Do Female Local Councilors Improve Women’s Representation?

Lindsay J. Benstead


Tunisia’s 2018 municipal elections, in which a legislated quota was implemented and women won 47 percent of seats, raises questions about whether electing female councilors improves women’s representation in clientelistic settings. Using data from the Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI), an original survey of 3,600 Tunisians conducted in 2015 by the Program on Governance and Local Development (GLD), this paper investigates the relationship between local councilors’ gender and women’s access to help with personal or community issues. Three findings emerge. First, male citizens are thirteen percentage points more likely to know a local councilor and six percentage points more likely to have contacted a councilor for help. Second, citizens of both genders are twice as likely to contact a councilor of the same gender when asking for help with community problems. Finally, electing females increases women’s access to councilors, due to network homosociality—that is, denser personal networks with others of the same gender—but has a limited impact on men’s access because female councilors have more hetersocial networks. By showing that electing and appointing women improves service and allocation responsiveness to females, the results call attention to the need to address gender equity issues when drafting electoral laws and implementing decentralization laws.