ElectionGudie

Speeding up change: The struggle to reach gender parity in politics

Aug. 26, 2015, 9:41 a.m.


Speeding up change:

The struggle to reach gender parity in politics

By Lauren Burke

“We have a lot of men who are there [in office]—90% of leadership positions are held by men…But if we occupy more than 50% of the country, why not put more than 50% of women in leadership positions so that we can make informed decisions about women and children?”

-Christine Aochomas, Namibia Girl Child Organisation[1]

“The legacy of oppression weighs heavily on women. As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.

-Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa[2]

Introduction

Globally, women remain, as they almost always have been, underrepresented in politics.  Many poorly constructed arguments have been used to justify this discrimination over the centuries: women belong in the “private sphere” because their roles as mothers and wives should take precedence over all other aspirations; women are unimaginative, illogical, passive, or “hysterical” and therefore unfit to deal with harsh realities; and, perhaps most insidiously, God—or Nature—made women the weaker sex, which means that their survival requires the guidance and protection of men.[3]  Though not always so explicitly stated, the underlying sexist sentiments remain deeply rooted in modern society, resurfacing everywhere from Nobel Prize acceptances to the objectification of female political candidates in the news.  In places where the rule of law is weak, women who defy these stereotypes often find themselves the victims not just of insults, discrimination, and threats, but also of politically motivated gender-based violence, domestic violence, rape, and even murder. 

In recognition of this legacy of political exclusion, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action called for countries to implement the necessary changes to increase female representation in legislatures to 30%, a proportion far below parity but seen as more “achievable” by activists who recognized that asking for the whole 50%—e.g. equality—was not likely to be well received by a system overwhelmingly dominated by men.  Twenty years later, women still only fill 22% of national parliament seats globally.[4]  The United States—where many claim that women no longer face significant barriers to success—is in fact below average in terms of female legislative representation and has gotten worse since the Beijing conference, falling from its rank of 41st in the world in 1997[5] to 71st in the present day.[6] 

Lack of female participation and representation around the world is undeniably affected by contextual factors, but a survey of the available literature on the subject reveals a few common trends.  These trends suggest not only shared problems, but also solutions that have demonstrably worked and which, if adapted to meet the needs of sister states, could lead to substantive improvements in female representation rates and on the health of global democracy.  As Lawless and Fox note, “A central criterion in evaluating the health of democracy is the degree to which all citizens—men and women—are encouraged and willing to engage with the political system and run for public office.”[7]  By addressing the specific barriers that inhibit female political participation at the voter, candidate, and representative levels, the world community can promote gender equality and reach parity centuries sooner than will be possible if policymakers continue to rely on the passage of time to resolve the disparity.   

Barriers to female participation

While extreme barriers—such as the routine use of physical violence to discourage female activism—are not common in all countries, sexist cultural expectations, biased political party structures, and a lack of finances are discouraging factors that all states with a shortage of female representation share.  The United States provides an illustrative example.  After the passage of the 19th amendment granting universal suffrage in 1920, many men—and women—assumed that female representation in Congress would naturally arrive at parity without making any institutional changes to help the process along.  The central premise of this so-called “incremental approach” is that if there are no legal barriers preventing women from getting elected, there are effectively no barriers to speak of and that, given time, those who work hard enough will be successful.  When women failed to catch up after being granted the right to vote, most men assumed that it was because women had no desire to enter politics or were simply not up to such a strenuous task.[8]  For many, this deeply rooted assumption (stereotype) has persisted.  The reality is more complicated.  Despite the fact that many women did, and continue to, desire a greater role in politics and are perfectly qualified to do so, there are significant cultural and institutional hurdles that they must clear that their male counterparts do not need to consider.  Without implementing institutional changes to bring down those hurdles to permit women to enter the political arena on equal footing, experts estimate that at the rate female representation in the US has been increasing, it could take as long as 500 years to reach gender parity in Congress.[9] 

