Politics and Gender Issues

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Preface

The article has the aim to investigate the situation of female representation in politics in the industrialized contemporary Western democracies. Though women are more and more visible in politics, we can not yet say they have taken an equal position compared to men. Of course, they have had to take a long road and there is certainly a positive evolution, but there are still some mechanisms that lead to different kinds and levels of political discrimination.

The focal goal of this article is then, trying to find out what the factor processes are that lead to these discriminations, and which solutions there can be put forward.

In this article, I will try to explain first what gender is. We will see the difference between sex and gender. While sex is about the biological differences between men and women and their consequences, gender is much more of a social phenomenon. It is about how people are socialized based simply on the fact that they are a man or a woman. It is about the differences in treatment and their consequences. We will try to find where those differences in treatment come from, and which things maintain the existence of this different treatment.

Further, I will focus on gender problems or the problems with which women have to deal with simply because they are women. My focus will not be on the poor situation of women in the less developed countries of the south – which would also be interesting, but on the problems that women still have today in the industrialized Western democracies, where the history of women’s rights already covers a long road.[1]

Interesting is, of course, to have a short look at the history of this battle for more women’s rights. That is why I will shortly explain the ideology and social movement of Feminism, the factor which has driven women in their battle for equal chances and respect. Finally, I will come to my main topic of which are the specific problems with which women have to deal concerning politics in Western democracies of (post)industrialized societies.[2] For instance, the question is: What is the representation of women in Western politics today? It would be taken a look at their representation in the Parliaments, and in which number they can occupy some key political positions. It will be discussed some evolutions and also the difficulties they still have to deal with because of their gender belonging. The crucial examples are coming from the European Union (the EU) and her Member States. Consequently, it is also important to try to propose some solutions on the issue of female representation in the Parliaments, for instance. Here, I will present the EU’s policy towards this issue as an example to try to answer two questions: Is a policy of active interference positive or not? What is about quota’s policy?

What is gender?

What is it to be a man? What is it to be a woman? You might think that being a man or woman is ultimately associated with the sex of the physical body we are born with. However, the nature of maleness and femaleness is not so easily classified, explained, and understood.

Historically, the study of gender has its roots in the anthropology of women and, therefore, is very often mistakenly to be only about women. Gender studies are concerned with the cultural construction of embodied human beings, both women and men. They examine the differences and similarities as experienced and interpreted in various contexts, taking this to mean all relationships whether they involve subjects of the same or different genders. Gender has often implied and/or been contrasted to sex, the biologically defined categories of male and female.[3]

Before explaining what gender is, we need to make some important distinction, between sex and gender. In general, sociologists use the term sex to refer to the anatomical and physiological differences that define male and female bodies. A person’s sex is determined based on primary sex characteristics essential to reproduction. Sex is thus a biological concept for the biological distinction between men and women.

Gender, by contrast, concerns the psychological, social, and cultural differences between males and females. Gender is a social distinction based on culturally conceived and learned ideas about appropriate appearance, behavior, mental and emotional characteristics for males and females, linked to socially constructed notions of masculinity and femininity. It is not necessarily a direct product of an individual’s biological sex. The terms ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are gender terms which signify the ideal physical, behavioral, mental, and emotional traits believed to be characteristic of males and females. The distinction between sex and gender is a fundamental one since many differences between males and females are not biological in origin. Individuals who are born as biological males or females are usually expected to develop “masculine” or “feminine” character traits and behave in ways that are appropriate to their gender.[4]

In general, there are several academic points of view in explaining gender differences.

Some authors hold that aspects of human biology are responsible for initiate differences in behavior between men and women. Thus, they claim that the difference in sex leads to differences in social behavior. These differences, they claim, can be seen in some form across all cultures. They believe that the behavioral differences between males and females are ‘hardwired’ in our genetic code just as surely and permanently as the differences in reproductive organs. Sociologist Steven Goldberg, for example, argues that some gender characteristics are universal; for example, that males are more aggressive and control leadership positions. Goldstein believes this is the result of biological and genetic inheritance, but not of socialization or learning.[5]

Theories of “natural differences” (for example, why men are more aggressive and women are, in general, more gentle and passive) are often grounded in data on animal behavior; critics point out, rather than in anthropological or historical evidence about human behavior, which reveals variation over time and place. Moreover, they add, because a trait is more or less universal, it does not follow that it is biological in origin. Rather, however, there may be cultural factors of a general kind that produce such characteristics. For instance, in the majority of cultures, most women spend a significant part of their lives caring for children and could not readily take part in hunting or war.

Although the hypothesis that biological factors determine behavior patterns in men and women cannot be dismissed out of hand, nearly a century of research to identify the physiological origins of such an influence has been unsuccessful. There is no evidence of the mechanisms which would link such biological forces with the complex social behaviors exhibited by human men and women.[6]

Nevertheless, all theories which see individuals as complying with some kind of innate predisposition neglect the vital role of social interaction in shaping human behavior.

