Structuring Representation: Women's Access to Political Power Across the World

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					p o l i t i c s                                                         Features




                        Structuring Representation
                        Women’s Access to Political Power Across the World
                                                                                                  richard e. Matland
e n g e n d e r i n g




                        O
                                        n March 9, 2010, the upper house of
                                        Parliament in India, the world’s largest           RichaRd E. Matland is helen houlahan
                                        democracy, passed a constitutional                 Rigali chair in Political Science at loyola Uni-
                                        amendment to reserve one-third of the              versity chicago. he is co-editor of Women’s Ac-
                                        seats in Parliament and State Assemblies           cess to Political Power in Post-Communist Europe
                        for women. The lower house and at least half of the                (Oxford University Press, 2003).
                        states must approve the constitutional amendment for it
                        to go into effect. If adopted, the amendment would more
                        than triple the number of women in Parliament from               the adoption of quotas, while other countries have made
                        the present modest level of 10.8 percent. This would             no advances at all.
                        catapult India from number 128 of the 186 countries
                        tracked by the Inter-Parliamentary Union to one of the           Historical Roots
                        top 15 countries in the world. The move is indicative of              The march toward greater representation of women
                        the dramatic increase in women’s representation that can         in government suggests similarities to the first mass-based
                        happen when there is political will to deal with the issue.      women’s movement, the suffrage movement. Women first
                        Such political will is increasingly common and has led to a      received the right to vote nationwide in New Zealand
                        move in many countries to adopt quotas to insure greater         in 1893, followed by Australia (1902), Finland (1906),
                        representation of women. While increases in women’s              Denmark (1915), and Norway (1915). A team of sociolo-
                        representation have been rising at an incremental pace in        gists led by Francisco Ramirez studying suffrage across
                        much of the industrialized world, the pace has been much         133 countries over 100 years found a sharp distinction in
                        more chaotic and dramatic in the developing world, with          suffrage adoption between two time periods. In the first
                        many countries making dramatic leaps forward through             period, from 1890 to 1930, internal factors were key to de-

                         46   H A R v A R D I N T e R N A T I O N A l R e v I e W • Spring 2010
                                                     Features




                                                                                                                                   StRUctURing REPRESEntatiOn
termining whether a country adopted suffrage. Important            or the parliament. We also consider what factors impede
variables were Western culture, strong national women’s            or ease access to these offices.
movements, and a high level of welfare state development.
At this time the behavior of neighboring countries was             It’s Lonely at the Top
largely irrelevant. In the second period, and especially after     The first woman elected as her country’s leader was
World War II, the key factors changed. The strength of        Sirimavo Bandaranaike who served as the prime minister
the women’s movement inside the country became largely        of Sri lanka three separate times. The first time was from
irrelevant. Instead, what mattered is whether the countries   1960 to 1965, when, after taking over the leadership of the
in the region around a state had adopted suffrage and what    Sri lanka Freedom Party from her assassinated husband,
the overall international picture looked like. Ramirez sug-   she led the party to victory. Since then, women leaders have
gests in this later period votes for women became part of     served as either president or prime minister in a smatter-
the internationally defined norm for citizenship. Countries   ing of countries. The number of women serving as head
that became free after World War II overwhelmingly            of government at any one time reached an all time high
adopted constitutions providing for universal suffrage.       of eleven heads of states for five months in 2009. Since
Internal debates in existing countries moved toward           then, four of those eleven leaders of government have
providing suffrage as part of defining oneself as a modern    resigned or been voted out of office and only one new
international state. There was a conscious desire to mimic    female leader has come to power. If we consider all female
the existi
				
DOCUMENT INFO
Description: On March 9, 2010, the upper house of Parliament in India, the world's largest democracy, passed a constitutional amendment to reserve one-third of the seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women. If adopted, the amendment would more than triple the number of women in Parliament from the present modest level of 10.8%. While increases in women's representation have been rising at an incremental pace in much of the industrialized world, the pace has been much more chaotic and dramatic in the developing world, with many countries making dramatic leaps forward through the adoption of quotas, while other countries have made no advances at all. While there have been significant gains for women, there remains a large number of countries where there has been little movement. Women's representation is particularly low in the Middle East and among the Pacific Island states.
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