Posted: November 8th, 2023
Evaluating Female Political Representation
Evaluating Female Political Representation
Empirical studies highlight that many people prefer a representative democracy. However, many citizens distrust or have low confidence levels in their representatives. Such a populace would wish to see improvements in their political representation. In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of female legislators. By the end of 2021, twenty-six women were serving as Heads of State in twenty-four republics. Women, specifically minorities, continue to make significant gains across all levels of government. In this paper, the question of representation and the importance of having female political representatives are discussed. The exploration also includes an assessment of the impact of female political representation on women’s status. As female political representation grows, society should anticipate different approaches to governance. Despite women facing structural and cultural barriers to political participation, society should advocate for increased female political representation because it translates into greater opportunities for female empowerment.
The Importance of Female Political Representatives
Women are more likely to present and pass bills that deal with issues related to girls and families. An analysis of parliamentary discussions in the House of Commons reveals that women have different legislative priorities than men (Blumenau, 2019). Legislators critically decide which bills and regulations merit their time during bill proposals. Typically, men will make different decisions concerning these policies. Blumenau’s (2019) analysis finds women were more participative in women’s rights bills that affect children and families. Changing the nature of conversations in the House of Commons will influence the laws that parliament eventually passes. The resultant effect is the removal of structural barriers that continue to promote gender and racial inequality in the United Kingdom. An example is Gina Martin’s law of intimate up-skirt photos taken without the user’s consent.
Having more women in parliament has made the female condition more inclusive and considerate in the United Kingdom.
Female political representatives have a higher bill enactment rate compared to men. Michele Swers, an experienced political scientist from Georgetown University, carried out a longitudinal study in the mid-90s on male and female legislators sharing similar ideologies. The research found the average female representative passed 10.6 bills compared to 5.3 bills by men (Arnesen & Peters, 2018). Another 2009 study of the House of Commons found women passed 2.31 bills compared to men’s 1.57 (Arnesen & Peters, 2018). Both studies indicate women pass nearly double the number of bills. The data implies female representatives serve their constituents more, if not better, than men. Such statistics address the myth that women are less capable in leadership. Contrastingly, they are more responsive to constituent concerns. Bill enactment is not the only factor highlighting women’s superior performance in politics.
Female legislators tend to bring more public programs and civil funding to their constituents. From 1984 to 2004, female legislators brought back 9% more funds to their districts (Anzia & Berry, 2011). The constituencies with female legislators received $49 million more in annual state and federal funding compared to male-represented jurisdictions at the time of the study. The Jackie and Jill Robinson Effect explains why congresswomen outperform their male counterparts. When a democratic system is biased against women, only the most resilient, talented and hardworking females succeed. When women perceive there is sex discrimination in an election, only the most ambitious women emerge as candidates (Anzia & Berry, 2011). Unlike men, the elected pool of female leaders is always the crème-de-la-crème. The differences in experiences and educational background are bound to reflect on women’s superior political performance. In most instances, women who assess their qualifications for political office are actually over-qualified.
Female political representatives make the democratic system more visible and accessible to the public. A 2001 survey by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) discovered that female legislators are more closely affiliated with women’s rights advocacy organizations than male legislators and related men’s rights advocacy organizations (Arnesen & Peters, 2018). Moreover, women tend to establish cross-party relationships when advancing women’s issues. For example, the Women and Equalities Committee comprises members such as Labour Party’s Sarah Champion and Conservative Party’s Caroline Nokes. The connections with out-of-government civil organizations increase legislative attention to how laws are passed (Arnesen & Peters, 2018). In addition, cross party affiliations make the differences in party agendas more visible. The result is enhanced ability to demand institutional accountability and political access for marginalized groups. For instance, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has to be fair and accountable in its equality expenditures or risk legal ramifications initiated by the Women and Equalities Committee.