Most sociologists argue that gender roles are entirely learned. Such opinion takes us to a second view about gender. Gender can be explained by understanding the origins of gender differences by the study of gender socialization, the learning of gender roles with the help of social agencies such as the family and the media. Through contact with various agencies of socialization, both primary and secondary, children gradually internalize the social norms and expectations which are seen to correspond with their sex. Gender differences are not biologically determined, they are culturally produced. According to this view, gender inequalities result because men and women are socialized into different roles.[7]

In practice, this socialization goes through the learning of “sex roles” by positive and negative sanctions. For example, a small boy could be positively sanctioned in his behavior (like “What a brave boy you are!”), or by the recipient of negative sanction (like “Boys don’t play with dolls”). These positive and negative reinforcement aid boys and girls in learning and conforming to expected sex roles. Research by child specialist Beverly Fagot and her colleagues showed that this socialization already started very early; grownups that interacted with a group of toddlers did that in a gender-polarized way. They were more likely to respond to girls when the girls communicated in gentle, “feminine” ways and to boys when the boys communicated in assertive, “masculine” ways. As they did not found real sex differences in the interaction styles of 12-month-old boys and girls, the differences in communication styles by the time these toddlers reached two years of age were quite dramatic.[8]

However, critics on this view argue that gender socialization is not an inherently smooth process as different “agencies” such as the family, schools, or peer groups may be odds with one another. Moreover, socialization theories ignore the ability of individuals to reject or modify, the social expectations surrounding sex roles. It is important to remember that humans are not passive objects or unquestioning recipients of gender “programming”. But while we should be sceptical of any wholesale adoption of the sex roles approach, many studies have shown that to some degree gender identities are a result of social influences.[9]

Gender socialization is very powerful, and challenges to it can be upsetting. Once gender is “assigned”, society expects individuals to act like “females” and “males”. It is in the practices of everyday life that these expectations are fulfilled and reproduced.

According to Joseph F. Healey, gender is a source of differentiation, such as race, ethnicity, and class. Like race, gender has both a biological and a social component and can be a highly visible and convenient way of judging and sorting people. J. F. Healey speaks of gender roles, which highly resemble A. Giddens’ sex roles. From birth, the biological differences between the sexes form the basis for different gender roles or, in other words, societal expectations about proper behavior, attitudes, personality traits, and proper ethical behavior based on gender background.[10] In virtually all societies, including those at the advanced (post)industrial stage, adult work roles tend to be separated by gender, and boys and girls are socialized differently in preparation for these adult roles.[11]

There is also a third possible approach to understanding gender differences that combine nature and nurture. In this view, genetic inheritance and socialization experiences work together in a variety of ways, some exquisitely subtle, to produce the commonly observed gender differences in adults. For example, sociologist Robert Udry argues that the biology of sex – in particular, he focuses on the male hormone testosterone – may predispose or sensitize males and females in very different ways and prepare them for differential socialization experiences. R. Udry notes that these findings do not invalidate or refute explanations of gender differences that stress socialization or nurture. They do, however, require the recognition that biology sets some limits on the effects of gender socialization.

According to Joya Misra and Leslie King, gender is mainly about power. Norms, traditions, and values concerning gender have served to maintain a system of inequality in virtually every society. From the moment a child is born, the state is involved in upholding and maintaining gender as an institution. State policies often reflect patriarchal norms and may constrain both men’s and women’s choices. Yet states may also serve as arenas for challenging traditional gender norms.[12]

General problems concerning gender inequality

We have seen that gender is a socially created concept that attributes differing social roles and identities to men and women. Yet, gender differences are rarely neutral – in almost all societies, a gender is a significant form of social stratification.[13] Gender is a critical factor in structuring the types of opportunities and life chances individuals and groups face, and strongly influences the roles they play within social institutions from the household to the state. Gender roles and relationships vary across time and from society to society, but gender and inequality have usually been closely related, and men typically claim more property, prestige, and power.[14]

Although the roles of men and women vary from culture to culture, there is no known instance of a society in which females are more powerful than males. Men’s roles are generally more highly valued and rewarded than woman’s roles: in almost every culture, women bear the primary responsibility for childcare and domestic work, while men have traditionally borne responsibility for providing the family livelihood. The prevailing division of labor between the sexes has led to men and women assuming unequal positions in terms of power, prestige, and wealth.[15] Power, prestige, and wealth are scarce values that people seek. Because women tend to be labeled with an inferior status simply based on their gender, however, this reduces their chances of achieving these values in competition with men.[16]

The societies of West Europe and the USA have a strong tradition of patriarchy, or male dominance, throughout the social structure. In a patriarchal society, men have more control over the economy and more access to leadership roles in religion, politics, and other institutions. Nevertheless, despite the advances that women have made in countries around the world, gender differences continue to serve as the basis for social inequalities and men’s enduring dominance over women in the realm of economics, politics, the family, and elsewhere.

