This essay introduces the concept of “autocratic genderwashing” to shed light on why authoritarian states adopt gender-equality reforms. Autocratic genderwashing occurs when autocrats take credit for advances in gender equality in order to turn attention away from persistent nondemocratic practices, such as violations of electoral integrity and human rights. In doing so, they exploit the often simplistic association between gender equality and democracy to seek legitimacy and achieve regime stability. Gender equality is used to devise legitimation strategies tailored to specific groups. Awareness of this phenomenon might make scholars and democracy activists less likely to accept inclusion as a substitute for competition in nondemocratic states.
This essay is open access on Project MUSE.
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