One of the greatest challenges that women face when running for political office is overcoming gender-based expectations and stereotypes.  Cultural expectations prove to be a double-edged sword for women when it comes to running for political office.  Female candidates are judged for being too feminine or not feminine enough, for choosing not to have children in order to pursue their career or being unqualified for leadership if they took time off to have and raise them, and for being too bossy if they assert themselves or too weak if they are less aggressive than their male peers.  In the world of American politics, where the rules were codified by a small group of white, wealthy men, the characteristics that work in male candidates’ favor end up being perceived as negatives for women.  For example, the stereotype that women should run a household has been shown to make having a family advantageous for male candidates and disadvantageous for female candidates.[10]  The logic behind that disparity comes from the assumption that when a man has a spouse, she will run the home and he will be freer to commit to his career, whereas a woman in the same situation will be unable to expect such support and will therefore be so distracted by “family obligations” that she would necessarily be a “less committed and capable politician.”[11]  The assumption here is quite plain: it is expected that the wife of a politically inclined man would take on added responsibilities to support his career goals, while a woman cannot expect her husband to make the same sacrifices for her.  This message is rooted firmly enough in reality that it affects the way that women and men plan their career paths.  While only 13 percent of millennial men surveyed by the New York Times answered that they “expected to interrupt their careers for children”—and while it is important to acknowledge that this is indeed more than the Generation X men (4%) and the baby boomers (3%)—13% is still low compared with the 37% of women in the same age group who had felt the need to factor childrearing into their career plans.[12]  Although having a parent stay at home to raise children is a valid and often positive decision, the reality is that disproportionate responsibility for childrearing is placed upon women, and that means that those responsibilities must be factored into decisions about how politics are conducted if inclusivity is truly a priority.  Unless the institutions change, female citizens who happen to choose to have children will continue to be underrepresented, and this effectively suggests that a woman’s reproductive choices somehow make her voice matter less.  There is no reason that institutions need to be this way.  In fact, there are many countries in the world that have been able to make reasonable accommodations that allow women with children to serve their country as easily as any other population segment.  The parliaments of Denmark and Sweden, in recognition of the fact that women are more likely to be the primary caregiver for their children in the evenings, have enacted policies that prevent or limit parliamentary votes from taking place at those times.  Additionally, about 40% of world parliaments now align their schedules with school calendars in order to make it easier for parents of both genders to participate in government.[13]  These are simple, doable changes, and their positive impacts far exceed their costs. 

Furthermore, cultural stereotypes can both discourage women from considering the possibility of seeking office and discourage political parties from seeking out female candidates.  Though women perform as well as men once elected to office, Lawless and Fox argue that in the United States (as in many places), “the fundamental reason for women’s under-representation is that they do not run.”[14]  This phenomenon is attributable to a variety of factors, including under-recruitment by party leadership (in part as a result of the unfounded assumption that women are less electable), gender socialization contributing to women being more likely than men to doubt their “qualifications” despite being equally talented, a relative lack of “freedom to reconcile work and family obligations with a political career,” and women being less likely to perceive “a fair political environment”[15] and, therefore, believing it is not worth trying to run.  In short, women often tend to internalize society’s message that politics is a man’s game and, consequently, they fail to see the potential value of their contributions.  Political parties, which function within this broader cultural context, are prone to buying in to these same biased assumptions and choosing their potential candidates accordingly.  Despite the fact that voting records consistently demonstrate that “when women run for office—regardless of the position they seek—they are just as likely as their male counterparts to win their races,”[16] the perception that women are less electable inexplicably seems to persist.  This combined with the outgroup effect (i.e. that “negative evaluations of women as candidates are predicated on their lack of surface similarity to the predominantly male party elite”[17]) makes it more difficult for female candidates to be approached by the party to run for office.  Krook and Norris point out that the presence of this bias implies that as more women join the leadership, more women are likely to be encouraged to run, which will speed up the move toward gender parity.[18]  In the meanwhile, where there are more male representatives than there are women (i.e. in every country in the world except Rwanda and Bolivia[19]), women often face an uphill battle when it comes to being selected to run for office.  Although there are certainly people who actively make an effort to get involved in politics and make their desire for candidacy known, in a survey of Irish parliamentarians, many representatives who were asked “Why did you run?” responded “Because somebody from the party asked me to.”[20]  The problem is that far too often, nobody thinks to ask women.  This contributes to fewer female political aspirants, a reduced candidate pool and a lower number of women in positions of political power. 

The final barrier, a lack of finances, is impacted by both of the aforementioned problems.  Even if the cultural stereotypes, internalized oppression, political party ambivalence, and practical barriers like the inability to reconcile political aspirations with parenthood can all be overcome, the aspiring female legislator must also contend with the fact that women often have a much harder time raising adequate campaign funds.[21]  In fact, even in places where candidate quotas insist that parties run a certain number of women, many quotas do not specify that a certain number of women must actually be elected, which in practice means that women are either 1) given token nominations in districts that are dominated by the opposition and winning is highly improbable or 2) not given sufficient funds to run a successful political campaign.  Although women have equal legal rights in many states and, in theory, are as free as anyone else to succeed, ignoring the fact that they are at a consistent disadvantage in terms of the way society views and treats them, their access to political party leadership, and their ability to raise financial support is akin to holding a race in which half of the runners get a head start and top-of-the-line running shoes and the other half gets worn-out sneakers and hecklers.  There may be an exceptional few who can rise above adversity and even outperform the first group (only to have their success thrown in the face of those who cannot catch up as an example of how they simply are not trying hard enough), but even mediocre members of the former group will have an advantage over equally talented members of the latter and will therefore be more likely to succeed.  Because everyone got to run in the race, it is arguable that they all had an equal opportunity to win.  However, across the globe, an increasing number of people no longer see it that way.  That is where quotas and other affirmative action policies come in. 

