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Fast-Tracked or Boxed In? Informal Politics, Gender, and Women’s Representation in Putin’s Russia

  • Janet Elise Johnson

Why hasn’t the marked increase in women in politics over the last half century led to the expected results of increased gender equality and more democracy? In order to propose a new answer to this question, which is central for both theoretical and empirical feminist political science, I look at the case of Putin’s Russia as one of the authoritarian-leaning regimes that have promoted women into politics while simultaneously becoming more misogynist. Building on feminist institutionalism and the study of Russia’s regime dynamics, both of which are extending the study of informal institutions, I claim that women are being fast-tracked into politics informally, not just formally such as by party or legislative quotas. Yet these women are then boxed in by informal rules and by parallel institutions and posts, with virtually no opportunities to advocate for women’s interests. Putin’s regime has promoted women to be “stand ins” during times of crisis or change, “loyalists” and “showgirls” when the regime needs to showcase elections and representation, and “cleaners” when the appearance of corruption threatens the regime. Even demonstrations of ultimate loyalty have not protected those women who once advocated for feminist policies. This exercise in concept building suggests a framework for thinking about the importance and operation of informal institutions, sustained by gendered and homophobic rules, as a bulwark of male dominance that undermines women’s representation. There are also important policy implications, as advocates have been pushing for more women in politics to address a variety of ills that, my analysis suggests, will not be solved by numbers alone.

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