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Conceptualizing and Measuring Women's Political Leadership: From Presence to Balance

  • Devin Joshi (a1) and Ryan Goehrung (a2)
Abstract

Cross-national studies of women's political leadership (WPL) usually focus on female prime ministers and presidents or numbers of women in parliament. While illuminating, these studies fail to provide a comprehensive assessment of WPL in a particular place and time. Addressing this gap in the literature, we assert that WPL is inherently contingent upon the theoretical concepts of “structural power” and “male dominance,” encompassing multiple formal apex political decision-making institutions. In accordance with this perspective, we have constructed a novel women's political leadership index based on collective leadership across judicial (high court judges), executive (cabinet ministers), and legislative (parliamentary committee chairs) branches of governments to capture both the presence of women among political leaders and their balance across institutions. Applying our index to 21 diverse territories in Asia, we demonstrate the utility of our approach through a series of country case studies illustrating four prominent patterns of WPL: exclusion, illusion, imbalance, and balance. We conclude by discussing the potential benefits of globally expanding the scope of the index.

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