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Women in the Legislatures and Executives of the World: Knocking at the Highest Glass Ceiling

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Andrew Reynolds
Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies
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This article reports the results of a survey of women in legislatures and executives around the world as they were constituted in 1998 (N = 180). The chief hypotheses regarding the factors hindering or facilitating women's access to political representation were tested by multivariate regression models. The regression models juxtaposed a cocktail of institutional, political, cultural, and socioeconomic variables with the following dependent variables: (1) the percentage of MPs who are women and (2) the percentage of cabinet ministers who are women.

A number, although not all, of the cited hypotheses were statistically confirmed and more finely quantified. The socioeconomic development of women in society has an effect on the number of women in parliament but not in the cabinet. A country's length of experience with multipartyism and women's enfranchisement correlates with both the legislative and the executive percentage. Certain electoral systems are more women friendly than others. The ideological nature of the party system affects the number of women elected and chosen for cabinet posts. And last, the state's dominant religion, taken as a proxy for culture, also statistically relates to the number of women who will make it to high political office. However, other long-held hypotheses were not proved. The degree of democracy is not a good indicator of the percentage of women who will make it into the legislature or the cabinet, nor is the dichotomy between a presidential or parliamentary system.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1999

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1 In 1998 the Women's Environmental and Development Organization argued that “the entry of women in greater numbers to electoral politics is a sign that it is the beginning of the end of tokenism.” See WEDO, Mapping Progress: Assessing Implementation of the Beijing Platform 1998 (New York: WEDO, 1998)Google Scholar.

2 That is the view that parliament should be a mirror of the nation as a whole. See Pitkin, Hanna, Representation (New York: Atherton Press, 1969), 10.Google Scholar

3 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859) and Considerations on Representative Government (1861), ed. Williams, Geraint (London: Everyman, 1993)Google Scholar.

4 Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women (1869), ed. Orkin, Susan (Cambridge: Hackett, 1988)Google Scholar.

5 Rule, Wilma and Zimmerman, Joseph, “Women and Minorities in Parliaments and Legislatures,” in The Encyclopedia of Democracy (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

6 Grofman, Bernard and Davidson, Chandler, eds., Controversies in Minority Voting (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1992), 314Google Scholar.

7 Lijphart, Arend, “Debate-Proportional Representation: III. Double Checking the Evidence,” Journal of Democracy 2 (Summer 1991), 4248CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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9 Saint-Germain, Michelle, “Does Their Difference Make a Difference? The Impact of Women on Public Policy in the Arizona Legislature,” Social Science Quarterly 70, no. 4 (1989)Google Scholar.

10 Saltzstein, Grace Hall, “Female Mayors and Women in Municipal Jobs,” American Journal of Political Science 30 (February 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Rule, Wilma, “Parliaments of, by, and for the People: Except for Women?” in Rule, and Zimmerman, , eds., Electoral Systems in Comparative Perspective: Their Impact on Women and Minorities (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994), 15Google Scholar.

12 Although subsequent research in the 1980s found unemployment to be a diminishing factor. See Rule (fn. 11), 20.

13 This has been documented for the Middle East. See As'ad Abu Khalil, “Women and Electoral Politics in Arab States,” and Avraham Brichta and Yael Brichta, “The Extent of the Impact of the Electoral System upon the Representation of Women in the Knesset,” both in Rule and Zimmerman (fn. 11). For Africa, see Geisler, Gisela, “Troubled Sisterhood: Women and Politics in Southern Africa,” African Affairs 94 (October 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For Latin America, see Michelle Saint-Germain, “The Representation of Women and Minorities in the National Legislatures of Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” in Rule and Zimmerman (fn. 11); and Baldez, Lisa, “In the Name of the Public and the Private: Conservative and Progressive Women's Movements in Chile, 1970–1996” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, San Diego, 1997)Google Scholar.

14 Rule (fn. 11), 26.

15 See Jill Bystydzienski, “Norway: Achieving World-Record Women's Representation in Government,” in Rule and Zimmerman (fn. 11).

16 Norris, Pippa, “Conclusions: Comparing Legislative Recruitment,” in Lovenduski, Joni and Norris, Pippa, eds., Gender and Party Politics (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1993), 320Google Scholar.

17 Rule (fn. 11), 20.

18 Duverger, Maurice, The Political Role of Women (Paris: UNESCO, 1995)Google Scholar.

19 Beckwith, Karen, “Comparative Research and Electoral Systems: Lessons from France and Italy,” Woman and Politics 12, no. 1 (1992)Google Scholar.

20 Jenson, Jane, “The Modern Women's Movement in Italy, France, and Great Britain: Differences in Life Cycles,” Comparative Social Research 5 (1982)Google Scholar.

21 Caul, Miki, Women's Representation in Parliament: The Role of Political Parties, Center for the Study of Democracy Research Monograph Series (Irvine, Calif: Center for the Study of Democracy, 1997)Google Scholar.

22 Ibid., 5.

23 See Norris (fn. 16), 317–19. See also Diane Sainsbury, “The Politics of Increased Women's Representation: The Swedish Case,” in Lovenduski and Norris (fn. 16).

24 Norris (fn. 16), 319.

25 Waylen, Georgina, Gender in Third World Politics (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1996), 114Google Scholar.

