Report | 2023

Executive Summary

From democratic backsliding in Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Hungary to the rise of far-right coalitions in Israel and Italy, threats to democracy are accelerating worldwide. At the same time, antidemocratic forces are rolling back women’s rights as a central part of their patriarchal-populist agendas.

That democratic backsliding and backlash against women’s rights are occurring simultaneously prompts the question: How, and why, are they connected? To explore these gendered threats to democracy, this brief quantitatively analyzes the link between women’s status—measured by the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Index—and a country’s level of democracy—measured in terms of election integrity, freedom of association and assembly, and checks on executive power. We find that the status of women is strongly and significantly associated with all three dimensions of democracy, with election integrity displaying the strongest relationship. We argue that these results show that empowering women and building resilient democracies go hand-in-hand.

The WPS Agenda, with its dual focus on protecting women from violence and promoting women’s meaningful role in decision-making, is an existing policy framework that can be leveraged to strengthen democratic institutions and fortify women’s rights against patriarchal backlash. We identify four cross-cutting themes–accountability, inclusion, open civic spaces, and the prevention of political violence against women–that can serve as leverage points to advance both WPS and democracy efforts. The brief concludes by highlighting a variety of actions that governments and other stakeholders can take to promote women’s rights and democratic resilience:

  • Fortify internal and external checks and balances against breaches of democratic and gender equality norms.
  • Build more inclusive institutions at all levels of government to improve the status of women.
  • Protect women’s political rights and support democratic mobilization.
  • Address political violence against women to build democratic resilience.

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