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Photo: Abhishek Pawar

ERC grant for research into extreme weather and gender equality in African politics


Political scientist Aksel Sundström has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant of just over SEK 15 million. He will investigate whether the consequences of natural disasters in African countries affect people’s attitudes towards female politicians and whether disasters affect women’s representation in politics.

The ERC Starting Grant is one of Europe’s most prestigious research grants, and is awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). The EUR 1.5 million grant runs for five years, and is aimed at researchers at the beginning of their careers. The aim is to promote the top researchers and the best ideas.

“This is incredibly pleasing,” says Aksel. “I am honoured to have been entrusted with leading this initiative. It means that I can take a longer-term approach and be more ambitious than a shorter project would allow.”

Aksel is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, and is the only person at the University of Gothenburg to have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2023. His research deals with political representation, with a particular focus on the lack of women and young people in politics, and on environmental policy in low-income countries. He will use the grant to launch the Fem-LEAD research project (Female Leadership and Effects from African Droughts) in which he will investigate how extreme weather conditions – such as droughts and other natural disasters – affect gender equality in African politics.

According to Aksel, there is good reason to believe that people in shock as a result of extreme weather conditions may want to replace their leaders.

“For example, citizens might want to replace their leaders with outsiders, or with ‘strong men’ who have experience of obtaining aid for affected regions through corrupt networks, which is common in African countries. I want to find out to what extent such conditions affect whether women run in African elections and what chance they have of being elected.”

To date, researchers have only scratched the surface when it comes to understanding why women succeed in achieving political positions in certain countries and political parties, but not in others. Relatively few studies have been carried out on women’s political representation in Africa.

“People’s changed living conditions due to extreme weather have not previously been linked to their attitudes towards women in positions of power.”

The project will combine studies of public opinion and political representation, and Aksel hopes to develop a new theoretical framework. He will also conduct a series of empirical observations.

“We will use unique data on elections from a number of African countries, not least South Africa, and will carry out surveys, experimental investigations and interviews.”

See ERC’s press release for more information
ERC Starting Grants: 400 bright minds awarded over €628 million

About ERC Starting Grants (ERC StGs)

ERC StGs are individual grants for promising young researchers with pioneering research ideas and strong potential to become future research leaders, and are awarded between two and seven years after completing a doctoral degree. An ERC StG has a maximum amount of EUR 1.5 million and a duration of up to five years, and requires the recipient to carry out their research at a host institution within the EU or in an associated country.

A total of 400 researchers were awarded ERC StGs, out of 2 696  applicants.