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date: 24 January 2021

(p. 485) Participation and Representation

This section looks at participation and representation, key aspects of democratic politics and the focus for many feminist demands for equality, empowerment, and inclusion. Although it does not limit its scope of study to Western, liberal, representative democracies, to date much of the gender and politics scholarship has displayed a marked normative preference for what are commonly regarded as democratic values. It is concerned with the fair distribution of decision-making power between both sexes. The main aim of the gender and politics scholarship in this domain of political science is to understand—theoretically and empirically—the processes that lead to exclusion from and inclusion in democratic rights, practices, and institutions. At its core has been a focus on the inclusion of women and gendered issues and interests in governance for, by, and in the name of the people. Moreover, the potential future research agendas that the essays in this section outline require a further expansion of the concept of women with democratic inclusion involving a plurality of subgroups of women.

Given that the usual starting point for thinking about women in the gender and politics scholarship is underrepresentation in participative and representative processes, it is also focused on the study of processes of change. But this approach dichotomizes between women and women’s movements as (p. 486) agents of change and political decision-making institutions—like legislatures, governments, political parties, electoral systems, constitutions, and courts—as tools and targets of change. Many studies conclude that institutional change is possible and that in most cases agency and pressure from below are a necessary condition for change. Nevertheless, it is widely recognized that institutions determine to a great extent the route, shape, and scope of such change. As such, many of the most recent studies of gendered patterns of political participation and representation have some sympathy with new institutionalist approaches. Furthermore, many have broadened their focus from women alone to understanding how participation and representation are gendered. So, for example, they also include more analysis of men and men’s interests, which hitherto had been somewhat neglected given the dominant focus on women’s representation and participation.

An important development in this scholarly field concerns theories and empirical concepts of change: the indicators of improved women’s representation and participation and how to measure effectiveness of women’s strategies for inclusion and the quality of the representational relationship. A general trend seems to be to move away from one-dimensional indicators like numbers of women in elected assemblies or gender equality clauses in constitutions for measuring change toward more sophisticated concerns with “real-life” political and socioeconomic status and conditions in general. However, this feminist concern with assessing the gendered dimensions of representation and participation poses many challenges that, according to the authors of this section, future research needs to engage with.

The section opens with a wide-ranging chapter on political representation that provides an overall frame for the essays that follow. It situates the issues and challenges that are dealt with in more depth by the essays on different political systems, political parties, electoral systems and courts, law and constitutions. In this essay Sarah Childs and Joni Lovenduski deal with authorized, symbolic, descriptive, and substantive representation but focus on the latter two. It starts with the reasons for the presence of women in representative institutions and the explanations for their underrepresentation, pointing to the importance of party organization, rules, and ideology and introducing the critical mass (and critical acts) debate. Next the chapter discusses differences among women due to party affiliation and intersectionality. Tying into long-standing debates about the concept of women’s interests, it discusses whether and how differences among women distort the descriptive argument for the representation of women. Childs and Lovenduski point to the importance of institutions “designed with either democracy or women in mind” as sites where representation occurs. These are moreover not limited to elected legislatures and that poses challenging questions about accountability to women (and the women’s movement) and contestation by them.

In “Political Systems and Gender,” Aili Mari Tripp asks whether the type of political system—democratic, authoritarian, socialist, or hybrid—and (p. 487) within-system diversity matter in promoting gender equality, and, if so, how. In contrast to studies that limit investigating the impact of regime type to the political representation of women in national legislatures, this chapter also considers gender equality outcomes in the economic, social welfare, and cultural arena. Explanations for the importance of regime types and regime change include culture and ideology and capacity of women’s organizations to operate politically. Important puzzles for future cross-country comparative research include the need to reach a consensus on patterns of gender equality policies and outcomes to enhance and to obtain a better understanding of why some nondemocratic states enhance gender equality in the absence of popular pressures.

Next, “Party Politics” by Miki Caul Kittilson deals with political parties, which the other chapters in the section all indicate are a key to women’s political representation and participation. The first issue dealt with in the chapter is the gender gap in party support, and it draws attention to the exogenous factors influencing women’s and men’s partisan preferences. Second, the chapter focuses on gendered party organizational structures. It discusses the effectiveness of integration into mainstream party channels, as opposed to the strategy of establishing women’s parties or party women’s organizations that lobby the party from within for more women candidates, leadership, and substantive issues of concern to women. Also the reasons why and when parties include women and women’s issues are discussed pointing to the importance of, among others, parties as a complex set of formal institutions (selection and the importance of networks, ideology, nomination rules, centralization, and fractionalization), as well as to informal institutions. Rightfully reminding the reader that parties (and women) are strategic actors, the chapter discusses party change in favor of women, which, although slow, uneven, and incomplete, is occurring as a complex bottom-up and top-down process with important interparty dimensions (the contagion effect).

The chapter “Electoral Politics” by Mona Lena Krook and Leslie Schwindt-Bayer provides an overview of the gendered impacts of electoral systems. It begins with an account of how electoral systems impact upon candidate emergence, discussing the supply-and-demand model of candidates and how formal and informal institutions shape these in gendered ways. It outlines the empirical studies on the gendered effects of electoral formulas, district and party magnitude, and the ballot structure. Next the chapter deals extensively with electoral gender quotas as a demand-side strategy to increase the number of women in political office, what types exist, why they get adopted, and what effect they have. The effect of quotas and of women’s descriptive representation on female legislators’ behavior is also discussed with regard to representing women’s interests, citizens’ attitudes toward political participation, including feelings of trust and legitimacy, and the effect on gender stereotypes.

The final essay in this section is “Judicial Politics and the Courts” by Rachel Cichowski. It deals with feminist jurisprudence, gender and courts, and (p. 488) constitutionalism and human rights. The key question is to what extent is the law a process that enables institutional and real change as opposed to the law as fostering oppression of women. In clarifying first what type of change has been sought, she draws our attention to the developments in feminist theories and jurisprudence, including recent gay and lesbian jurisprudence and gay and lesbian and third-world feminism. The practical implications of these approaches are illustrated for the cases of equality and harm. Next the chapter moves onto law in action and discusses litigation (before national as well as international courts) as a process of change empowering women as well as the limits of litigation. The question of how to bring about change in terms of more gender equality is also posed in relation to constitutions and international human rights. The chapter points at the discrepancy between the widespread feminist mobilization for constitutional reform and the paucity of research on gender and constitutions.