As the world heads toward the 100th International Women's Day (IWD) in 2019, Government & Opposition introduces a collection of articles across the subject of Gender and Political Representation which can be found below and are free access until the end of July 2019.
For the last 100 years, March 8th IWD marked a call to action for the promotion of equal opportunity beyond genders. Nevertheless, the subordination of women continues to be one of society’s greatest inefficiencies and injustices. A better theoretical and empirical understanding of the models for transformation and the causes for stagnation that have taken place in this area of human welfare and human rights can better shape our collective future.
In recent decades, policy-makers and researchers have also concentrated on advancing women’s participation in politics. However, the average representation of women in national parliaments at the end of 2018 was still a mere 24% according to the International Organization of Parliaments and the World Bank. The trend shows an improvement of approximately 0.5% every year. According to United Nations, as of January 2019, only 11 women are serving as head of state and 10 are serving as head of government. The European Parliament reported a slight increase of 5% in 2018 compared to 2009 to reach 36.1%. This figure tops regional averages. The average number of women in EU member state parliaments is 27.7%, a figure reflected approximately in the number of EU28 ministers. The situation continues to reflect the historically driven reality of extremely limited female legislative and government representation. World parliaments and governments are still heavily male-dominated, and even in the EU, some do not have any women ministers (Hungary). Identities that are outside the gender binary continue to be ignored in all statistics.
Different strategies to advance women’s participation in politics, such as quotas for candidates, reserved seats for women or voluntary gender parity on candidate lists have been effective in creating more inclusive legislatures. And yet, researchers are still working to disentangle the effects of formal and informal strategies in promoting female candidates. Beyond numbers, the ‘MeToo’ movement started in 2017 has also contributed to some progress in improving the attitudes towards changing formal and informal obstacles to women’s political participation, including biased laws, workplace or on-campus harassment and socioeconomic barriers.
Government & Opposition contributors actively participated in this debate. Meryl Kenny and Tània Verge introduced a special Issue on ‘Candidate Selection: Parties and Legislatures in a New Era’, in which they traced the transformations in the policies of political parties to facilitate or block women’s access to political office. Articles in this issue discussed some of the limitations associated with the introduction of quotas. Tània Verge and Ana Espírito-Santo show that the effective compliance with legislative quotas is still limited by gendered practices and norms in countries such as Spain and Portugal and Jennifer M. Piscopo uses the case of Mexico to evidence that as gender quotas are circumvented to preserve the choicest candidacies for men, women build informal networks to force changes to candidate selection.
The 2018 formation of a Spanish majority female cabinet under social-democrat PM Pedro Sánchez stood out as an exception, but the trend of left-wing parties performing better for female selection at higher echelons had already been identified by Jessica Fortin-Rittberger, Christina Eder, Corinna Kroeber and Vanessa Marent. Using the case of Germany, the authors showed how party systems shape local–national gender gaps. Conservatives, on the other hand, are shown by Paul Webb and Sarah Childs to have limited support for a liberal feminist position to increase the number of women in Parliament.
Finally, as the descriptive representation of women in the US Congress has improved following the 2018 mid-term elections, an article by Rodrigo Praino and Daniel Stockemer brings the successful candidates further good news as they indicate that once women are in, their congressional careers may even have a small edge over their male colleagues.
All in all, while the overall political life has also fomented a rhetorical backlash against women inclusion at all professional levels of the society, 2018 marked some progress in advancing substantial women’s representation in politics and witnessed a more active research community in better understanding this key social issue. Government & Opposition has and will continue to host advance research which contributes to this debate.
- Veronica Anghel and Adrian Favero*