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Friday, 26 August 2011

A Mother Shall Lead Them?

Zambia's only female presidential candidate recently argued that men have failed Zambia :
Zambian women have the same rights as men, and running for political office is not an exception. When I took over as minister of finance....Zambia was at its lowest. I remember there was a day when I was required to effect payment for half a million dollars and the government did not have any money. We had to borrow from one of our commercial banks. We were trying to liberalise the economy but we had no income in the country. I was privileged to be one of those who managed to push through the structural adjustment programme. Liberia has had the best leader (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) post conflict to manage that economy. And it is not just about the economy, but people’s attitudes as well. I believe that if Africa believed that one of its major assets is women, we would be much better. Look at what is happening in Libya, Somalia and all the carnage… who is making those decisions? The motherly instinct of a woman would not allow such, as mothers our stomachs move when we see such carnage. I believe that with women in charge, we would not be seeing most of the conflicts we are seeing in Africa today.
But, is Nawakwi right? Does female political leadership lead to superior economic outcomes?  Is there any reason why we think female leadership may have a positive macroeconomic impact on Zambia? Are there any fundamental different in public policies that men and women may pursue and how would that affect national outcomes?

Unfortunately, the literature has not addressed this question explicitly! However, American studies regarding the influence on government of giving women the right to vote, shows that it has affected fiscal decision making at the state level. Suffrage coincided with immediate increases in state government expenditures and revenues and more "liberal" voting patterns for federal representatives, and that these effects expanded over time as more women began to vote. This would suggest that women may be more relatively risk averse and would be more predisposed to collective / state based solutions rather than the selfish drive of private market provision. The other point is that women’s lower average income might also predispose them toward government programs with a progressive redistributive element. 

Other evidence suggest that women who have to raise children on their own are more likely to classify themselves as liberal and support progressive redistributive taxation. Women also tend to have a somewhat stronger preference for public insurance and redistributive spending, if not for a larger role for government altogether. But of course larger government may not bode well for economic growth – the evidence remains ambiguous here. So if a female president was more geared to empowerment she would need to do it in a way that did not have detrimental affect on growth. 

This evidence of course needs to be treated with a pinch of salt due to contextual issues, but it does point to one key lesson : broadly speaking, it is the "female vote" that affected the outcome not the necessarily  "female leaders". That would suggest that the best strategy may not necessarily be to push for a female leader. Rather women should rally behind someone who can credibly commit to lift the plight of women. The question therefore women should be asking is - "Is there a female vote in Zambia?" rather than "Do we need a female president?".  Developing a "female voting" bloc would deliver more sustained pro-female changes in Zambia than a female president with a parliament full of men. I think this may also apply to other groups e.g. disabled, aged and the youth. 

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