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Glidden '05 studies women's political participation

Bahrain visit inspires honors thesis

Dartmouth students have many opportunities to work closely with faculty members on independent research. In the government department alone, there are 11 students pursuing such projects, defining and analyzing specific issues that lead to the completion of a thesis. Lillian Glidden '05 was in the Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain where she made observations that led her to the idea for her government department honors program work.


Lillian Glidden '05 and Lisa Baldez, Associate Professor of Government, work together on Glidden's honors thesis, "Women's Political Participation in the Arab World," which grew out of her visit to the Middle-Eastern nation of Bahrain. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

While attending a conference on women's political organization that she'd helped organize, Glidden learned about the advances women were making in politics in Bahrain. In 2001, it had become one of only a few Middle Eastern nations to allow women to vote.  Just a few years later, women were being elected to political office at a brisk pace as well.

At the same time, Glidden saw that the influence the United States was exerting over Bahrain was growing, both in economic and military terms.

So she began to wonder if there was a connection between these two phenomena: Has international relations had an impact on women's political participation in the Middle East? She submitted a thesis proposal to the government department's honors program and was accepted to write a thesis.

"I'm not really pushing for one answer," Glidden said. "I'm just trying to find out what's true."

Glidden observed that researchers have attributed low rates of democratic participation in the Middle East, particularly among women, to cultural traditions at the domestic level, but she sees larger forces at work.  In her thesis, she analyzes both internal and external political factors that may shape participation.

"I'm trying to put a rational framework on a region about which little is understood," Glidden said.

Guided by her thesis advisor, Associate Professor of Government Lisa Baldez, and by the professors leading the department honors program, Glidden whittled down what she called an idea with potential for a doctoral thesis to a manageable size.

"It's a big question, but the way she's going about it through quantitative analysis is narrow enough that she can actually do the research and generate results within a couple of months," Baldez said.

Glidden drew up a list of international policy factors, both military and economic, that could have an effect on women's political participation. Next, she will determine how politically inclusive each nation is, which in turn depends on how genuinely democratic each one is. Many of these nations have established democratic institutions that include women but where they have no real political power, according to Glidden.

"Part of my research is placing each of these reforms within a continuum ranging from 'stagnant' to 'transitional' to 'progressive,'" Glidden said.

Once she collects the necessary data, she will develop a quantitative model to test whether these factors have an effect on women's political involvement across all the Arabic-speaking nations in the Middle East.

 "What I hope to prove is that international relations are important to women's political participation, and that the situation of women in general can be improved by better international relations," Glidden said.

So far, she has found that the dialogue on women's rights in the Middle East has pitted reactionary politicians against pro-Western elements. Anti-women's rights advocates tend to align with Saudi Arabia, and pro-western nations tend to see their interests lying more with the United States.

It's a dialogue that she witnessed firsthand while visiting Bahrain in the summer. As an intern at a women's rights organization, Glidden helped carry out a trip that brought American lawmakers to Bahrain to discuss women's issues.

 "I couldn't help but think that international factors explained the reforms the Bahrainian government had undergone," Glidden said. "The United States maintains a strong military presence in Bahrain, and Bahrain has signed on to a free trade agreement with the United States. Bahrain wants to build up its banking industry, which would likely occur with U.S. support - and granting women more political rights might well be intended to position the nation favorably with the United States." 

"That critical insight," Lisa Baldez said, "was the result of the real-world experience that Dartmouth off-terms afford."

Baldez has seen Glidden's research skills mature in the few months she has had to prepare her thesis. Like all honors government students, Glidden takes a course in research methods taught by Assistant Professor of Government Benjamin Valentino and Associate Professor of Government John Carey. Baldez said that Glidden has benefited immeasurably from the class, particularly from Carey and Valentino's focus on research methods.

"It has helped her build a much stronger paper, one that will yield much more valid results," Baldez said.

Glidden will finish her thesis during the spring term.

By MATT LEWIS '05

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Last Updated: 12/17/08