Female Political Participation

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The right to participate in the political life and the right to vote and stand for election are essential citizenship rights.[1] However, the lack of equal representation of historically excluded groups was not until recently considered a shortcoming of democracy itself.[2] The male domination in politics was not either considered a violation of women’s citizenship rights as long as women had the right to vote.[3] Today however, a male-dominated political structure has lost its democratic legitimacy and gender balance is required not just ‘more women in politics’.[4] A large number of countries are still far behind; 72 countries currently have less than 15 per cent women in their parliaments.[5] Countries that have the highest numbers of women’s representation in parliaments, with Rwanda at the top of the list with 64 per cent women in its parliament, are spread all over the world and have various levels of economic development or democratic liberties.[6] As of October 2013, the Nordic countries had the highest regional average of women’s representation in parliaments with 42 per cent women in their parliaments.[7] The Americas, Europe (excluding the Nordic countries) and Sub-Saharan Africa were next with 24.8, 22.8 and 21.1 per cent respectively.[8] Asia (19.1 per cent), the Arab states (17.8 per cent) and the Pacific (13.1 per cent) were at the bottom.[9] These figures seem to be the result of a number of factors which continue to hamper women’s involvement in politics.[10] Patriarchy as a system based on male domination shapes women’s relationship with politics.[11] It divides gender into men and women and establishes a hierarchy of gender relations making men privileged.[12] The gender role culture of patriarchal societies is used as a tool to place women within the private sphere as mothers and wives, and place men in the public sphere.[13] Although the gender role culture is not static rather remains in a continuous change while intersecting with economic, social and political systems of a particular society, women continue to be assigned to the private sphere across countries, and consequently, they have been excluded from politics.[14] The responsibility of women as mothers and wives as well as their domestic duties complicate and obstruct their involvement and participation in the public sphere.[15] In addition, the political arena is organized according to male norms, values and lifestyles.[16] It is based on the idea of competition and confrontation, and often ignores systematic collaboration and consensus.[17] Women often reject this type of male-style politics, and may even reject politics altogether for this reason.[18] The first is that women mobilize for quotas in order to increase their political representation.[19] The women involved in quota campaigns vary remarkably and may include women’s organizations inside political parties, women’s movements in civil society, women’s movements in other countries and sometimes even individual women who are close to influential men.[20] The second explanation is that political elites adopt quotas for strategic reasons often related to competition with other parties.[21] Various case studies suggest that party elites adopt quotas when one of their rivals adopts them.[22] In other contexts, elites may view quotas as a means to demonstrate their commitment to women’s rights without a real intention to change existing patterns of inequality, or as a means to achieve other political purposes.[23] The third explanation is that quotas are adopted when they tangles with existing or emerging notions of equality and representation.[24] Some scholars view the adoption of gender quota policies as consistent with ideas of equality and fair access.[25] They indicate that left-wing parties are more open to gender quotas because they match with their goals of social equality.[26] It is also noticed that quotas often emerge during periods of democratic modernization, as they may be seen by countries as a way to establish legitimacy of new political systems during democratic transition or the establishment of new democratic structures.[27] The fourth explanation is that quotas are supported by international norms and spread through transnational sharing.[28] Since 1995, several international organizations have issued declarations recommending all member-states to make efforts to increase women’s representation in political bodies.[29] Gender quotas have proved to be the most effective tool for increasing women’s representation in elected bodies of government.[30] Other scholars distinguish between different types of electoral gender quotas on the basis on two dimensions. First, there are differences in quotas depending on where they are mandated.[31] Legal quotas are mandated in the constitution and/or electoral law and are, therefore, binding for all political parties, while voluntary party quotas are mandated in the party statutes or programs and are adopted by individual parties for their own electoral lists.[32] Second, differences in quotas depend on the stage of the electoral process they target, whether the pool of aspirants who intend to stand for election, or the candidates who are nominated to represent the party.[33] Whereas the classic liberal notion of equality stressed ‘equal opportunity’ or ‘competitive equality’, quotas represent a shift towards ‘equality of results’.[34] Under the concept of equal opportunity, removing formal barriers for women’s political participation, such as providing women with voting rights, was considered sufficient, and it was for individual women to act.[35] However, it is argued that equal opportunity removes formal barriers, whereas direct discrimination and a complex pattern of hidden barriers continue to prevent women from having a fair share of political power.[36] Quotas and other measures aiming at increasing women’s political participation are thus regarded as means towards equality of result.[37] Equality as a goal cannot be achieved by formal equal treatment only.[38] If barriers exist, compensatory measures are required as a means to reach equality of result.[39] From this perspective, quotas are regarded as a compensation for various barriers that women confront in the electoral process.[40] The incremental track and the fast track do not only represent two different accounts of the actual pace of historical development in women’s political representation, but they can also be seen as two different types of equality policies.[41] Whereas the incremental track promotes formal equality based on the principle of gender equality as ‘equal opportunity’, the fast track promotes substantive equality based on the principle of gender equality as ‘equality of results’.[42] The two tracks involve two models, which are based on different identifications of the problems that diagnose women’s underrepresentation, different goals in terms of women’s political representation and, consequently, different political strategies to make changes.[43] The two models are also based on two different perceptions of historical development.[44] In conclusion, both the incremental track and the fast track have their advantages and their problems.[45] The fast track, in which women’s political representation is increased form above, often turns women into tokens unless this process is followed by massive capacity-building, critique and support for the many elected women by women’s organizations.[46] The incremental track to increase women’s representation usually ensure that elected women have some power base outside parliament, but women worldwide can no longer wait for such a long time.[47] Immediate gender-balanced political representation is demanded by women’s movements all over the world and therefore, it is argued that the incremental track cannot any longer be considered the best model for women’s political empowerment around the world.[48] .

