EXCERPT | ECOWAS and the Power of a Norm Entrepreneur for Women’s Presentation
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EXCERPT | ECOWAS and the Power of a Norm Entrepreneur for Women’s Presentation

By Babatunde Felix Obamamoye
Department of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

EXCERPT | ECOWAS and the Power of a Norm Entrepreneur for Women’s Presentation

Image Attribute: Jenny Matthews/Panos/Creative Commons

The capacity of a caliber of international organizations, like ECOWAS, to effectively modulate and direct the behavior, actions, inactions, characters and domestic policies of member states towards widespread regional acceptability of and encouragement for progressive increment in women’s representation in parliaments can be orchestrated through the ‘norm entrepreneur’ model. The term, norm entrepreneur, could be traced to the scholarly work of Sunstein [1].

Norm on its own can simply be defined as the standards of commonly expected deportment among a given factors which restrict the choice of actions, legitimates the rights acts and forbids the wrong ones [2-4]. The geographical confines of such shared behavior may be communal, national, sub-regional, regional or global; while the purported actors in this sense could be individuals, the group of non-state actors or states.

However, due to the fact that some new norms will not emerge in a vacuum without a rigorous means of initiation propelled the need for norm entrepreneur. As espoused by Sunstein [1], Finnemore and Sikkink [2] and substantiated by Souaré [3], a norm entrepreneur is an individual, political actor or international organization that initiates new standard of behaviour among a group of players, mobilizes and convinces members about its appositeness for the purpose of modifying a particular prevailing behavior. The effectiveness of such norm emergence depends on the strong desire of the norm entrepreneur, its application of the right instrument for persuasion and the degree of influence on the members of the community.

For the international organization, it the first stage of long processes of moderating the behaviors of member states which permits the standard setting of what comportment is appropriate at a given point in time. Norm cascade and internalization [2] will not occur without the initial role of the norm entrepreneur. Putting into consideration how international factors, like domestic issues, continually restrain the choice of actions [5] available to states, the power of international norm in influencing the internal political dynamics of states cannot be over-emphasized. This does not negate the fact that states and other international actors at times do violate formal or informal agreements sanctioned by international organizations they are committed to, but in most cases mindful of the implications. Sovereign independent states deliberately comply at different points in time with a plenitude of supranational directives of international institutions and norms not necessarily because of the fear of concerted coercion, like the case in Iraq in 1991, but to avoid been stigmatized, defamed or excoriated [6,3].

By the benefit of hindsight, the ECOWAS, as a reputable subregional West African organization, has displayed the power of norm entrepreneurship over the years on specific issues different from gender matters. The organization has been able to direct the actions and comportment of the member states as a response to collective interests. Notable among others is on the free movement of persons from one member state to another without a visa within three months. Such adventure was unimaginable during the pre-1975 era before the establishment of the organization in the region. But courtesy of the 1979 Protocol Relating to Free Movement of Persons, in the name of regional integration, states in West Africa find it easier and pleasing in allowing the nationals from sub-regional neighbors into their territories without the application of conventional procedures. In the same vein, after the signing of the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance in 2001, sub-national actors such as political parties and states leaders understand the repercussion of and position of the organization to unconstitutional accession to power in any states of the region as exemplified in Cote d’Iviore during the former President, Laurent Gbagbo, recalcitrant attempt. This invariably contributed to the internationally celebrated decision by the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, and his political party, People Democratic Party (PDP), to voluntarily hand over the mantle of leadership to another political party after 16 years of uninterrupted governance by the party.