Women’s participation in politics encourages citizen confidence in the legitimacy of a democratic system. Female politicians tend to be perceived as honest and responsible compared to their male counterparts. The two attributes increase confidence in representative institutions (Anzia & Berry, 2011). The relationship between female participation and institutional legitimacy is also evident in business. Scientific evidence from the private sector outlines that gender balance in management significantly improves the accuracy and effectiveness of the decision-making process. Researchers often find a positive correlation between corporate performance and the degree of gender and racial equality (Profeta, 2017). Underlying cultural bias is another reason for the increased citizen confidence in female political representation. In most cultures, women feel the social pressure to work harder to prove themselves when elected to political office (Anzia & Berry, 2011). The summative public perception is female political representatives work harder without compromise, keep the government honest and respond better to government concerns.
The Impact of Female Political Representation on Women’s Position
Impact of Substantive Female Representation
Female political representatives have fought for women’s socioeconomic liberation since the European Suffrage Movement. Due to the inaction of relevant actors in the early 20th century, female leaders created suffragist organizations to pursue women’s agenda at the international level (Hughes & Paxton, 2019). Suffragettes in the United Kingdom were known for their radical methods, encouraging different forms of civil disobedience. For instance, Mrs Pankhurst of the Women’s Social and Political Union called for arson and hunger strikes across Britain (Marin, 2014). Suffrage movements influenced nearly all mid and late 20th-century feminist movements. For instance, leaders such as Clara Zetkin made the world aware of the connection between socialism and feminism, specifically how class was pitted against gender (Marin, 2014). Unfortunately, political representation in the suffrage era did not result in long-term changes due to ideological divisions between suffrage movements. Contemporary female leadership is more effective in its campaign for women’s empowerment.
Female political representation contributes substantially to improved female welfare and health. Medical and social studies highlight the importance of health in women’s empowerment (Marin, 2014). Improved health improves household income by negating medical expenditures. As aforementioned, female legislators prioritize bills that address women’s issues. Resultant policies touch on public health matters such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and early teenage pregnancies among many others. A 2016 report by Cambridge University finds that nations with gender quotas have an 8-11% increase in the number of skilled births (Profeta, 2017). The same study outlines that an increase of 1% in female political representation is associated with a reduction of five maternal deaths. The statistic equates to 80 fewer infant deaths per 100000 births (Profeta, 2017). The study concludes that female political representation improves access to prenatal care. The eradication of maternal mortality is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for female empowerment.
Female political representation enhances female education and empowerment for household and economic growth. Education and political representation have a directly proportional relationship (Hughes & Paxton, 2019). Girl literacy levels and economic growth are greatest in countries with a gender balance in government. For instance, in provinces like Uttah-Pradesh, where female representation stands at 14%, the literacy rate is 63%. In West Bengal, where female representation is only 10%, the literacy rate is relatively lower at 60% (Chaurasia, 2022). Uttah-Pradesh has slightly better living standards than West Bengal. A lack of female education is often cited as a barrier to female political representation. On the other hand, high literacy and education levels are considered critical conditions for economic development (Chaurasia, 2022). Female leaders advocate for better education policies because progress towards female empowerment will only be attained through high rates of literacy and education amongst girls.
Female political leadership has helped address systemic bias, helping women access more employment opportunities and financial services. The OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) indicates reduced levels of discrimination in families and institutions in countries where women have more political influence (Apap et al. 2019). The index also outlines that increased female political representation enhances access to property and financial services. For instance, SIGI gives South Africa a score of 5 for restricted access to finance compared to Cameroon’s 65. South Africa has the greatest number of female members of parliament in Africa (49%) compared to Cameroon (23%) (Apap et al. 2019). The country with more women in political office provides more equitable access to financial services. As a result, women contribute more to South Africa’s economic growth.
Impact of Descriptive Female Representation
Female political representation has increased women’s political participation and influence on national governance systems. Recent research shows that female legislators act as role models for other women. High visibility of U.K. female ministers is associated with a stronger effect on electoral participation and party membership (Hughes & Paxton, 2019). An increase in the number of women in the Cabinet led to an increase in petition signing, strikes and boycotts among women (Liu & Banszak, 2016). The study suggests female ministerial representation is different from parliamentary representation due to its influence on various forms of political participation. Ministers have higher political visibility, which enhances their ability to inspire different female political roles. Past literature associated a lack of ambition in women with less likelihood to run for office (Liu & Banszak, 2016). Female role models improve descriptive representation, motivating more women to identify opportunities for political success.