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4.3. Top-down Empowerment versus Bottom-up Empowerment

Although there are many different routes to quotas, two distinct types of quota introduction can be identified, which might have different consequences for women’s empowerment.[49] In some countries, like the Scandinavian ones, quotas were introduced after a history of gradual integration of women into public life.[50]This gradualism might be labeled as action ‘from below’.[51] In other countries, like South Asian countries, quotas were introduced from above.[52] As a case, the Latin American cluster should be placed between these two extremes.[53] The growing research on the South Asian countries points to the importance of extensive capacity building and support of the new elected women, who by the nature of empowerment from above have very few resources of their own. Other actors may also play direct or indirect roles in enforcing gender quotas. These include women’s organizations inside and outside parties, which pressurize elites to comply with quota provisions, provide the elites and voters with information on quota regulations and train female candidates to negotiate better positions on the candidate lists.[54] Scholars argue that efforts to nominate more women never occur without the prior mobilization of women, even when male elites have the ultimate responsibility for the decision to adopt quotas.[55] Other actors include also national courts which provide an arena to challenge non-compliance with the law with regards to parties’ candidate lists.[56] At the same time, some women’s groups do not support quotas and actively seek to undermine their implementation, although in some cases this is attributed to their aspiration to gain more radical measures, such as alternative policies providing for higher levels of women’s representation.[57] Additionally, some judges may dismiss allegations of non-compliance and issue negative decisions concerning the applicability of quota laws.[58] Rejection of lists has proved to be a very effective measure provided that the electoral management body in the country has the legal competence to reject the lists that break with the quota regulations with regard to the number or share of women, and effectively uses this power.[59] When the electoral authorities clearly warn political parties that their lists will be rejected and therefore will not be able to participate in the election if the required number or share of women in the required rank-order on the list is not obtained, the effect has proved to be strong.[60] Grassroots mobilization should not be seen as an alternative to formal political institutions as was the case some decades ago.[61] Rather, the present point of view around the world is that even if there is a risk that women’s political representation remains symbolic, the increased women’s political participation through gender quotas constitutes an opportunity for women.[62] However, strong women’s movements in the civil society remain very important if the increased political representation of women is to result in policy changes in favor of women.[63] The literature on women and politics suggests two major perspectives on political participation, namely the descriptive and substantive perspectives.[64]

6.1. Descriptive Representation

Descriptive representation, sometimes called ‘mirror representation’, refers to the shares of women and minorities in elected political bodies.[65]

