Published on Arab Voices

Women in transition

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ImageIn a new study, Mélise Jaud and I examine how countries transit from autocracy to democracy.  We find that 86 countries have tried over the last 50 years, with 42 successful and quick, 13 successful but slow, and 31 failed.  We also look at the determinants of attempting transition, given you are in autocracy--as well as the determinants of sustained success, given that you try to transit.

One of our most robust findings is that gender equality is an important determinant of both attempted transition and success.  Specifically, the gap between male and female education (computed as the ratio between female and male literacy rate in the adult population) discourages transition, and the bigger the gap the less likely you are to swiftly reach democracy.  Our results suggest that a 10% reduction in literacy gap increases your likelihood of transition by close to 5%.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the gap between male and female education has declined rapidly over the last two decades, consistent with this notion that equality among the sexes is important to stimulate change.  Moreover, Tunisia, the catalyst of the Arab Spring, records among the highest levels of educational equality in primary and secondary school enrollment in the region.

Why might equality of the sexes matter? This requires further research but some potential explanations are: (i) Democracy is about citizen's rights, and societies with education equality are by definition valuing all citizens more highly.  (2) Dictators are strong men.  As more women acquire high levels of education the appeal of the strong man declines.   (iii) More female involvement in revolutions and their aftermath may produce a less violent revolution and more cooperation in its aftermath.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I would like to congratulate the women of the revolutions, whose participation is a key determinant of transition and success.


Caroline Freund

Dean of the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy

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