Women’s gender problems are situated in everyday life, in differences in health and aging, in the family, in their lower places in the class structure, in organizations, in the labor market, in their educational outcomes, and so on. Some theories worked out negatively for the position of women, like a functionalist theory that says it is perfectly logical and desirable to divide the tasks in outside work for men and inside work for women; or the theory of maternal deprivation which says that a child who isn’t socialized by its mother, by her absence, would possibly have serious social and psychological difficulties later in life. Such theories have been justly criticized by feminists and other scientists as there is no biological basis to the division of labor and nothing natural or inevitable about the allocation of tasks in society. Rather, humans are socialized into roles that are culturally expected of them. There is a steady stream of evidence, however, to suggest that the maternal deprivation thesis is questionable. There is no basis to the belief that the “expressive” female is necessary for the smooth operation of the family – rather, it is a role that is promoted largely for the convenience of men.[17]

As a matter of very fact, the gender problem is a very complicated one, and in practice, it is very hard to change it as processes of prejudice and stereotyping are playing still significant role in gender stratification and through history are rooted in the social system.

Women face stigmatization on several fronts and the practical consequence of an individual being stigmatized can include the reduction of the person’s social acceptability, a blocking of important social and economic opportunities, and a diminishing of the overall life chances. This person may come to see even itself as inferior when there is an absence of validation by others and this person is socialized to accept the beliefs and values on which the stigma is grounded. In this way, women even can get caught in a web of self-defeating behavior.[18]

Feminism and the historical struggle for gender equality

Feminism can be seen as an ideology and a social movement that historically has been concerned with the unequal status of women.[19] The feminist authors employ gender as a central category of analysis. To be more precise, feminists are considering gender as a particular sort of power relations in both global politics and international relations. In other words, a focal fact of such power relations is the segregation within society, of males, who tend to engage in wage work and politics, and females, who are engaged in housework and childcare. This is exactly what the feminist authors are calling to be the public and the private spheres of lives. However, the crucial point is that for feminists, gender is focal to the understanding of politics, especially of international relations.[20]

Historically, there were three big waves of feminism as a social movement:

  1. First-wave feminism was from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century and refers mainly to women’s suffrage movements which were of political nature and mainly concerned with women’s right to vote and, therefore, to become politically active and influential. This wave was based on the liberal goal of sexual equality in the areas of legal and political rights, particularly suffrage rights. Liberal feminists believe that sex differences are irrelevant to personal worth and call for equal rights for women and men in the public sphere of life.[21]
  2. Second-wave feminism occurred in the 1960s and refers to the ideas and actions associated with the women’s liberation movement which campaigned for legal and social equality for women. It was characterized by a more radical concern with “women’s liberation”, including in the private sphere.
  3. Third-wave is situated at the beginning of the 1990s and still goes on. This wave refers to a continuation of and a reaction to the perceived failures of the second-wave feminism.[22] This is, in fact, radical feminism – a form of feminism that understands gender divisions to be the most politically important concerning social cleavages. The radical feminists believe that these are rooted in the structures of family or domestic life.

Furthermore, feminism can be seen as an ideology with different writings and investigations on the unequal status of women. In the 1920s and 1930s, social sciences began to investigate the gender issue.[23] There was the main focus on sex roles investigation and while social scientists did not see sex and gender as synonymous, they believed that they were closely connected. They claimed that the particular characteristics of men and women led to the performances of particular social roles. The prevailing sexual division of labor reflected the close correspondence between gender traits and sex roles. Gender was thus held to be, if not immutable and natural, then at least relatively stable and fixed and, moreover, socially useful. It was even possible to speak about deviancy in relation to those people who were held to be insufficiently “masculine”[24] or “feminine” and who could not be accommodated within such a framework.

In the 1960s, there was an upraise of feminist analyses which claimed that sex roles were assigned by society, and male-identifying roles were frequently seen to be more important and deserving of greater social rewards then female-orientated roles. The theories that explained women’s particular status in terms of either their “natural” or “essential” characteristics were ideological, serving to legitimize an unjust social order that valued men and the “masculine” more highly than women and the “feminine”.[25]

Based on such analysis, feminists argued that the route to sexual equality and women’s liberation lay in challenging conventional sex roles. This was not an easy task as sex roles were deeply entrenched in a complex system of stereotyping, supported by a whole range of social institutions and practices and the state as a patriarchal power or patriarchy.[26] Patriarchy literally means governing by the father. The term is differently used by different feminist groups. Some feminists use patriarchy in this specific and limited sense in order to describe the structure of the family and the dominance of the husband-father over both his wife and his children. However, other feminist groups like radical feminists use this term to refer to the system of male power in society including politics too. A patriarchal society is, therefore, characterized by both gender and generational oppression.[27]