  • Financial Penalties and Incentives

A number of countries penalize non-compliance financially. In Portugal for instance, a candidate list that does not comply with the quota regulations will be made public and will be punished with a fine, which is calculated according to the level of non-compliance.[66] In Ireland, an amendment to the electoral law stipulates that political parties in the coming national elections after the amendment enters into force will lose 50 per cent of their state funding if their candidate lists do not include at 30 per cent of each gender.[67] After a period of 7 years, the political parties should have a forty per cent gender quota in their candidate lists in order to receive full state funding.[68] Sanctions for non-compliance by parties with the required numbers or shares of women in their candidate lists have proved to be important.[69] The crucial question is which sanctions are applied and who has the responsibility for controlling parties’ compliance with the quota regulations.[70] However, some parties comply with quota laws and put women on the ballot in electable positions, even when sanctions are weak or even non-existent.[71] Such compliance may result from parties adopting voluntary quotas that are stricter than the national quota law, extensive lobbying by women’s groups in the country, a desire to increase political legitimacy, or a strategic calculation on the part of parties to gain women’s votes.[72] Indeed, some case study evidence supports this hypothesis of voluntary compliance.[73] There are three major types of sanctions for non-compliance: Rejection of lists has proved to be a very effective measure provided that the electoral management body in the country has the legal competence to reject the lists that break with the quota regulations with regard to the number or share of women, and effectively uses this power.[74] When the electoral authorities clearly warn political parties that their lists will be rejected and therefore will not be able to participate in the election if the required number or share of women in the required rank-order on the list is not obtained, the effect has proved to be strong.[75] The numerical presence of women presumes that elected women will produce political perspectives and issues that are poorly represented.[76] Thus, the presumption that elected women would act on behalf of other women or represent their interests constitutes an essential element of arguments in favor of the equal representation of women and men in political bodies.[77] The majority of existing studies on women and politics primarily address the descriptive or numerical representation of women in politics.[78]

6.2. Substantive Representation

In recent years, a number of studies on women and politics have begun to address substantive representation of women in politics.[79] It is defined as that dimension of representation where the representative is ‘activing for’ those represented, and more specifically in a manner responsive to them.[80] A number of countries penalize non-compliance financially. In Portugal for instance, a candidate list that does not comply with the quota regulations will be made public and will be punished with a fine, which is calculated according to the level of non-compliance.[81] In Ireland, an amendment to the electoral law stipulates that political parties in the coming national elections after the amendment enters into force will lose 50 per cent of their state funding if their candidate lists do not include at 30 per cent of each gender.[82] After a period of 7 years, the political parties should have a forty per cent gender quota in their candidate lists in order to receive full state funding.[83] However, financial sanctions have proven less effective in some cases, especially in the case of rich political parties, as the case was in the national election in France for example.[84] Some countries have recently adopted a new system of financial incentives.[85] In Georgia for instance, where a quota bill has repeatedly been turned down, a 2011 provision in the law of political parties stipulates that ‘nominating parties which include at least 20 per cent candidates of a different gender in the group of every 10 candidates will receive a 10 per cent supplementary funding from the state budget’.[86] However, in order for incentives for including women to be have impact on the behaviors of parties, they should not be based on the number of women on the candidate list but on the percentage of women within a party who actually win seats.[87] Legal sanctions for non-compliance are only enforced in countries where quotas are introduced by law.[88] In the case of legislated quota regulations, legal sanctions can be much stronger if adopted in the electoral law and thus be binding for all political parties which participate in the election.[89] Without efforts to remove socio-cultural, political and economic structural barriers at the national and international levels, achieving gender equality or women’s equal political participation will remain impossible to attain.[90] An important element in the enabling environment is related to the nature of democracy and the level of democratization in society.[91] The participative and decentralized form of governance creates a greater space for citizens, including women, to participate in governance processes and structures.[92] It further creates a space for greater interaction between the state and the society.[93] Access to education, health and employment is directly linked with women’s ability to create space for themselves in politics and development.[94] Additionally, women’s consciousness of their political rights is an important element for women’s individual and collective agency.[95] A strong women’s movement and civil society is another condition for a enabling environment that can influence the direction of politics and development in favor of women.[96] Moreover, the triple roles of women in productive, reproductive and community management spheres should guide the efforts for creating a supportive environment for women’s political participation.[97] Provision of childcare and care work is vital to enabling women to participate in politics.[98]


