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Women Politicians in Africa: War of Symbols and the Struggle for Political Legitimacy (WOMPOL-Africa)

Time line: October 2021-September 2023
Funder: European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant



In post-conflict periods in Africa, patriarchal gender hierarchies are often restored and reinforced in part through scripts written primarily by men, and women are relegated to supporting actors, whose roles reflect masculinist notions of women’s proper ‘place’. This impacts on women’s claim to political legitimacy since, in many African countries, political parties and leaders often justify their political authority morally by emphasizing their roles in liberating their nations from, for example, colonialism and dictators. This project focuses on the experiences of women politicians in Africa and the precarious positions they often find themselves in their struggles for political legitimacy.

Map of African women politicians



The project proposes to examine how representations of women politicians’ roles and experiences impact their claims to political legitimacy. Its objectives include:

  • Contextualising women’s access to political power by tracing the experiences of individual women politicians through their portrayals in history books, news media, documentaries, biographical films, published biographies, recorded interviews and other cultural artifacts.
  • Providing a more complex view of women’s struggle for political legitimacy by focusing on the intersection of patriarchal oppression and women’s resistance.
  • Drawing attention to how perceptions about women’s sources of political power impact their claim to political legitimacy.

The narratives about women politicians’ roles and experiences will be analysed using a combination of approaches that examine both the sources of data and the information they provide. The project intersects multiple disciplines, including history, postcolonial, political, cultural, gender and feminist studies. This interdisciplinary approach enables a critical examination that embeds representations of women politicians’ experiences within a unique set of circumstances and relationships, and complex systems of power.







Banner: © excerpt of James Dalrymple /

Principal investigator