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Copyright © 1999 SAGE Publications
WINNER OF THE 1998 PARTY POLITICS GRADUATE PRIZE RESEARCH NOTE
WOMEN’S REPRESENTATION IN PARLIAMENT The Role of Political Parties Miki Caul ABSTRACT
Parties vary substantially in the proportion of women they send to parliament. I examine how party characteristics affect women’s representation in the parliamentary parties of 12 advanced industrial nations over time. Four party-level factors have some explanatory power: organizational structure, ideology, women party activists and gender-related candidate rules. A temporal sequence is proposed in which these factors and electoral rules directly and indirectly affect women’s representation. Women party activists and gender-related rules are the more direct mechanisms affecting women’s legislative representation. Further, New Left values and high levels of women activists within the party both enhance the likelihood that gender-related candidate rules will be implemented.
K E Y W O R D S ! gender quotas ! political parties ! women’s representation
Women are still under-represented in the parliaments of all advanced industrial democracies. In 1997 women averaged only 12 percent of the membership of national parliaments worldwide (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 1997). Thus, women particip
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ate little in the national decision-making process and this under-representation also exists at lower levels of government. The severe under-representation of one-half of the population not only limits the diversity of parliaments but also contradicts one of the central tenets of representative democracy. Virtually all prior comparative empirical research has focused on nationallevel patterns of women’s parliamentary representation. A national-level analysis overlooks the fact that individual parties vary greatly in the proportion of women MPs within each nation. Parties differ in the number of women they nominate, where they rank women on party lists, and the proportion of women that they send to parliament. Parties are the real gatekeepers to elected office (Norris and Lovenduski, 1995; Norris, 1996). Because they play such an important role in the composition of parliament, we must understand how parties differ in encouraging or discouraging women’s access to parliament. This paper analyzes party-level variation in women’s representation in parliament. By treating the party as the unit of analysis, rather than the nation, we can isolate the role of the party in promoting women. Prior research on this topic has concentrated on case studies of individual parties or national party systems. With a small number of cases it is difficult to disentangle the interrelated effects of party characteristics. This study of parties in 12 advanced industrial democracies enables research to go beyond these prior studies and determine which party characteristics are conducive to the parliamentary representation of women. In addition, examining the representation of women can also provide insight into two larger questions. First, which party characteristics may enable parties to increase the descriptive representation of other under-represented groups? Second, how can those same characteristics influence a party’s ability to adapt to political pressures generated from new social conflicts?
Examining Party-Level Differences This study systematically examines four general party characteristics that have been hypothesized to affect the proportion of women MPs: a party’s organizational structure, its ideology, the proportion of women party activists, and party gender-related representation rules. Party Organization Three aspects of party organizational structure