The feminist movement has given rise to a large body of theory that attempts to explain gender inequalities and set forth agendas for overcoming those inequalities. While on one hand feminist writers are all concerned with women’s unequal position in society, their explanations for it, on the other hand, vary substantially. Nonetheless, competing schools of feminism have sought to explain gender inequalities through a variety of deeply embedded social processes, such as sexism, patriarchy, capitalism, or racism.[28]

An example of a feminist school is liberal feminism, who focuses on inequalities in social and cultural attitudes and independent deprivations from which women suffer, such as sexism, unequal payment, and the “glass ceiling”. Liberal feminists do not focus on gender study though and they do not deal with the root causes of gender inequality and do not acknowledge the systemic nature of women’s oppression in society, unlike radical feminists who believe that men are responsible for and benefit from the exploitation of women, and believe that both the world system and political systems through history are of the patriarchal nature.[29] Radical feminists do not believe that women can be liberated from sexual oppression through reforms or gradual change. Because patriarchy is a systemic phenomenon, they argue, gender equality can only be attained by overthrowing the patriarchal order.[30]

Just to mention that many other feminist schools are worth taking a look at as, for example, black feminism, critical feminism, Marxist feminism, poststructuralist feminism, or postcolonial feminism.[31]

Gender and Politics

The study of politics is traditionally “gender-blind”. Here, it has to be stressed that gender refers to the social construction of sexual difference. As such term “gender” is clearly distinct from the term “sex”. For almost all feminists, “sex” highlights biological, and, therefore, ineradicable, differences between females and males, while “gender” denotes a set of culturally defined distinctions between women and men.

In the academic discipline that focused primarily on politics, states, and inter-state relations, gender politics and gender relations are of little relevance. However, since the beginning of the 1980s, feminist perspectives on global affairs is gaining growing prominence.

There are series of important contributions by feminist authors in the academic fields of politics, international relations (IR), and political theory in which they focused on how gender issues, concerns, and women’s participation are excluded from the public politics on various levels from local to national. Their focal conclusions are for the reason of such practices because of, on the one hand, the division between the public and private spheres, and the language and politics of universal political rights, on the other.[32] However, the feminist writers heavily challenged such constructs pointing at the same time out that the public and the universal historically are masculine in nature. Therefore, feminist activists are fighting for greater access to institutional politics of women in particular, and to reconstitute the world of politics in general.

The concern of the liberal feminist movement was improving access for women to institutions of public power through the process of improving education, the legislation regarding equal opportunities, and in such a way challenging the system and practices of political patriarchy. Nevertheless, both radical and Marxist feminist groups have been challenging the very linking of the political to the public. Representatives of both groups are in the strong opinion that the focal reason why women are systematically excluded from the political sphere is the false distinction that is made and maintained by patriarchy between the public and the private spheres of life.

The feminist authors as well as challenged the institutionalized, delegation form of political activities by stressing the importance of direct participation in politics (“direct democracy”). A common contribution of all black feminists to the debate on politics by insisting upon the importance of race in Western societies, especially in the USA, which does not allow them to take a serious role in the participation in the politics both as females and “colored”.[33]

All feminists are supporting an idea and practice of the so-called gender mainstreaming – the terminology that was first proposed as policy in the international arena in 1985 during the Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi (Kenya), and formally featured in the policy conclusions of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (China). Gender mainstreaming today is a mainstay of both national and international bodies looking to address gender equality including and in politics. Gender mainstreaming legislation is focused on two focal questions: 1) How to integrate gender across a wide variety of policy platforms? and 2) How to apply that integration is not only policy-making but policy implementation. Shortly, gender mainstreaming is the attempt to “mainstream” gender into the decision-making process by requiring that, before decisions are made, an analysis has to be done of their likely effects on women and men respectively.

It is true that in most political systems, women are vastly underrepresented. Throughout the world, women face obstacles for their participation in politics. These barriers exist in prevailing social and economic systems, as well as in existing political structures.[34] It is not the case that women are not represented, rather than that, they do not have the share of political power that would be expected given free and equal access. In other words, in this context exists a visible democratic deficit.[35]

In 2007, for example, the rate of female representation at the national level stands at merely 18 percent globally. Although this figure has increased in recent years, minimal progress has been made, meaning that the ideal of parity between men and women in national legislatures remains distant.[36]

