Does Women’s Proportional Strength Affect their Participation? Governing Local Forests in South Asia


Bina Agarwal, Professor of Economics, Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi

The gender and politics literature has long debated how women’s proportional strength affects policy formulation within legislatures. Studies on gender and environmental governance have focused mainly on women’s limited participation in local institutions.Both bodies of work leave important aspects unexplored. The former neglects the in-between process — the impact of women’s numbers on their effective participation, such as attending and speaking up at meetings, and holding office. The latter neglects to ask: what impact would increasing women’s proportions have on participation and what proportions are effective? Rigorous empirical analysis is also scarce. Addressing these gaps, this paper, based on primary data for community forestry institutions in India and Nepal, statistically tests if a group’s gender composition affects women’s effective participation, and if there are any critical mass effects. The results support the popularly emphasized proportions of one-quarter to one-third, but women’s economic class also matters, as do some factors other than women’s numbers.

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