Theses Doctoral

Making Democracy Work for Women: Essays on Women's Political Participation in Pakistan

Khan, Sarah

The existence of stark and enduring gender inequalities in political participation and representation around the world is a well-documented phenomenon. What constrains women from participating in politics? How can we encourage more women to participate? What are the substantive implications of nominal equality in participation? In this dissertation, I explore these questions in the context of Pakistan: a developing democracy with high levels of gender inequality on various dimensions. An overarching goal of this work is to center the role of the household -- and the sexual division of household labor -- in our understanding of gender roles and gendered inequalities in political participation. In Paper 1, I develop an original behavioral measure of preference expression, embedded in a survey with 800 respondents in Faisalabad, to demonstrate that even when women participate in political communication, they overwhelmingly opt to communicate their spouse's political preferences to a political representative, rather than their own. The ability to express and communicate preferences is key to many definitions of democracy. While existing work studies external constraints on preference expression in the public sphere, in this paper I demonstrate the persistence of internal constraints on women's preference expression that operate in the private sphere. In Paper 2, coauthored with Ali Cheema, Asad Liaqat and Shandana Khan Mohmand, we use a field experiment conducted in 2500 households in Lahore to study what works to mobilize women's turnout. The design of the experiment relies on the understanding that women's participation in this context is shaped by household level constraints. We test whether targeting a canvassing treatment prior to the 2018 Pakistan National Election emphasizing the importance of women's vote works best when targeted to women, men, or both. We find that it is insufficient to target women, and necessary to target men, in order to increase women's electoral turnout. In Paper 3, I draw on the conceptual framework of role equity and role transformation to understand variation in public attitudes towards gender equality. I use survey data collected in Faisalabad and Lahore to demonstrate how abstract support for gender equality in various domains breaks down in the face of material costs and circumstances that pose a threat to status-quo gender roles.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Humphreys, Macartan N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 15, 2019