Moreover, there are also very few women in the “high politics” (or key positions in politics), but some of them who are becoming notorious warmongers, racist or imperialists as, for instance, Queen Victoria,[37] the US Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, Madeline Albright or the UK PM Margaret Thatcher. The achievements of some female individuals like I. Gandhi, G. Meir, or B. Bhutto, remarkable as they are, mask a considerable imbalance in the numbers of women who have political power.[38] The question can be asked if this is a consequence of discriminatory practices based on the general belief that women are not eligible for political involvement, at least in “high” politics – a belief which is a pure consequence of traditions and stereotypes.[39]

Some factors which make it hard for women to rise to the top levels of industry and commerce operate with even more vigor in politics. This includes four main issues:

  1. The enormous drain on an individual’s time if they are to rise to the key political functions. Far fewer women, particularly if they choose to have children (and then become locked into a childcare role), can devote the time it takes to reach the top positions. Many research results made clear that childcare and housework are very unequally shared with the women taking on most of the burden.
  2. There is an alleged operation of the “old boys” network in selection for key positions. Even where the policy is one of promotion to key jobs on merit alone, there are far fewer suitable qualified women (in terms of experience) to choose from.[40] This is largely because access to such suitable qualified previous positions is not there for them in the first place.
  3. Men also set the very standards by which women will be judged when they apply for senior positions, and these may discriminate against women because they are based on male assumptions of a “woman’s place”.
  4. Political power might well represent the ultimate in the ability to influence things. Are men especially reluctant to loosen their grip on this?[41]

 The EU and gender policy

Women have certainly boosted their presence in the European Governments, thanks in part to electoral quotas, but are still under-represented despite high profile exceptions like Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher. According to a study by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, even if there are increasing numbers of women candidates their male counterparts still have a better chance of getting elected due to ingrained prejudices and customs.

“It’s wrong to blame women, voters. The main problem is that male voters vote for male candidates”, argues Drude Dahlerup, a Professor in the department of political science at Stockholm University. ’We are changing from the idea that equality will come by itself. Today we realize this is not the way things work’, added Dahlerup, who has researched gender quota systems.[42]

The proportion of female members of national Parliaments (single/lower house) across the EU has risen, for example, by almost half over eleven years, from 16% in 1997 to 24% in 2008. Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland are the only EU countries with more than 40% women in Parliament, the majority of the EU Member States still have less than 25% women as MPs.

The European Parliament was just above the national Parliaments figure with 31% women and 69% men (in 2008). This is a better balance than in national Parliaments[43] but progress towards gender equality has stagnated and there has been little change since the 1999 elections, the representation of women remains more or less static. The 2009 elections represent an opportunity to take the next step forwards. On average, men outnumber women among ministers in national Governments by around three to one (25% women, 75% men).[44]

While the last decade has seen a general increase in the number of women in decision-making positions in Europe, women remain very much in a minority in the political (and economic) spheres. In Parliaments, Governments, and Ministries and in the private sector too, power is still firmly in men’s hands. The EU sees the equality between women and men as a fundamental right.[45] The European Commission that handles the subject of gender equality is the European Commission for Employment, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities. The EU is committed to promoting gender equality in decision-making positions, to raising awareness of the gender gap in this area, and to taking action to improve the situation. That is why the European Commission’s “roadmap” for equality between women and men lists equal participation of women and men in decision-making procedure as one of its priorities. Thus, the roadmap is the basis for action towards gender inequality in the EU in which the participation of women in decision-making is a part of.[46]

The European Commission has made an investigation around this issue and has come to some general facts which are worthwhile to take a look at.

A balanced choice of candidates for election ought to result in the equality amongst elected representatives. Data from across Europe show that in general, more women candidates result in more women being elected but that men still have a better chance of being elected. Extrapolation of results from the most recent national elections across Europe implies that, on average, an election with 50% women candidates would result in a parliament with just 39% women members or, putting it in another way, there would need to be 63% women candidates to achieve parity in the final assembly.

The positive action in the form of electoral gender quotas can help bring about rapid change but they are not a guarantee of success. How political parties allocate candidates to winnable seats or distribute them on lists has a significant part to play in the limited success to date in electing more women from the available candidates. Some types of electoral systems are more open to promoting favored candidates than others and the result is that women candidates are too often left with a low chance of being elected. The re-election of incumbents severely restricts the rate of member turnover at each election. Estimates suggest that, on average, around two-thirds of members are reelected on each occasion meaning that there are limited opportunities for new faces and, therefore, for change in the gender balance. For example, at the European elections in 2004, around two-thirds of the candidates were men and just one-third women. If the future elections are to bring about any real progress in terms of gender equality then more women candidates need to be found. Although many voters indicate that they would like to see more women in elected positions, there is no strong evidence to suggest that people actually vote based on gender. In other words, it is wrong to think that people who in principle want more women in politics, in practice would really vote based on gender.

