Exploring gender-neutral political finance regulations that promote equity and women’s participation

Although political finance regulations could potentially have a beneficial (or possibly a negative) impact on the chances for women and men to compete on more equal terms, most political finance regulations have not been introduced with gender equality in mind. More commonly, the goal of political finance regulations is to reduce the advantages of wealthy competitors, level the playing field and increase transparency.

Various elements may level the campaign playing field, and, inter alia, provide incentives for women’s political participation and equal distribution of campaign resources among women and men. Having equal access to funding will give women candidates the same chance as their male counterparts to reach the electorate to advocate for their election.

These elements include ceilings on total campaign donations and campaign expenditures; bans on particular types of campaign advertising; and transparency requirements. All these provisions level the playing field, with less regard given to their financial status and gender. Nigeria already has legal provisions on ceilings on total campaign donations and expenditures. However, the later 2 suggestions of bans on particular types of campaign advertising; and transparency requirements will be explored and sample of legal regulations existing in other countries proposed for action by policy makers in Nigeria.

Bans on particular types of campaign advertising

In some countries, bans are imposed on particular types of campaign advertising. Such bans suppress total campaign expenditure levels, as paid political advertising in broadcast media (in particular on television) is an expensive campaign method. Given this, a ban on paid broadcast advertising can have the same advantages for gender equality among candidates as the general spending limits discussed in the previous section.

Bans on paid political advertising are usually culturally engrained and are most common in European “old” democracies such as Germany, Norway, Slovakia and the UK. The rationale behind this ban is that it has an effect of constraining growth of campaign expenses. In addition, it is believed that bans on paid advertising safeguard the quality of political debate. Since they are more focused on emotional appeal rather than political platforms, political advertisements, especially if they are placed in great quantities immediately before an election, are considered in these countries to be inappropriate means of political communication.

With bans on more expensive and financially intensive campaigns, usage of other less expensive and more unorthodox forms of campaigning – such as social networks, door-to-door campaigning, and campaigning through networks of volunteers – become more popular and provide opportunities for participation of individuals who are not necessarily obliged or able to contribute considerable funding to campaigns. This can particularly benefit women candidates with significant grassroots connections.

Transparency requirements:

Donation and spending limits will have no impact on the political process, or on the chances of women to effectively run for office, unless these limits are enforced.  Such enforcement requires transparency, which in turn demands a reporting system, including reports submitted more frequently than once a year when possible.

Transparency is the prime instrument for identifying other insufficiencies in the broader governance context. If there is a lack of control over campaign finances and penalties for violations are not being enforced, transparency or disclosure may serve as an important instrument for the public, the media, and NGOs, since it provides information on sources of political funding and offers better insights to electoral contestants and their financial supporters.

From the perspective of gender representation, transparency increases oversight of political party funding, mitigating the possibility of behind-the-scenes deals and political influence trading that is characteristic of closed political cultures that customarily exclude women or that only include them in a formalistic sense. Generally, transparency undermines the ease of special interest access to political decision-making, which favors men over women, and renders the system more open to women interested in running for office. Increased transparency can also reduce the advantages that candidates with access to illegitimate sources of funding may have in persuading political parties to nominate them. This type of transparency can work in favor of women aspirants; as the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly Resolution on Transparency and Accountability in the Funding of Political Parties and Candidates points out, “political parties are key for the achievement of balanced participation by women and men in political life” .

Disclosure requirements ensure that political parties are transparent, which also encourages the party to accept only legitimate sources of funding, as it can be scrutinised and debated by members.

                                                                                                                                              (To be continued)

Culled from Resource Mobilization Strategies for Women’s Effective Political Participation Institutionalizing Anti-Corruption and Accountability in Nigeria (2019)

A Publication of Nigerian Women Trust Fund