“A genuine academic with a real impact on practice” is how Hannah Riley-Bowles introduced Pippa Norris, the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Norris certainly lived up to this introduction, presenting the audience with a research-based framework and then making us to dig into the practice of applying it to the Egyptian case.
The research question behind the framework is “What promotes gender equality in elected office?” The country-level data clearly shows that it is not gender-related development and not democratization, and that culture change is too slow to measure or to be an effective tool. It is institutional reforms that have impact. The “Six Step Action Plan” hones in on the institutions and leverage points in question:
- Electoral systems
- Legal quotas
- Party selection rules and procedures
- Capacity development
- Gender-sensitive procedures in elected office
In a purely theoretical world it would be easy to insert women at each of these levels, to make all the rules women-friendly – guarantee constitutional protections, mandate quotas, provide trainings, etc. But the reality is messy and much more interesting.
The Egyptian case study presented us with the historic, political and cultural context of a country in the midst of a constitutional debate. It forced us to think strategically and to get specific about the types of interventions (if any) we would pursue at each of the six steps.
|Egyptian Women MP's Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters|
Lively discussion sprung forth from all corners of the room. An Egyptian student insisted that it matters more that the right women are in office, not just more women, explaining how highly conservative women can set back the cause. Groups argued about the best level on which to focus the advocacy. Debate ensued over the timing of intervention and the key actors to engage, and there was no agreement on quotas versus reserved seats as the optimal legal structure. We ran out of time.
“So what is the solution?” I asked half kidding and half frustrated. Of course, there is no solution that we can simply think up here in Cambridge. Still, the exercise demonstrated that the Six Step Action Plan – a conceptual framework grounded in research – can be a powerful tool for advocates shaping the debate on gender equality. And with requests pouring in from all corners of the world to translate and to adapt this framework, it is no wonder that Pippa Norris is an academic with a real impact on practice.