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Sanctioning past performances

Civic engagement fails to foster democratic representation and accountability when
women or other marginalized groups face barriers to participation, as they do in many
developing countries. Rather than flattening access to participation, a randomly assigned civic education course in Mali widened the gender gap when it increased civic
activity among men while decreasing that among women. Qualitative evidence reveals
mechanisms by which the information intervention generated perverse consequences
for women. In a place where women are traditionally unwelcome actors in the public sphere, the course heightened the salience of civic activity, thus increasing social
costs for female participators. Women report implicit and explicit threats of sanctions
from male relatives and village elders. The intervention did, however, work to close
the gender gap in civic and political knowledge. Together, these findings suggest that
resource constraints limit civic participation, but flattening access cannot overcome
discriminatory gender norms – and may even exacerbate them.