Local Female Representation as a Pathway to Power: A Natural Experiment in India

55 Pages Posted: 1 May 2020 Last revised: 30 Apr 2021

Date Written: May 1, 2020


What enables female politicians to rise and survive in politics? Studies emphasize top-down mechanisms that lower elite bias but ignore bottom-up mechanisms. I argue that female politicians can transform grassroots party building to mount bottom-up pressure on elites. In settings where local candidates are meta-brokers - brokers for higher-level politicians, but patrons to party activists - male-led party-building reinforces female under-representation across the party’s hierarchy. Female-led party-building disrupts this status quo. I exploit Delhi’s multilevel setting, where the natural experiment of randomized gender quotas causes women to replace men as meta-brokers. This design identifies a novel effect - quota’s extensive margin - and rules out alternative explanations, while qualitative evidence bolsters support. Local female politicians not only progress upwards, but state female politicians are substantially more likely to survive party positions in constituencies with a higher local female presence. Female-led grassroots party building lowers gender inequality across the entire political spectrum.

Keywords: Descriptive representation, female leadership, gender quota, natural experiment, India

Suggested Citation

Goyal, Tanushree, Local Female Representation as a Pathway to Power: A Natural Experiment in India (May 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3590118 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3590118

Tanushree Goyal (Contact Author)

Harvard Weatherhead Center ( email )

K239 1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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