Quotas: A tale of success and stigma

One type of intervention that has been proven to boost female political participation is the implementation of gender quotas.  Whether binding or voluntary, state level or party level, all gender quotas aim to increase female representation in the legislature by forcing political parties to leave the beaten path in their search for qualified candidates to fill the chamber’s seats.  This, in theory, will result in a more representative legislature, stronger policies that benefit from a diverse array of perspectives, and a healthier democracy.  Oftentimes, women in parliament raise awareness of social problems that disproportionately affect members of their sex, such as gender-based violence, trafficking, and flaws in the public health system.  Implementing rules to compel party elites to include more women can also help fight negative perceptions of the viability of female candidates.  The more women win, and the more they demonstrate that they can win, the less the party leadership will need to be convinced of the viability of female candidates.[22]  Although this outcome is not guaranteed in practice, when gender quotas are implemented and actually applied, they inevitably increase the number of women in parliament, and this symbolic representation has been proven to have a positive impact on society’s treatment of women. 

Across the globe, quotas are replacing the incremental approach to reaching gender parity as the latter method becomes increasingly outdated.  In Scandinavia—often considered a model of gender equality—quotas were not implemented in order to increase female representation.  In fact, they were not introduced until the 1980s, after women had already won a critical mass—about 30%—of seats. [23]  These quotas were implemented to preserve and further the gains that had already been made incrementally in a context where conditions were already relatively amenable to supporting gender equality; indeed, even today, quotas are implemented on an entirely voluntary basis by the parties.  The critical point that people forget when looking at Scandinavia today is that these social norms—which preceded institutional rules[24]—did not develop overnight.  In fact, it took an average of sixty years for women to account for 20% of parliamentarians in Scandinavia, and it took them about ten more to reach 30% (around 1980, following the explosion of the women’s movement in the 1970s).[25]  Today, most quotas are not used this way but rather as a form of affirmative action, mostly because modern women’s movements “are unwilling to wait so long”[26] for change to happen.  Instead, quotas are likely to be introduced “in countries where women only constitute a small minority in parliament” in order to put those countries on a “fast track” to a stronger democracy. [27] 

In many ways, this progression mirrors the evolution of the democratization process.  The first modern, Western democracies grew very slowly, granting white, male aristocrats the vote first, then white males at large, then all males, and—finally—women.  In the United Kingdom, the beginning of this process occurred in approximately 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta and was not fully completed until all women got the vote under the Equal Franchise Act in 1928—an approximately seven hundred year development.  During that time, millions of men and women lived and died without the basic human rights that the United Nations now declare universal.  Today, a great deal of time and money is spent every year on efforts to speed up the democratization process because the global community recognizes that while change inevitably takes time, taking affirmative action to foster the practices and attitudes that underlie good governance definitely makes it go faster.  Rather than waiting for the slow evolution of social norms, newly emerging democratic states are more likely to offer universal suffrage from the very beginning, and, in recognition of historical trends of discrimination against certain groups, to actively try to prevent their exclusion.  Affirmative action—such as quota implementation—is often taken to protect the voices of women in particular because “although democratization adopts new rules and principles and grants women more freedom to pursue their political goals, it does not necessarily change the underlying social and economic inequality between the genders and the cultural constraint, three factors that often exclude women from politics…Thus, unless democratization is accompanied by moves toward the wider social, economic and cultural equality, greater female representation in politics is less likely to be realized.”[28]  By ensuring that women are represented in parliament—especially when society has discounted them in the past—the quota approach aims to change attitudes and institutions simultaneously by putting women and their accomplishments in the spotlight and, in doing so, challenging the stereotypes that might otherwise have condemned them to the shadows. 

What are the arguments against quotas?

A major criticism of quotas and other affirmative action policies is that such policies result in “reverse discrimination” by lowering “the qualifications of those hired under the policy.”[29]  The argument is based on the assumption that the beneficiary of the policy got the nomination over a (presumably more-qualified) candidate solely on the basis of their status as a member of an underrepresented group.  While this would be a valid criticism if under-qualified people were being chosen to compete in a political race, this scenario is illogical and unlikely to occur in practice.  If a political party is choosing a candidate to run in a competitive race—assuming that it is not using the candidate as a “token” minority candidate in an unwinnable race just to pretend that it is inclusive—it does not make logical sense for the party to run a substandard candidate because: 1) he/she will likely lose, which hurts the party’s chances of controlling the legislature, and 2) if he/she does somehow win, he/she will not be able to contribute to the party’s success and may indeed tarnish its image, an outcome that is not in anyone’s best interests. 

