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The Impact of Committee Composition and Agendas on Women's Participation: Evidence from a Legislature with Near Numerical Equality

  • Kendall D. Funk (a1), Laura Morales (a1) and Michelle M. Taylor-Robinson (a1)

Previous studies of women's participation in legislative debates could not disentangle the possible effect of institutionalized gender discrimination from the effect of gendered patterns because of women lacking seniority and leadership posts. Costa Rica's Legislative Assembly offers an opportunity to control for seniority and leadership. The prohibition on immediate reelection means that no legislators have seniority. The country's successful gender quota, presence of an equal number of men and women committee presidents, and election of the first woman president in 2010 all point to women having relatively equal access to formal positions of power. In this context, unequal debate participation between men and women legislators would indicate that it is very difficult to change the gendered nature of an institution. We use multilevel modeling to analyze repeated observations of individual-level participation in three of six standing committees during the 2010–14 term (Agriculture, Economics, and Social Issues) to explore differences in patterns of participation under various conditions (sex ratios, discussion topics, sex of committee leaders). Findings indicate that women are active participants in committees with both stereotypically feminine and masculine policy jurisdictions, but also that women are more active when the gender composition of the committee is less skewed.

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