Possible solutions

It is a mistake to think that the problem of the underrepresentation of women in Parliaments, Governments, and high politics will solve itself. The problem is a direct consequence of the gender inequality problem, which is very complex and has a lot of causes that are deeply rooted in society and its people. Therefore, there is a need for a concrete policy towards this issue.

Certain methods of closing the representation gap can be evaluated in the following paragraphs.[47]

Quotas

The introduction of gender quotas, whether legislative or voluntary, can help to speed up change but they are not without controversy – some would argue that such affirmative action contradicts the principles of equal opportunity – and they are also not always the quick fix they might appear to be. Quotas can quickly boost the number of women candidates but do not guarantee that these women are positioned fairly on candidate lists or in electoral districts where they have a reasonable chance of being elected.

Further action may, therefore, be necessary to ensure a coincident increase in the numbers of women actually elected.

In Slovenia, the elections held at the end of September 2008 were the first to be held at the national level since the 2006 National Assembly Elections Act, which imposes a quota for candidates by gender (minimum 25% in the transitional period, 35% thereafter). The quota was well respected with women accounting for more than one-third of candidates but the final result saw just one more woman elected compared to the previous, pre-quota, Parliament, and an overall membership of just 13% women and 87% men. Interestingly, the 2007 elections in Belgium (49% candidates; 37% elected) and the 2008 elections in Spain (47% candidates, 36% elected) both gave results very close to the projected result with 50% women candidates.

However, there are of course exceptions on either side of the trend – the elections after 2006 in Slovenia, France, and Romania all saw far fewer women elected than would be expected from the fairly high shares of candidates, whilst in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden more women were elected compared to the general trend and the final results were even ahead of the parity line. Thus, on average, as would be expected, more women candidates generally result in more women being elected but it is striking how far the trend line deviates from parity.

Nevertheless, the gender quotas system can help the move towards gender parity but are not a guarantee of real success. The first step in promoting female representation must be to promote more women candidates.

Electoral Systems and Political Parties

The most important factors that do prevent quotas from working are the allocation of candidates between electoral districts and/or the position of each candidate on lists (where relevant). All political parties want to win elections and even though many parties promise action on improving the representation of women, the bottom line is that their electoral strategy will always focus on maximizing the number of candidates elected ahead of any other issues.

Quotas are hardest to apply in single-winner systems where each party nominates a single candidate per constituency so that it is not possible to offer individual voters any choice by gender. Even if an overall quota is applied, the party is still at liberty to allocate candidates between constituencies and put favored candidates into “safe” seats where votes for the party are generally secure. In multiple-winner systems where candidates are selected from party lists, usually by some form of proportional representation, then the order of candidates on the list significantly influences who is elected. In completely closed lists, voters effectively choose only which party they want to support, and candidates are selected based on their position in the list and the proportion of votes received by the party.

However, even in the most open list systems, where voters select individual candidates who are then elected purely based on the total number of votes received, analysis of voter behavior indicates that those near to the top of the list have an advantage over those at the bottom. There is a variety of list-based electoral systems and most fall somewhere between the extremes of fully open or fully closed and offer considerable scope to influence who is elected from the full complement of candidates.[48]

In short, although quota systems can dramatically improve the gender balance amongst candidates, if they are to succeed in getting more elected women, they need to be applied in a way that pays careful regard to the intricacies of the electoral system.

Thus, the historical predominance of men and electoral systems combine to restrict the rate at which women are integrated into political life.

Re-election of incumbents

More women candidates usually meant, more women elected, yet a man has a better chance.

Politics is often a career choice and many incumbents seek re-election. Incumbents are more likely to be (re)elected than new candidates. Given a choice of candidates from the same political party, voters tend to choose the well-known ones (usually the incumbents).

Political parties have an important role in determining the composition of elected bodies, to the extent that they can override the effect of quotas. At election time, voters will always tend to support someone that they know of, and most of the time that will be the incumbent member. As a result, incumbents seeking re-election will tend to be favored by the party and benefit from any strategy to ensure electoral success for the party.

One solution to the problem of incumbent retention at infrequent elections could be to impose term-limits, where elected members are only allowed to be re-elected a fixed number of times, thereby increasing turnover, or even prohibiting immediate re-election, which would immediately bring zero retention and 100% turnover.

However, this type of approach can reduce the effectiveness of the legislature by excluding experienced policymakers and is unlikely to be voted in by the current incumbents. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the rate at which women can be integrated into political decision-making will remain slow unless the incumbency problem is addressed. Of course, once there is a good gender balance in an elected assembly then retention of incumbents can help to maintain that balance but this situation has not been reached in many assemblies.[49]

Other measures

Of course, there are also other actions to think of to help solve the problem of the unbalanced representation. The recruitment and selection of female candidates by political parties could be made better (more open), policy or action plans to stimulate girls to take on political studies, women to make different career choices and to take the step to political functions, to stimulate the “political sector” to be more open towards women and to adapt itself.