In addition to the logical argument, research also shows implementing quotas does not lead to an increase in unqualified candidates but rather has the opposite effect.  A study by economic researchers Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund found that when certain career paths (such as politics) are heavily male-dominated, many equally talented women shy away from getting involved, in many cases for the reasons elaborated on previously.  In the first part of their study, which asked subjects to complete math problems for financial compensation, they found that male participants were “more overconfident [in their answers] than women” despite the fact that they were right just as often as the women were.[30]  In the latter half, Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund sought to discover “whether affirmative action can encourage applications in an environment where ‘minority’ candidates otherwise fail to apply for positions they are qualified for” and found that “guaranteeing women equal representation among winners increases their entry”[31] because—ceteris paribus—women are “more willing to compete against other women”[32] and are less likely to choose to compete in general than men of equal competence level. [33]  Their findings imply that in a non-affirmative action situation, the best candidate might not be hired—even where outgroup bias is absent—simply because she did not apply in the first place.  In a women-only competition, the increased probability of success encourages participation, which attracts more, qualified people to apply and leads to a “boost in supply [that] essentially eliminates the anticipated costs of the [affirmative action] policy,” [34] that is, the possibility of hiring incompetent personnel just to reach a quota. 

The hiring scenario closely relates to the endemic shortage of female candidates at the “eligible to aspirant” stage of political recruitment.[35]  Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund’s study demonstrates that an intervention—like quota implementation—at the “aspirant to candidate” stage of political candidacy is likely to improve the quality of politics overall because it: 1) attracts a larger pool of potential candidates, 2) allows parties to choose more highly qualified candidates, 3) increases the overall quality of those politicians who gain political power, and 4) improves the decisions made by those bodies, benefitting society as a whole.  Therefore, paradoxical though it might seem, implementing quotas might actually be the best way to address the main argument against them.  As Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund state, “Ignoring the change in entry, it is anticipated that equal representation of women will decrease performance of winners and result in reverse discrimination,” but “the change in…entry increases the number of high-performing women in the applicant pool, and as a result it is not difficult to secure equal representation; in fact, under the policy, the performance requirement is found to be the same for women and men.”[36]  Indeed, the real problem with affirmative action is not that it allows unqualified candidates to get jobs, but rather that “women struggle to acquire legitimacy as political actors because quotas make women appear to obtain seats in legislature without merit.”[37]  Therefore, the stigma attached to quotas is more likely to create problems than the quotas themselves. 

Are quotas successful in practice?

There are two general types of quotas that support the incorporation of women into political systems: reserved seats quotas and candidate quotas.  The reserved seats quota “reserves a number of seats in a legislated assembly for women.”[38]  One common way that this is carried out in practice is that certain districts are only allowed to run female candidates for that district in order to guarantee that a woman is elected.[39]  The alternative, the candidate quota, “reserves a number of places on electoral lists for female candidates,”[40] and directly impacts the “aspirant to candidate stage”[41] of political candidacy.  Such quotas can be legislated (mandated by the constitution or electoral law) or voluntarily implemented by political parties.  As a rule, quotas are more easily and successfully applied to proportional representation systems than to first-past-the-post systems.  In fact, a study of 53 national legislatures in 1999 found that “PR systems were composed of nearly 20 percent women on average, compared to nearly 11 percent in majoritarian systems.”[42]  It is also worth noting that legislated candidate quotas do particularly well in PR systems, “especially if placement mandates and sanctions for non-compliance are used as well.”[43] 

The Republic of Ireland provides an excellent example of the effectiveness of candidate quotas in a PR system.  In Ireland, it was estimated that at the rate female representation was increasing, it would have taken 370 years to reach parity.[44]  When the economic downturn forced the Parliament to reexamine its policies, the newly elected, more socially liberal ruling party helped to pass a voluntary political party gender quota in 2012.  The law was effective in getting qualified women into office for two main reasons.  Firstly, the fact that running too many candidates in a district can have adverse consequences under the Irish voting system—which uses proportional representation with a single transferable vote (PR-STV)[45]—means that the party cannot afford to risk splitting the vote by running “token women” and thus needs to be certain that it selects viable candidates.[46]  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the quota came with teeth: if a party does not run enough female candidates, they cannot access government campaign funds, which is a daunting penalty in Ireland where most campaign funding comes from the state.[47]  The enforceability of the quota is critical because it has been repeatedly demonstrated that “If...quotas are passed and then ignored by political leaders...or are passed without placement mandates...quotas will not have a positive impact on women’s descriptive representation or women’s political engagement. This indicates that leaders will have to do more than just pass quotas in an effort to curry political favor; they will need to fill them.”[48]  Though additional ways to supplement quotas will be discussed in a later section, it is important to recognize that ensuring that there are consequences for failing to implement them is perhaps the most important step in their formulation. 