Apparently, the inference that could be drawn from the above experiences of ECOWAS in line with the potential power of a norm entrepreneur is that, regulation of state behavior by international institutions is not restricted to a particular subject matter, but cut across wide range of issues, including mandating state legislations or policy development with respect to affirmative action for improvement of women representation in national decision-making. Through this strategy, ECOWAS can act as a distinct political actor and develop a robust norm in form of protocols or pronounced resolutions that will call the attention of the member states to women’s representation in political decision making via internal measures and the same time facilitate the articulated stance of the United Nations and African Union on gender representation equity. In this respect, the gradual embracing notion of quota for women’s adequate representation in the contemporary time has its source in international norms [7] articulated under the auspices of the UN since the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Since then, more than 120 countries have adopted gender oriented quota for equity in National Assemblies [8]. With a deserving attention, many states outside the sphere of West Africa have institutionalized distinct measures or quotas mainly for women’s involvement in governance. Kenya, for example, developed a new constitution in 2010 which maintains that “no single gender should hold more than two-thirds of elective or appointive positions” [9]. Equally, India legislative body passed the Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992 that entrenched one-third representation for women in the local bodies [10]. Similarly, one-third quota is not only adopted for women’s inclusion in local governance in Pakistan but also legislatively reserved seats for women in the national legislative body [11]. Basically, many states across the world with substantive women representation in parliaments put in place deliberate laws or policies necessitating the increase of women in decision making. One of the precipitating factors that compelled the legislative actions of the states mentioned above involves the influence of the United Nations’ position on gender equality, [6,12] and many regional organizations.

From the foregoing, if ECOWAS takes the issue of women in governance as paramount, as reflected in the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good governance and 2003 Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women, endorsed by ECOWAS; the organization can influence the disposition of member states on the need to overhaul exclusion or marginalization of women in parliaments across West Africa. This an external dimension of the missing links that contributed to the absence of municipal legal measures for women’s political empowerment across the region. Of course, the central argument is not to attribute the causes of women’s massive underrepresentation in West Africa to ECOWAS. As mentioned earlier, they are predominantly by-products of the interplay of socio-cultural domestic factors in these states. Notwithstanding, the central contention of this article accentuates that the sub-regional organization can play the role of the normative player in overhauling the enduring political relegation of women through the development of formidable norms and standards for member states.

For emphasis, ECOWAS is not considered here as projecting the masculine disposition of her member states, but as a distinct legal entity that has the interest in gender equality as reflected in the aforementioned Protocol. It is imperative due to the negligence of state actors to respond to women’s political yearnings in West Africa over the years. Since different cultures, traditions, electoral environments and status quo prevailing in many states in West Africa are not favorable to meet up with women’s critical mass during elections; progressive advancement in the area of passable women representation in national parliaments earnestly demands supranational regime and engagement. Ostensibly, this is not because the organization has the capacity to forcefully compel states in this regard, but partly because states consciously or unconsciously pay attention to widely acceptable norms in the comity of nations as espoused by supranational body through concerted agreement with fear of being left out [13] or desire to serve as role model.


[1] Sunstein CR (1996) Social Norms and Social Roles. Columbia Law Review 96: 903-968.

[2] Finnemore M, Sikkink K (1998) International Norm Dynamics and Political Change. International Organization 52: 887-917. 

[3] Souaré IK (2014) The African Union as a norm entrepreneur on military coups d’état in Africa (1952–2012): an empirical assessment. The Journal of Modern African Studies 52: 69-94. 

[4] De Nevers R (2007) Imposing International Norms: Great Powers and Norm Enforcement. International Studies Review 9: 53-80.

[5] Kleibrink A (2011) The EU as a Norm Entrepreneur: the case of Lifelong Learning. European Journal of Education 46: 70-84.

[6] Krook ML (2008) Campaigns for Candidate Gender Quotas: A New Global Women’s Movement? Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group), New York.

[7] Krook ML (2006) Reforming Representation: The Diffusion of Candidate Gender Quotas Worldwide. Politics & Gender 2: 303-327.

[8] Inter-Parliamentary Union (2014) Women in Parliament: 20 Years in Review.

[9] Kaimenyi C, Kinya C, Samwel CM (2013) An Analysis of Affirmative Action: The Two-Thirds Gender Rule in Kenya. International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology 3: 91-97. 

[10] Rai SM (2007) Democratic Institutions, Political Representation and Women's Empowerment: The Quota Debate in India. Democratization 6: 84-99.

[11] Krook ML (2009) Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[12] Tripp AM (2003) The Changing Face of Africa’s Legislatures: Women and Quotas.

[13] Kang A (2014). How Civil Society Represents Women: Feminists, Catholics, and Mobilization Strategies in Africa.

Citation: Babatunde FO (2016) ECOWAS and Women Representation in West Africa. J Pol Sci Pub Aff 4: 215. doi:10.4172/2332-0761.1000215

This excerpt is taken from an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.