Also, anti-discrimination policies, in general, could help people to think less in stereotypes and to change their mentality towards women and politics.

During the electoral campaign, as well as, the role of the media is playing a very significant impact on the voters and, therefore, the media could make an important effort to increasing their focus on the female candidates.[50]

Final remarks

We have seen that gender differences can lead to inequality in treatment and the chances people get in life, simply based on the fact that they are a woman or a man.[51] However, equality between women and men is a fundamental right. That is why the representation of women in politics requires an active policy to solve this democratic deficit.

However, there have been some improvements in the situation, but there is still no equality in chances to be elected or to build out a political career, this is even less so at the very top. Solutions are very diverse, and cannot stand alone, but need to be interactive. A policy towards this issue has to be full and involve a package of solutions to really be effective.

Further investigation towards the solutions and the effects of the solutions, not only on the representation of women in parliaments but also on their representation in the high politics, is necessary to close the gap of female representation in politics.[52]

Prof. Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirović

www.global-politics.eu/sotirovic

sotirovic@global-politics.eu

© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2020

Endnotes:

[1] See, for instance [Shoemaker R., Vincent M. (eds.), Gender & History in Western Europe, London: Arnold, 1998].

[2] About modernist industrial society, see [Brooker P. at al (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, Oxford‒New York: Oxford University Press, 2016]. About the postmodern societies, see [Malpas S., The Postmodern, London‒New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2005]. The term post-modernity usually refers to a fully developed modernity which emerged in the affluent societies of West Europe and of European descent in the 1970s. [Kuper A., Kuper J. (eds.), The Social Science Encyclopedia, Second Edition, London‒New York: Routledge, 1996, 654‒655].

[3] See more in [Reiter R. R. (ed.), Toward an Anthropology of Woman, London, 1975; Atkinson J. M., Errington S. (eds.), Power and Difference: Gender in Island in Southeast Asia, Stanford, CA, 1990].

[4] Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, p. 107; Ferrante J., Sociology: A Global Perspective, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, United States: Thomson Wadsworth Ferrante, 2006, pp. 332−336; Steans J., Gender and International Relations, Second Edition, Polity, 2006, pp.7−8; Clements P., Spinks T., The Equal Opportunities Handbook: How to Deal with the Everyday Issues of Unfairness, Fourth Edition, London−Philadelphia: Kogan Page, 2006, pp. 79−80.

[5] See, for instance [Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, pp.107−108; Healey J. F., Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change, Thousand Oaks−London−New Delhi: Pine Forge Press, 2006, p. 25].

[6] See more in [Reeser W. T., Masculinities in Theory: An Introduction, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010].

[7] Healey J. F., Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change, Thousand Oaks−London−New Delhi: Pine Forge Press, 2006, p. 25.

[8] Ferrante J., Sociology: A Global Perspective, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, United States: Thomson Wadsworth Ferrante, 2006, p. 347.

[9] Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, p. 108.

[10] About ethics in general, see [Kainz P. H., Ethics in Context, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1988; Shafer-Landau R. (ed.), Ethical Theory: An Anthology, Second Edition, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013].

[11] Healey J. F., Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change, Thousand Oaks−London−New Delhi: Pine Forge Press, 2006, p. 19.

[12] See more in [Janoski T. et al. (eds.), The Handbook of Political Sociology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005].

[13] About social stratification, see [Grusky B. D. (ed.), Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, Oxford: Westview Press, 2001].

[14] Healey J. F., Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class: The Sociology of Group Conflict and Change, Thousand Oaks−London−New Delhi: Pine Forge Press, 2006, p. 23.

[15] Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, p. 112.

[16] Schur E. M., “The Devaluation of Women”, Rubington E., Weinberg M. S. (eds.), The Study of Social Problems: Seven Perspectives, Sixth Edition, New York‒Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 186‒193.

[17] Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, pp. 111‒113.

[18] Schur E. M., “The Devaluation of Women”, Rubington E., Weinberg M. S. (eds.), The Study of Social Problems: Seven Perspectives, Sixth Edition, New York‒Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 186‒193.

[19] Steans J., Gender and International Relations, Second Edition, Polity, 2006, pp. 7−8. About feminism, see more in [Scott W. J., Feminism & History, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2000].

[20] Haynes J. et al, World Politics, New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis, 2013, 196.

[21] This approach is very familiar to androgyny: The possession of both male and female characteristics. It is used to imply that human beings are sexless individuals in the sense that sex is irrelevant to their social role or political status [Heywood A., Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 414].

[22] Krolokke C., Sorensen A. S., Gender Communication Theories and Analyses: From Silence to Performance, Sage, 2005, p. 24.

