Running from the Periphery: An Exploratory Analysis of Women Presidential Candidates in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Utility of Minor Parties

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Virginia Tech


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is the only woman in Africa that has ever been voted into presidential office. Uncovering the dynamics perpetuating men's continued dominance in presidential office-holding in this region requires a deeper understanding of presidential candidacies particularly as they relate to gendered patterns of major party support that often occur due to party gatekeeping. As such, this thesis poses the following questions: How prevalent are women candidates in sub-Saharan African presidential elections? To what extent do women run for major party labels versus minor party labels or as independent candidates? What factors explain those patterns of party representation for women presidential candidates in the region? I hypothesize that women are altogether less likely than men to run for president. When women do run, I posit that they forge minor party candidacies as opposed to major party or independent candidacies. While minor parties may signal legitimacy, consolidate policy platforms, and provide resources for women candidates who face gatekeeping from major parties, they will ultimately be unlikely to propel them into viable candidacies let alone presidencies. Using a mixed methodological approach, this thesis aims to assess ways party representation differs between men and women presidential candidates in 26 sub-Saharan African countries that were considered "free" or "partly free" as of their 2020 elections (Freedom House). As the role of women in democratization continues to be in question, this research is vital to understanding how women are incorporated into the politics of new democracies.



women candidates, women presidents, minor parties, elections, sub-Saharan Africa