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How Autocrats Weaponize Women's Rights

How Autocrats Weaponize Women's Rights

Elin Bjarnegård held a ten-month fellowship at NIAS in 2020/21 to research the gender politics of authoritarianism, finding authoritarian regimes often exploit the simplistic association between gender equality and democracy.

Bjarnegård’s research has resulted in an article now published in the Journal of Democracy. Bjarnegård is Associate Professor of Political Science and Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at Uppsala University. Her research interests span the field of comparative politics with a particular focus on gender; including the impact of parties, electoral laws, and networks on political recruitment, the role of informal institutions in politics, the explicit gendering of men and masculinities, the adoption of gender equality policies, and the attitudes to and dynamics of violence during conflict.

About this Article

This essay introduces the concept of “autocratic genderwashing” to shed light on why authoritarian states adopt gender-equality reforms. Autocratic genderwashing occurs when autocrats take credit for advances in gender equality in order to turn attention away from persistent nondemocratic practices, such as violations of electoral integrity and human rights. In doing so, they exploit the often simplistic association between gender equality and democracy to seek legitimacy and achieve regime stability. Gender equality is used to devise legitimation strategies tailored to specific groups. Awareness of this phenomenon might make scholars and democracy activists less likely to accept inclusion as a substitute for competition in nondemocratic states.

Publication available in open access

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