Social Science Seminar by Dr. Boniface Dulani

June 23, 2016
Faculty of Social Science
Senior Common Room
June 30, 2016 - 3:00 pm
June 30, 2016 - 4:30 pm

Using traditional leaders to end child marriage: Evidence from a survey experiment in Malawi

By: Lindsay J. Benstead1, Boniface Dulani2, Ragnhild Muriaas3, Lise Rakner4, Vibeke Wang5


International agencies, civil society organizations and governments have been advocating the use of traditional leaders to spearhead reforms designed to end marriages below 18 years. But, rigorous evidence for the success of using traditional leaders in development projects that promote gender equality is rare. We experimentally evaluate the added value of using male and female traditional leaders as campaign endorsers, compared to that of elected leaders.

We provide evidence in the form of an endorsement experiment using a survey experiment embedded in the 2016 Local Governance Performance Index (LGPI) in Malawi. We randomly assign 1,381 respondents to either a control group or to one of four treatment groups to receive an endorsement from either a male or female parliamentarian or male or female traditional authority. We find that poverty and culture, in the form of lineage systems, are strong drivers of opposition to laws limiting marriage before the age of 18 years in Malawi. At the same time, we find that the source of the message affects whether citizens will be more convinced of the desirability of reforms.

Overall, Malawians regard as most authoritative, and were most convinced by, the female traditional leader and least by the male traditional leader. Yet, among those who practice patrilineal customs, the male traditional authority elicited most support and we also saw a backfire effect amongst those who are least supportive of gender equality. The heterogeneous effects indicate that a plurality of voices—ideally those targeted to certain sub-populations—will be more effective than a single voice.

Other Details

Working paper. Comments welcome. Please do not cite without the permission of the authors

1 Associate Professor of Political Science, Portland State University; Contributing Scholar, Program on Women’s Rights in the Middle East, Baker School of Public Policy, Rice University; Affiliated Scholar, Program on Governance and Local Development, University of Gothenburg.

2 Senior Lecturer, Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Malawi.

3 Associate Professor in Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, and Associated Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway.

4 Professor in Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, and Senior Researcher Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway

5 Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway


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