Quotas, regardless of type, have proven themselves to be extremely effective in sub-Saharan Africa.  There, quotas “often, though not always, ‘work’ in ways that they do not in other places” and have “been used in successive election cycles” so that “the percentage of women has risen steadily.”[49]  In countries like Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa, the ruling parties voluntarily adopted “significant party quotas”—starting at between 25-30%—and often ensured their success by using “zebra lists”: candidate lists where women’s names are alternated with men’s to boost female representatives’ chances of getting into office.[50]  Thanks to the parties’ increasing the minimum threshold of their quotas over time and the “contagion effect”[51] (smaller political parties began to copy larger parties’ gender guidelines), there were dramatic increases in female legislative participation within the last quarter century.  Today, women hold at least 40% of National Assembly seats[52] in all three aforementioned countries.  Quota introduction has also allowed for more substantive representation for women, meaning instances in which (female) legislators act on behalf of their (female) constituents and represent their concerns.[53]  This has been especially critical in Africa, where “so many (though not all) socio-economic indicators for women are inferior to those of men, and critical issues such as gender-based violence, family law and women’s access to land are to be decided.”[54]  Many studies both in and outside of sub-Saharan Africa have “demonstrated that female legislators are more likely to promote legislation that serves women’s interests and spend more time debating and addressing women’s issues”[55] than their male counterparts, which suggests that the best way to ensure that women’s issues are adequately represented is to ensure that women themselves are adequately represented. 

Additionally, quotas improve female symbolic representation, meaning that women perceive that their interests and concerns are being given proper weight.[56]  Though some might dismiss the significance of this role model effect, experts and the data agree that symbolic representation is just as important as substantive, if not more so.  One cross-national, longitudinal study looked at the political engagement gender gap in 20 African states using Afrobarometer surveys over a ten year period and found that not only does greater female representation in political institutions lead to increased female political engagement,[57] but “as the proportion of women in the legislature increases to somewhere between 25% and 35%...the gender gap in women’s and men’s political engagement virtually disappears.”[58]  The latter point supports the “critical mass hypothesis,” which states that “once women occupy a sizable proportion of the legislature (commonly posited to be 30%) women’s presence will start to have a broader impact on the political process.”[59]  In addition, increased female representation has been demonstrated to encourage women to seek entry into other community leadership positions, many of which were exclusively available to men in the past.  For example, traditional leaders (“Chiefs”) have always been male in Botswana, but following the implementation of gender quotas at the state level, women began to seek those positions, too.  Today, two of the eight chiefs in Botswana are female.  When one of the female chiefs was asked how the change was possible, she said that her neighbors changed their minds after national legislative quotas were implemented; after all, if a woman could serve in Parliament, why should she be barred from holding other positions of authority?[60] Overall, the evidence suggests that while symbolic representation alone will not solve all of the problems that women face within a society, it can significantly improve the way that women engage with it and combat attitudes that devalue women and contribute to their mistreatment. 

Namibia is an excellent example of a country that was given the opportunity to start from scratch and took advantage of it to ensure that women were a part of the new political system from the start.  Namibia gained its independence in the 1990s following a long liberation struggle in which women played an instrumental role.  Because independence was won at a moment in history when the women’s movement was highly visible worldwide and more countries than ever were paying attention to women’s issues, women’s rights organizations in Namibia were in a better position to articulate their concerns and to get them incorporated into the new constitution.  Not surprisingly, the Namibian constitution “is routinely praised as one of the most liberal and democratic in the world, and is progressive on gender issues in a number of important respects.”[61]  Though the new constitution does not explicitly require gender quotas, it recognizes that women have faced discrimination in the past and created conditions that encouraged political parties to put quotas in place.[62]  Though pressure from groups like the Namibian Women’s Manifesto Network pushed the country to make great strides in the years after independence—for example, by “rewriting past gender discriminatory laws and promulgating new legislation”[63]—recent evidence shows that “on average across all National Assembly (NA) debates, female MPs contribute less than male MPs.”[64]  Clayton (2014) argues that this has been due to the underrepresentation of women in parliament despite their inclusion on the parties’ candidate lists.  This disparity was an unfortunate side effect of Namibia’s use of a closed list PR system.  The main obstacle that female candidates face in a closed-list PR systems is the ability of the party leadership to determine candidates’ placement on party lists and the fact that women more often than not get stuck at the bottom of those lists, making it difficult to impossible for them to win seats.  Thus, even though the party had technically fulfilled its promise to meet a candidate quota, candidacy was not translating into actual representation.  In 2013, after a great deal of “international, regional and domestic”[65] pressure, the ruling Swapo Party promised “to voluntarily achieve greater gender balance on its party lists and internal governing bodies”[66] by using a zebra list.  Though the policy has not yet been fully implemented, female activists believe it was a step in the right direction. 