[23] In the early social sciences, sex differences were largely taken for granted, reflecting the degree to which gender differences were uncontested – or perhaps unnoticed – among male-dominated scholarly communities [Steans J., Gender and International Relations, Second Edition, Polity, 2006, pp. 8−10].

[24] Masculinism is, in fact, gender bias that derives from the portrayal of male or masculine views as either superior or as objective and rational.

[25] See more in [Reeser W. T., Masculinities in Theory: An Introduction, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010].

[26] Steans J., Gender and International Relations, Second Edition, Polity, 2006, pp. 8−10.

[27] Contrary to patriarchy, matriarchy means literally rule by the mother. Matriarchy is a society, whether historical or hypothesized, that is governed by women. Nevertheless, many radical feminists claim that a matriarchal society would be more peaceful compared to the patriarchal one. However, such an approach is misleading gender stereotypes as the idea that culture and social conditioning disposes men to favor war while women allegedly favor peace breaks down as soon as the behavior of real women and men politicians is taken historically into consideration. Just to mention that women as well as fight, as it can be demonstrated by female terrorists and guerrilla fighters. Many women political leaders, like M. Thatcher in 1982, adopted warmongering policy, while many male leaders (M. Gandhi. M. L. King, W. Brandt) took strategies of non-violence and conciliation. See more in [Shepherd L. J., Gender Matters in Global Politics, 2010].

[28] Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, p. 114.

[29] See for instance [Isaacs K. A., Political Systems and Definitions of Gender Roles, Pisa, Pisa University, 2001].

[30] Giddens A., Sociology, Cambridge−Oxford: Polity Press, 2004, pp. 114−115.

[31] See more in [Budryte D. et al (eds.), Feminist Conversations: Women, Trauma, and Empowerment in Post-Transitional Societies, Lanham: University Press of America, 2009].

[32] See more in [Coates J. (ed.), Language and Gender: Reader, Oxford−New York: Blackwell Publishers, 2000]. About women’s citizenship and political rights, see in [Sirkku K. et al (eds.), Women’s Citizenship and Political Rights, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006].

[33] About racism, see in [Bulmer M., Solomos J. (ed.), Racism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999].

[34] Phillips A., „The Representation of Women“, The Polity Reader in Gender Studies, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998, pp. 195−204.

[35] European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities,  2009-02-23, Gender Equality:

http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=418&langId=en

[36] International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), 2009, Democracy and Gender:

http://www.idea.int/gender/

[37] About gender in Victorian Britain, see more in [Chaudhuri N., „Shawls, Jewelry, Curry, and Rice in Victorian Britain“, Chaudhuri N., Strobel M. (eds.), Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance, Bloomington−Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992, pp. 231−246].

[38] Clements P., Spinks T., The Equal Opportunities Handbook: How to Deal with the Everyday Issues of Unfairness, Fourth Edition, London−Philadelphia: Kogan Page, 2006, pp. 82−83.

[39] Steans J., Gender and International Relations, Second Edition, Polity, 2006, p. 28.

[40] See more, for instance, in [Davidoff L., Hall C., Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780−1850, Revised Edition, London−New York, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2002].

[41] Clements P., Spinks T., The Equal Opportunities Handbook: How to Deal with the Everyday Issues of Unfairness, Fourth Edition, London−Philadelphia: Kogan Page, 2006, pp. 85−87.

[42] European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

[43] The result of women’s representation may be better in the European Parliament because the perception of the European Parliament may also affect the selection of candidates and voter behavior. Although the European Parliament deals with a range of issues including environmental protection, consumer rights, equal opportunities, transport, and the free movement of workers, capital, services and goods, all of which have a direct impact on the daily lives of citizens, a 2008 survey reported that 51% of respondents were not interested in the elections for the European Parliament. It may be that this contributes to making it easier for women to be selected as candidates for the European elections than for national elections where voters tend to vote for well known individuals – often the established, and mostly male, incumbents.

[44] European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

[45] See, for instance [The European Commission, A Diverse Society: Tackling Discrimination Across Europe, DVD, Publication Office, 2008].

[46] See more in [Verloo M. (ed.), Multiple Meanings of Gender Equality: A Critical Frame Analysis of Gender Policies in Europe, Budapest−New York: Central European University Press, 2007].

[47] The European Commission, Women in European Politics–Time for Action, 2009.

[48] About electoral systems, see in [Farrell M. D., Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction, Second Edition, Macmillan−Red Globe Press, 2011].

[49] About the party system, see in [Mair P., The West European Party System, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 1990].

[50] About gradual emancipation of the Western women in society and politics, see more in [Duby G., Perrot M., (general eds.), A History of Women in the West, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994].

[51] See more in [Language and Gender: A Reader, Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1998].

[52] On the history of political struggle for women’s rights, see in [Rupp J. L., Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women’s Movement, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998].


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