Increased female representation is changing the perception of women and their ability to hold high political positions. In each election year, the gender gap in political aspirants greatly reduces. The increased female exposure will improve voter perceptions and expectations of female representatives (Liu & Banszak, 2016). Women will begin to be seen as more experienced and capable. Sociopolitical mobility will be a spillover effect of the heightened female political exposure. Female candidates will be voted up from their initial positions, improving gender quotas. The resultant outcome is a greater level of political influence at the national level (Liu & Banszak, 2016). In retrospect, an increase in the number of women in politics implies greater opportunities to address female legislative priorities. As a result, the implications of female political representation will become more visible. Such a possible scenario outlines why society has to increase its support of women in leadership.
What More Needs to be Done
Political parties should actively recruit women from minority backgrounds using non-traditional networks. A common theme in the literature on female representation is the low number of women aspiring for political positions (Chaurasia, 2022). Political parties and individual donors should design strategies that encourage a rise in the number of women on ballots. Increasing party funding for female candidates can be a way to motivate more women into political candidacy.
Elections should negate systemic discrimination by reducing the role of big money. Women are significantly underrepresented among major political donors because most rich people are men (Liu & Banszak, 2016). Moreover, male donors will outspend female donors due to the gender pay gap. As a result, female aspirants typically perceive a reduced possibility of electoral success. Elections can implement small public funding to level the battleground for all aspiring candidates.
Governments should increase the salaries and wages offered to public service workers. Successful businesswomen tend not to run for office due to lower living wages (Anzia & Berry, 2011). States should offer incomes that allow women without independent means or successful careers to pursue positions in public service. The salary packages should be at least the same as the federal median household income. Higher incomes will incentivize more women to run for political candidacy.
Sexual and gender discrimination has to be rooted in political campaigns to establish a strong list of female candidates. Political candidates must establish standards for interactions during campaigns to prevent sexist and racist remarks (Liu & Banszak, 2016). A long-running culture of equality, equity and respect among politicians will incentivize women to take up more roles across the political pipeline.
The issue of representation remains at the core of discussions regarding the functions and behaviours of the legislature. The concept is commonly taken for granted in democratic systems despite its influence on political legitimacy. Voters need to know who their political representatives are because they determine the ideologies applied in decision-making institutions. With this understanding of political leadership, society should apply representation to increase the number of women in politics. Increased female political representation promises to improve the efficiency of governance and gender equity. Further research is required on how women experience politics and how they navigate partisan polarization. Race and gender should also be assessed on how they interplay in legislative institutions. The objective is to increase female political representation to enhance women legislators’ influence, visibility, and legacy.
Anzia, S. & Berry, C. (2011). The Jackie and Jill Robinson effect: Why do congresswomen outperform congressmen? The American Journal of Political Science, 55(3), 478-493.
Apap, J., Claros, E. & Zamfir, L. (2019). Women in politics: A global perspective. European Parliamentary Research Service.
Arnesen, S. & Peters, Y. (2018). The legitimacy of representation: How descriptive, formal and responsive representation affect the acceptability of political decisions. Comparative Political Studies, 51(7), 868-899.
Blumenau, J. (2019). The effects of female leadership on women’s voice in political debate. British Journal of Political Science, 51(2), 1-71.
Chaurasia, K. (2022, January 29). The link between education and participation of women in politics. Observer Research Foundation. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/link-between-education-and-participation-of-women-in-politics/
Hughes, M. M. & Paxton, P. (2019). Chapter 3: The political representation of women over time. In Susan Franceschet et al.’s The Palgrave Handbook of Women’s Political Rights. Palgrave MacMillan U.K.
Liu, S. S. & Banaszak, A. (2016). Do government positions held by women matter? A cross-national examination of female minister’s impact on women’s political participation. Politics & Gender, 13(1).
Marin, R. R. (2014). The achievement of female suffrage in Europe on women’s citizenship. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 12(1), 4-34.
Profeta, P. (2017). Gender equality in decision making: The efficiency gains. Intereconomics: Review of European Economic Policy, 52(1), 34-37.
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