26 For definitions and descriptions of the electoral system typology used in this article, see Reynolds, Andrew et al. , The International IDEA Handbook of Electoral System Design (Stockholm: International IDEA, 1997)Google Scholar.

27 See Duverger (fn. 18); Lakeman, Enid, Twelve Democracies: Electoral Systems in the European Community (London: Arthur McDougall Fund, 1991)Google Scholar; Rule, Wilma, “Electoral Systems, Contextual Factors and Women's Opportunity for Election to Parliament in Twenty-three Democracies,” Western Political Quarterly 40 (September 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, “Women's Underrepresentation and Electoral Systems,” PS: Political Science and Politics 27, no. 4 (1994)Google Scholar; Lovenduski and Norris (fn. 16); Rule and Zimmerman (fn. 11); Reynolds et al. (fn. 26); and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Democracy Still in the Making: Men and Women in Politics (Geneva: IPU, 1997)Google Scholar.

28 Rule (fn. 27, 1994), 689.

29 For a summary, see Rule (fn. 11).

30 Matthew Shugart, “Minorities Represented and Unrepresented,” in Rule and Zimmerman (fn. 11).

31 Rule (fn. 11).

32 Rule and Zimmerman (fn, 11).

33 See Jones, Mark, “Increasing Women's Representation via Gender Quotas: The Argentine Ley de Cupos,” Women and Politics 16, no. 4 (1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 See Everett, Jane, “Reservation of Seats for Women in India: Toward the Engendering of Politics?” (Paper prepared for delivery at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, August 29—September 1, 1996)Google Scholar.

35 Inter-Parliamentary Union (fn. 27), 64, 67.

36 The presidential or parliamentary nature of the system will interact with the broader constitutional framework of the executive and the ideological orientation of the elected executive. The related evidence in this article suggests that such interactions may well influence the number of women chosen to fill ministerial positions.

37 Norris (fn. 16).

38 Caul (fn. 21).

39 Bystydzienski (fn. 15).

40 Joseph Zimmerman, “Equity in Representation for Women and Minorities,” in Rule and Zimmerman (fn. 11).

41 Cases included in this survey that were not in the IPU survey are Belarus, Bermuda, Burundi, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Gibraltar, Iraq, the Isle of Man, Niger, Pakistan, Vanuatu, and Yugoslavia. Cases excluded from both studies are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria, Libya, Marshall Islands, Burma, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

42 IPU (fn. 27), 83.

43 Davis, Rebecca Howard, Women and Power in Parliamentary Democracies: Cabinet Appointments in Western Europe, 1968–1992 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 13, 16Google Scholar.

44 For example, in Senegal the Socialist Party did not, in practice, respect the quota it had set, and in Costa Rica the mandatory 40 percent requirement for women on all party lists is often disregarded; see WEDO (fn. 1), 8.

45 Indeed, the same pattern was repeated in the number of women in legislatures.

46 I was able to categorize 278 (or 92 percent) of the 302 women cabinet ministers by portfolio. In all these 278 women held 358 portfolios.

47 Gr o Harlem Brundtland's father was finance minister in the Labor government in Norway in the 1950s and 1960s.

48 Reynolds et al. (fn. 26). Electoral systems relate to the system used for the election upon which the legislative data were based; the categorizations were updated from the 1997 IDEA study. Two cases within the study do not have directly elected national parliaments. China was categorized as SNTV be-cause that is the system used at the provincial level, while the United Arab Emirates was categorized as FPTP because it has been used for some elections within the state.

49 Laakso, Markku and Taagepera, Rein, “'Effective' Number of Parties: A Measure with Application to West Europe,” Comparative Political Studies 12, no. 1 (1979)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Because no political parties exist in 18 of the 180 cases, the ENPP could not be calculated. These cases were dropped from the legislative model.

50 In eight cases the president is not directly chosen by the people through multiparty elections, but the system resembles a presidential system nevertheless.

52 In the few cases where the left vote percentage was unavailable, the left vote seat share was used as a proxy.

53 The GRDl incorporates measures of the differences between women and men when it comes to life expectancy, literacy, education, and earned income. The disparities are then applied against the UNDP's Human Development Index (HDl) to produce the GRDl. In the cases where the UNDP does not measure GRDl, the HDI score was used as a proxy, as the two measures are autocorrelated. In the few cases where neither the GRDl or the HDI exists, a regional average was applied.

54 The New York Times 1998 Almanac (New York: Penguin, 1997)Google Scholar.

55 Ibid.

56 An examination of influence diagnostics provides some inconclusive evidence that the effect of the Eastern Orthodox dummy may not be entirely robust. There were some cases (Sweden, France, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, and Ecuador ) with large dfbetas. When each outlier was removed individually, the measure retained its significance (except when either Romania or Georgia was removed). Nevertheless, there is no theoretic justification for excluding these cases from the sample.

57 Countries classified as dominantly “other” religions are not significantly different from Catholic countries in this model when one removes the outliers: Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Mozambique, China, Suriname, St. Kitts, Albania, the Isle of Man, Bangladesh, India, Tuvalu, Israel, Andorra, Malta, Cameroon, Ecuador, and Nepal. When each outlier is removed individually, this measure retains its significance except when either China, Suriname, Israel, or Andorra is removed (that is, when any of these four cases is not included in the sample, “other” countries are not significantly different from Catholic countries in this model).