Supplements to quotas

Although implementing quotas helps women gain entry into the legislature and quotas are viewed by many as a “crucial mechanism for jumpstarting progress,”[67] quotas do not guarantee that women will have any real power once elected or that their election will impact the quality of life for women in general.  If quotas are to be effective, they must be supplemented by other initiatives to make sure that elected women play a substantive role in politics and encourage women’s involvement at all levels of the political process.  The first problem has proven extremely tricky to address in practice, mostly because female politicians, like all people, are diverse, and so are their goals.  Therefore, the fact that “several studies have demonstrated that female legislators are more likely to promote legislation that serves women’s interest and spend more time debating and addressing women’s issues” [68] can be viewed in both a positive and negative light.  On the one hand, the belief that women should represent women’s issues can lead to the presumption that women should, or want to, deal exclusively with those issues, and this leads to many female politicians being pigeonholed into working on “soft” portfolios—e.g. education and public health—rather than “hard” portfolios like defense and economics that are viewed by some as more prestigious.  Though there are obvious problems with that, the other side of the coin is that because societies socialize individuals to fill certain gender roles, even in supposedly progressive countries, women are still disproportionately affected by education and public health questions.  As a result of the gender divide, the experiences, concerns, and struggles that go along with being a woman differ from those of men in significant ways that cannot be easily dismissed, and therefore if women are not in a position to speak on those issues, the policies that are passed may grievously violate women’s rights.  Thus, female legislators often face a difficult choice: purposely avoid women’s issues in order to be taken seriously by the party and gain prestige, or help women by taking on soft portfolios and risk criticism for conforming to gender stereotypes.[69]  One solution to this problem has been the creation of women’s sections or caucuses within legislatures.  These groups can not only tackle women’s issues but also provide members with leadership opportunities and additional experience that might allow them to further their political careers.  As long as men and women are treated differently in society, however, female legislators will continue struggling to balance their policy portfolios.  Additional government actions that have been taken to “motivate more women to consider a political career, encourage political parties to select more female candidates, [and] enhance women’s prospects of electoral success”[70] include “awareness-raising campaigns” (highlighting the importance of incorporating women into the political world), “symbolic action within political institutions” (public recognition of women’s contributions), “reforms to legislative working conditions” (making the job “women-friendly” by promoting a respectful, non-sexist environment as well as family-friendly hours and policies), and creating “laws to punish violence against women in politics.”[71]  Civil society groups can also get involved by working to get women interested in running for office and identifying potential candidates who might have been heretofore overlooked by political parties.  Both the government and civil society can train women, fund women, and help them cultivate the connections that they need to run successful campaigns.  These initiatives can “enhance the supply of female candidates, undermining dynamics of personal socialization and public prejudice to produce a more supportive environment for women to pursue a career in politics,” [72] which as Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund demonstrated is the most effective way to ensure that quotas work as intended.[73]

Conclusion

While it would be unwise to disregard contextual differences, evidence from Sweden to Mozambique strongly suggests that if a country is serious about increasing female political involvement and doing so in a reasonable timeframe, using quotas as a means of intervention is an effective way to achieve that objective.  Increasing female representation improves political legitimacy, produces a role model effect that encourages greater voter participation, increases the candidate pool, and improves the quality of debate by bringing people with diverse experiences to the table.  Perhaps most importantly, introducing measures to promote female political representation ensures that neither society’s expectations nor its perceptions of gender will hinder any citizens in their efforts to improve the quality of the society in which they live.  If a democratic nation aspires to live up to that name, it must give every citizen a fair chance to exercise his or her right to participate.  That right is the essence of democracy. 

References

Amoateng, Acheampong Yaw, Tim B. Heaton, and Ishmael Kalule-Sabiti. 2014. Gender and changing patterns of political participation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from five waves of the Afrobarometer surveys. Gender and Behaviour 12 (3): 5897-910.

Barnes, Tiffany D., and Stephanie M. Burchard. 2012. “Engendering” politics the impact of descriptive representation on Women’s political engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa. Comparative Political Studies: 0010414012463884.

Bauer, Gretchen. 2004. 'The hand that stirs the pot can also run the country': Electing women to parliament in Namibia. The Journal of Modern African Studies 42 (4) (Dec.): 479-509, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/stable/3876136.

Bauer, Gretchen. 2014. 'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper no. RSCAS 92.

Bauer, Gretchen. 30 July 2015. 'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University.

