005). Gender norms and gender practices have been shown to have an influence on the operation and interaction between formal and informal institutions (see, for instance, Chappell, 2010; Krook and Mackay, 2011; Chappell and Waylen, 2013) and the gender dimension of political institutions is reflected in their practices and values, hence affecting their outcomes (such as laws and policies), formation, and implementation (for instance, Acker, 1992). In turn, governmental policies and rules shape societal norms and expectations. These considerations imply that our results could be driven by the overall values, culture, and institutions of respective societies. These factors would both result in a more gender-neutral legal environment and ‘grass-root’ institutions, and ultimately, distinguish countries in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this way, our results open an avenue for future studies in this important domain to better understand the causality of observed relationships.
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(The Appendix can be found in the PDF version of the brief)
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Author: Tom Coupe, KSE.
Recent research suggests that experiencing war violence might make people more likely to turn out during elections. Using data from the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, we show, however, that people who were injured or had close friends or relatives killed or injured were less likely to turn out at the 2014 parliamentary elections. We also show that the impact of violence on turn out and political views depends on the type of violence one experienced.