[1] Kazuki Iwanaga, Women’s Political Participation and Representation in Asia (NIAS Press 2008) 306. [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. [5] Drude Dahlerup and others, Atlas of Electoral Gender Quotas (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2013) 15. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] Maria De Paola, Vincenzo Scoppa and Rosetta Lombardo, ‘Can Gender Quotas Break down Negative Stereotypes? Evidence from Changes in Electoral Rules’ (2010) 94 Journal of Public Economics, 344. [11] Farzana Bari, ‘Women’s Political Participation: Issues and Challenges’, Expert Group Meeting, Enhancing Participation of Women in Development through an Enabling Environment for Achieving Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women (United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women 2005) 4. [12] Ibid. [13] Ibid. [14] Ibid 5. [15] Ibid. [16] Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, ‘Women & Political Representation: Handbook on Increasing Women’s Political Participation in Georgia’ (2014) 10. [17] Ibid. [18] Ibid. [19] Joyce Gelb and Marian Lief Palley, Women and Politics around the World (ABC-CLIO 2009)90. [20] Ibid. [21] Ibid. [22] Ibid. [23] Ibid. [24] Ibid. [25] Ibid 100. [26] Ibid. [27] Ibid. [28] Ibid. [29] Ibid. [30] Drude Dahlerup and others, Atlas of Electoral Gender Quotas (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2013) 16. [31] Drude Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall, ‘Judging Gender Quotas: Predictions and Results’ (2010) 38 Policy & Politics, 408. [32] Ibid. [33] Ibid. [34] Drude Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall, ‘Quotas as a ‘Fast Track’ To Equal Representation for Women’ (2005) 7 International Feminist Journal of Politics, 29. [35] Ibid. [36] Ibid. [37] Ibid. [38] Ibid 29-30. [39] Ibid 30. [40] Ibid. [41] Drude Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall, ‘Electoral Gender Quota Systems and Their Implementation in Europe’ (European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies 2008) 21. [42] Ibid. [43] Ibid. [44] Ibid. [45] Drude Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall, ‘Quotas as a ‘Fast Track’ to Equal Representation for Women’ (2005) 7 International Feminist Journal of Politics, 46. [46] Ibid. [47] Ibid. [48] Ibid. [49] Ibid 45. [50] Ibid. [51] Ibid. [52] Ibid. [53] Ibid. [54] Mona Lena Krook, Quotas for Women in Politics (Oxford University Press 2009) 41-42. [55] Ibid 21. [56] Ibid 42. [57] Ibid. [58] Ibid. [59] Drude Dahlerup, ‘Electoral Gender Quota Systems and Their Implementation in Europe: Update 2013’ (European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policy 2013) 17. [60] Ibid. [61] Kazuki Iwanaga, Women’s Political Participation and Representation in Asia (NIAS Press 2008) 306. [62] Ibid. [63] Ibid. [64] Ibid 3. [65] Susan Franceschet, Mona Lena Krook and Jennifer M Piscopo, The Impact of Gender Quotas (Oxford University Press 2012) 25. [66] Ibid. [67] Ibid. [68] Ibid. [69] Ibid 40. [70] Drude Dahlerup, ‘Electoral Gender Quota Systems and Their Implementation in Europe: Update 2013’ (European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policy 2013)17. [71] Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer, ‘Making Quotas Work: The Effect of Gender Quota Laws on the Election of Women’ (2009) 34 Legislative Studies Quarterly, 21. [72] Ibid. [73] Ibid. [74] Drude Dahlerup, ‘Electoral Gender Quota Systems and Their Implementation in Europe: Update 2013’ (European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policy 2013) 17. [75] Ibid. [76] Ibid 5. [77] Ibid. [78] Ibid 3. [79] Ibid 4. [80] Emanuela Lombardo and Petra Meier, The Symbolic Representation of Gender (Ashgate Publishing Limited 2014) 139. [81] Ibid. [82] Ibid. [83] Ibid. [84] Drude Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall, ‘Judging Gender Quotas: Predictions and Results’ (2010) 38 Policy & Politics, 412-413. [85] Drude Dahlerup, ‘Electoral Gender Quota Systems and Their Implementation in Europe: Update 2013’ (European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policy 2013) 18. [86] Ibid. [87] Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, ‘Women & Political Representation: Handbook on Increasing Women’s Political Participation in Georgia’ (2014) 19. [88] Drude Dahlerup and Lenita Freidenvall, ‘Judging Gender Quotas: Predictions and Results’ (2010) 38 Policy & Politics, 413. [89] Drude Dahlerup, ‘Electoral Gender Quota Systems and Their Implementation in Europe: Update 2013’ (European Parliament, Directorate General for Internal Policy 2013) 17. [90] Farzana Bari, ‘Women’s Political Participation: Issues and Challenges’, Expert Group Meeting, Enhancing Participation of Women in Development through an Enabling Environment for Achieving Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women (United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women 2005) 10. [91] Ibid. [92] Ibid. [93] Ibid. [94] Ibid. [95] Ibid. [96] Ibid. [97] Ibid. [98] Ibid 10-11.

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