Clayton, Amanda. 2014. Democracy report: Namibia at a crossroads: 50/50 and the way forward. Windhoek, Namibia: Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Parliament of the Republic of Namibia, Special Briefing Report No. 7.

Cooperman, Rosalyn, 30 July 2015. There is no W in party: What Democratic and Republican activists think about Women’s political participation in the U.S. Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Lenita Freidenvall. 2005. Quotas as a 'fast track' to equal representation for women. International Feminist Journal of Politics 7 (1) (03): 26-48, http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=aph&AN=16236567&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Hoodfar, Hooma. 30 July 2015. Accommodating protest: Women remapping electoral politics. Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University.

International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University. About the project. in Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women [database online]. 2015 [cited 7/23 2015]. Available from http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutProject.cfm.

Krook, Mona Lena, and Pippa Norris. 2014. Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office. Political Studies 62 (1): 2-20.

Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. 2008. Why are women still not running for public office? Issues in Governance Studies (16) (May).

Mandela, Nelson. Address by President Nelson Mandela on national women's day. in Nelson Mandela Foundation [database online]. 1996 [cited 08/18 2015]. Available from http://www.mandela.gov.za/mandela_speeches/1996/960809_womensday.htm.

Miller, Claire Cain. 2015. More than their mothers, young women plan career pauses. New York Times, 07/22/2015, 2015, sec The Upshot.

Niederle, Muriel, Carmit Segal, and Lise Vesterlund. 2013. How costly is diversity? Affirmative action in light of gender differences in competitiveness. Management Science 59 (1): 1-16.

Niven, David. 1998. Party elites and women candidates the shape of bias. Women & Politics 19 (2) (-04): 57; 57, 80; 80.

Proportional representation. in Citizens Information Board [database online]. Dublin, Ireland, 2015 [cited 08/13 2015]. Available from http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/elections_and_referenda/voting/proportional_representation.html.

Reidy, Theresa. 30 July 2015. Women in Politics in Ireland; A Lot Done, a Lot More to Do!. Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University.

Women in national parliaments. in Inter-Parliamentary Union [database online]. 20152015]. Available from http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.

Yoon, M. Y. 2001. Democratization and women's legislative representation in sub-Saharan Africa. Democratization 8, (2): 169-190. 

 



[1] Bauer, Gretchen, “‘The hand that stirs the pot can also run the country': Electing women to parliament in Namibia,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 2004, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/stable/3876136, p. 493. 



[2] Mandela, Nelson, “Address by President Nelson Mandela on national women's day,” Nelson Mandela Foundation, http://www.mandela.gov.za/mandela_speeches/1996/960809_womensday.htm.



[3] Hoodfar, Hooma, “Accommodating protest: Women remapping electoral politics,” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[4] International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University, “About the project,” Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women, 2015, http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutProject.cfm.



[5] “Women in national parliaments, 1997” Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2015, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/arc/classif010197.htm.  



[6] “Women in national parliaments, 2015” Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2015, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm



[7] Lawless and Fox, “Why are women still not running for public office?” Issues in Governance Studies, 2008, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2008/5/women-lawless-fox/05_women_lawless_fox.pdf, p. 3.



[8] Hoodfar, Hooma, “Accommodating protest: Women remapping electoral politics,” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[9] Ibid.



[10] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014.    



[11] Ibid, p. 5.  



[12] Miller, Claire Cain, “More than their mothers, young women plan career pauses,” New York Times, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/upshot/more-than-their-mothers-young-women-plan-career-pauses.html?abt=0002&abg=0&_r=0



[13] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014.



[14] Lawless and Fox, “Why are women still not running for public office?” Issues in Governance Studies, 2008, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2008/5/women-lawless-fox/05_women_lawless_fox.pdf, p. 1.



[15] Ibid, p. 2.



[16] Ibid, p. 3.



[17] Niven, David, “Party elites and women candidates the shape of bias,” Women & Politics, 1998, p. 57. 



[18] Ibid.  



[19] “Women in national parliaments,” Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2015, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm



[20] Reidy, Theresa, “Women in Politics in Ireland; A Lot Done, a Lot More to Do!” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[21] Cooperman, Rosalyn, “There is no W in party: What Democratic and Republican activists think about Women’s political participation in the U.S.,” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[22] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014, p. 7.   



[23] Dahlerup and Freidenvall,” Quotas as a 'fast track' to equal representation for women,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2005, http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=aph&AN=16236567&site=ehost-live&scope=site



[24] Ibid. 



[25] Ibid. 



[26] Ibid, p. 27. 



[27] Ibid. 



[28] Yoon, M. Y., “Democratization and women's legislative representation in sub-Saharan Africa,” Democratization, 2001, p. 169. 



[29] Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund, “How costly is diversity? Affirmative action in light of gender differences in competitiveness,” Management Science, 2013. 



