Leveraging social networks to improve female political participation in Pakistan
In several countries in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, females vote at lower rates than men. Researchers are partnering with the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP) and the Society for Sustainable Development (SSD) to evaluate the impact of social interactions around politics on women’s voter registration, voter turnout, and participation in local government in Pakistan.
In several countries in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, females vote at lower rates than men.1 Past research has shown that women have significantly different policy preferences from men.2 Therefore, improving women’s political participation would improve the representativeness of democracy. Past research has also shown that civic rights education and providing women opportunities to discuss political issues can increase female voter turnout.3 Can social networks be leveraged to improve women’s political participation?
Context of the evaluation
In Pakistan, women are much less likely than men to participate in politics. The nation has one of the largest gender gaps in voting in the world; the voting rate among women is 20 percentage points lower than the rate among men.4 This disparity is even higher in rural areas, including the Hairpur district of the Khyber Pakhtukhwa province where this study takes place. For example, in 2018, no female councilor served in local government in all of Hairpur, despite there being almost 1,000 of these positions.
Previous work by the research team in this context found that women who were not well connected or considered socially important were less likely to be registered to vote or to actually vote in an election. In contrast, men with weak social connections were just as likely to participate in politics as men with strong social connections. This suggests that the gender gap in political participation may originate, in part, from less socially connected women
Details of the intervention
Researchers are partnering with the Center for Economic Research in Pakistan (CERP) and the Society for Sustainable Development (SSD) to evaluate the impact of social interactions around politics on women’s voter registration, voter turnout, and participation in local government during the local elections in 2019.
Researchers will first identify thirty villages in Hairpur and map the social networks of 100-150 households per village. The network maps will be used to identify well-connected women and determine which women know each other. Researchers will categorize a woman as well-connected if she had an above average number of people naming her as a social contact.
Six months before local elections in May-June 2019, researchers will randomly select women to organize monthly meetings with their friends to discuss community issues. Using the social network analysis, researchers will randomly select five well-connected women and five less-connected women in each village to fill the organizer role. Every organizer will receive Rs. 500 (US$5) to plan the gatherings.
One woman in each village will also be chosen as a monitor to record who attends the meetings. Additionally, SSD will train monitors to bring up the following points at each meeting: information about how to register to vote, including specific information about when and where women can access registration sites; civic education messages on voting and turnout; and a general discussion on electoral processes and local politics.
Researchers will measure whether knowing an organizer impacts a woman’s participation in the monthly meetings, her voter registration status, if she votes in the election, and if she runs for local office. Researchers will also look at the impact of being an organizer on political participation and compare outcomes for women who know well-connected organizers versus women who know less-connected organizers.
Results and policy lessons
Project ongoing; results forthcoming
Gulzar, Saad, Muhammad Yasir Khan, and Luke Sonnet. 2018. “Social Spillovers and the Gender Gap in Political Participation in Pakistan.” Grant Proposal.