[30] Ibid, p. 2. 



[31] Ibid, p. 1. 



[32] Ibid, p. 1. 



[33] Ibid, p. 2. 



[34] Ibid, p. 1. 



[35] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014, p. 6.



[36] Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund, “How costly is diversity? Affirmative action in light of gender differences in competitiveness,” Management Science, 2013, p. 2. 



[37] Amoateng, Heaton, and Kalule-Sabiti, “Gender and changing patterns of political participation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from five waves of the Afrobarometer surveys,” Gender and Behaviour, 2014, p. 5908.



[38] International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University, “About the project,” Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women, 2015, http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutProject.cfm.



[39] Bauer, Gretchen, 'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, 2014. 



[40] International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University, “About the project,” Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women, 2015, http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutProject.cfm.



[41] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014.   



[42] Clayton, Amanda, “Democracy report: Namibia at a crossroads: 50/50 and the way forward,” Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Parliament of the Republic of Namibia, 2014, http://www.ippr.org.na/sites/default/files/DemocracyReport2014_7.pdf, p. 2-3.



[43] Bauer, Gretchen, 'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, 2014, p. 3. 



[44] Reidy, Theresa, “Women in Politics in Ireland; A Lot Done, a Lot More to Do!” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[45] Note: Irish elections use “proportional representation with a single transferable vote (PR-STV),” which means that each voter ranks the candidates in order of preference.  According to the Citizens Information Board, “When you vote like this, you are instructing the returning officer to transfer your vote to the second choice candidate if your first choice is either elected with a surplus of votes over the quota or is eliminated. If your second choice is elected or eliminated, your vote may be transferred to your third choice and so on….If a candidate receives more than the quota on any count, the surplus votes are transferred to the remaining candidates in proportion to the next available preferences indicated by voters (that is, the next preference on each vote for a candidate who has not been elected or eliminated). For example, if candidate A receives 900 votes more than the quota on the first count and on examining all of their votes, it is found that 30% of these have next available preferences for candidate B, then candidate B does not get 30% of all candidate A's votes, candidate B gets 30% of A's surplus, that is, 270 votes (30% of 900).”  “Proportional representation,” Citizens Information Board, 2015, http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/government_in_ireland/elections_and_referenda/voting/proportional_representation.html.



[46] Reidy, Theresa, “Women in Politics in Ireland; A Lot Done, a Lot More to Do!” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[47] Ibid.



[48] Barnes and Burchard, “Engendering” politics the impact of descriptive representation on Women’s political engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Comparative Political Studies, 2012, p. 784. 



[49] Bauer, Gretchen, 'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, 2014. 



[50] Ibid, p. 3.   



[51] Ibid, p. 3.   



[52] International IDEA, Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University, “About the project,” Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women, 2015, http://www.quotaproject.org/aboutProject.cfm.



[53] Barnes and Burchard, “Engendering” politics the impact of descriptive representation on Women’s political engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Comparative Political Studies, 2012. 



[54] Bauer, Gretchen, 'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, 2014, p. 2. 



[55] Barnes and Burchard, “Engendering” politics the impact of descriptive representation on Women’s political engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Comparative Political Studies, 2012, p. 770. 



[56] Ibid, p. 769. 



[57] Ibid.



[58] Ibid. 



[59] Ibid, p. 784. 



[60] Bauer, Gretchen, “'A lot of headwraps': Innovations in a second wave of electoral gender quotas in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[61] Bauer, Gretchen, “‘The hand that stirs the pot can also run the country': Electing women to parliament in Namibia,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 2004, http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/stable/3876136, p. 485. 



[62] Ibid. 



[63] Ibid, p. 480. 



[64] Clayton, Amanda, “Democracy report: Namibia at a crossroads: 50/50 and the way forward,” Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Parliament of the Republic of Namibia, 2014, http://www.ippr.org.na/sites/default/files/DemocracyReport2014_7.pdf, p. 2.



[65] Ibid.



[66] Ibid.



[67] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014, p. 17. 



[68] Barnes and Burchard, “Engendering” politics the impact of descriptive representation on Women’s political engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Comparative Political Studies, 2012, p. 770. 



[69] Hoodfar, Hooma, “Accommodating protest: Women remapping electoral politics,” Paper presented at Empowering Women through Political Participation and Empowering Politics through Women's Participation, George Washington University, 2015.



[70] Krook and Norris, “Beyond quotas: Strategies to promote gender equality in elected office,” Political Studies, 2014, p. 17. 



[71] Ibid, p. 6.



[72] Ibid.   



[73] Niederle, Segal, and Vesterlund, “How costly is diversity? Affirmative action in light of gender differences in competitiveness,” Management Science, 2013. 




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