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Women And Their Role In Society Politics Essay

In this article I test the effect of the economic downturn on the number of seats that are being held by women in national parliaments. Indeed, the pure essence of democracy implies that in the ideal world there should not be human rights abuses, child labor, gender inequalities etc. Moreover, as countries all over the world continue to grow economically and their societies and political structures become more democratized, it is expected that the number of women participating in politics and decision – making processes is going to grow steadily. But is it really the case nowadays? In addition to that, the effect of the World Financial Crisis, which started in 2008, on the support from public for a female member of the national parliaments is also unclear. In other words, did the financial crisis destabilize the support from voters for women or did it actually increase the belief that female members of the parliaments can bring changes? This paper is going to show that the general effect of the crisis on the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments is unclear and more investigations would be required.

Gender equality and specifically the need for women’s presence in politics are very debatable topics. Some people, who support the increase in the number of women in parliaments, argue that females have a specific way of thinking that may resolve or attract public attention to serious issues. Furthermore, it is argued that women’s logic incorporated with male’s cognitive thinking can make the decision – making process more efficient. Moreover, equal participation of women in power and decision - making process alongside men is one of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations organization. On the other hand, after the recent financial crisis and ongoing recession there are some critics who consider that women should not participate in politics and that this sphere should be dominated by males. As a result, it can be seen that the topic discussed in this article is quite important and actual, thus it makes sense to pay attention to it.

Women and their role in society

First of all, I think it is worthwhile to describe how the role of woman changed in society and how women finally entered politics, which was thought to be a pure male sphere. Many historians argue today that the World War II was the turning point, after which the role of women in society changed dramatically. Due to the fact that most of the capable men were subscribed to the army and front, women now started to replace them at factories, farms etc. Indeed, this was the beginning after which women became the part of the working force on the equal rights alongside men. After the war itself, the position of women in labor force only strengthened. Because, millions of families lost their husbands, father, brothers and sons, who were the main breadwinners before the outbreak of the war, women now became the main source of income for families and children. Even though female part of the population now started to play an important role in society, in the sphere of politics women did not advance much for a long time. For instance, in 1893 New Zealand was the first country to give a right for women to vote on elections. However, it was an exception for many decades as other countries did not follow the New Zealand’s example. Furthermore, Finland in 1906 was the first country in the world to give women a right to vote and stand on elections, but again it was the only case and took around 50-80 years more for women in other countries to gain the same right (Shvedova, 1998).

Many political scientists and historians spent huge amount of time studying the role of women in politics and obstacles they face with in various countries. Several of them focused on women in politics at specific regions, such as Middle East, Africa and Islamic countries (Nichols, 2012; Devlin and Elgie, 2008; Ayata and Tutuncu, 2008; Bano, 2009) and on the difference between two areas of representation: substantive or descriptive and the number seats held by women (Karp and Banducci, 2008; Dabelko and Herrnson, 1997; Campbell and Wolbrecht, 2006). Others mostly discussed about different obstacles women face with in local and national parliaments (Freedman, 2002; Shvedova, 1998; Ruedin, 2010) and some researchers discussed the link between number of women in parliaments and age of democracy, electoral system etc. (Wangnerud, 2009; Stockemer, 2009) Furthermore, several well – known institutions such as the UN, World Bank and OECD conducted several useful researches on the issue of women that represent voters in national parliaments. All of the aforementioned researches prove the fact that there is a large attention to the issue of women in politics from the public. Indeed, this attention is understandable and logical, as gender equality is very important concept in pro – Western type of democracy and various spheres of influence, and politics is not exclusion.

Obstacles that women face with in politics

It is not a secret that in most of the countries, ignoring the fact whether it is democratic or authoritarian type of governing, patriarchy dominates the society. Although nowadays more and more attention is brought to gender equality and the role of women in society the patriarchic system is still preserved. Thus, women face with lots of cultural, financial and moral barriers in many areas. In politics females generally face with two types of obstacles: sociological and economic. For instance, Nichols (2012) argues that women in most cases have not got sufficient funds to run a successful campaign and there is a lack of support from their political parties. In addition to that, the author points out on the fact that the antagonistic nature of elections and competition between political parties also play a huge role that interferes to the advancements of women in politics. Another research that was made by Shvedova (1998) also concludes that generally women who try to enter political institutions or parties face with “political, public, cultural and social environment, which is unfriendly and even hostile to them”. Furthermore, the author describes such obstacles as lack of access to good education for women, the complex nature of electoral system, huge burden of domestic tasks and general perception of women that politics is always dirty and pure masculine sphere. So the question arises: What can be done or what is currently being done to make the advancement of females in politics much easier? Most of the authors that I reviewed described the policy of giving quotas for women in national parliaments. In other words, during the elections to the parliament there are some seats that are reserved for women only. In most cases quota is assigned for about 10% - 30% of seats in the parliament. Indeed, it is widely argued that this policy is one of the most efficient policies, which makes sure that sufficient number of women is elected to the national and local parliaments. In fact, there is statistical support and evidences that prove the fact that this policy is very successful. For example, Shvedova (1998) stresses that after introduction of such kind of law in Argentina women now constantly became a part of the decision – making process. On the other hand, there were some cases when the quota policy was removed from the legislature. For instance, the expiry of law in April 2001 in Bangladesh immediately led to a significant drop in the number of women in the parliament from 10% to 2% (Shvedova, 1998). As a result, it is possible to argue that quota policy is the most efficient tool so far that was suggested to keep sufficient percent of women in parliaments.

Women representation in parliaments and types of electoral system

In addition to various types of obstacles that hamper women to be represented in parliaments, there are some other factors that influence females, such as age of democracy, type of electoral system and the economic situation in the country. The study conducted by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in 2011 proves the fact that in different types of electoral system women actually get various numbers of seats. As a result, in parliaments that used proportional representation women got 22.6% of seats, which is the highest result among all types of electoral system. In plurality-majority representation and in mixed representation systems females got around 18.1% and 19%, respectively. The basic reason is that in proportional electoral system, parties have a huge incentive to include as many female candidates as possible, because seats in the parliaments are allocated according to the proportion of votes each party receives from their voters. The research conducted by Ruedin (2010) also shows that there are more women elected to the parliaments in PR systems compared to mixed and plurality – majority system. In addition to that the author points out on the interesting fact that the left – wing parties used to have more women than right-wing parties, but this tendency nowadays is no longer noticed. Currently, both right wing and left wing parties are trying to include almost equal number of female candidates on the elections. Another interesting feature that had an effect on female representation was the age and maturation of the democracy in the country. In other words, the longer country has had a democratic regime, the more women would be represented in national parliament. However, the findings of several political scientists did not go along with the theory. In fact, Wangnerud (2009) and Stockemer (2009) could not find evidences that there is a direct link between the maturation of democracy and representation of women. Relatedly, it was found that the democratization process in the Eastern Europe actually led to the decrease in the number of seats held by women, at least at the beginning (Stockemer, 2009). Furthermore, the type of transition also had an important impact on women representation in parliaments. In particular, the transition from communism to democracy resulted in the decrease of female representatives. Surprisingly, the transition from racial dictatorial regimes to democracy led to the increase in number of female legislators. Examples of such transition include Rwanda and South Africa where number of women increased dramatically after the adoption of new democratic constitutions (Stockemer, 2009). Indeed, Rwanda is currently the country with the highest women representation in the world with 48.75% (OECD, 2006). And finally, the research conducted by the World Bank in 2009 found that during the times of financial crisis women are severely hurt, mainly because of their low representation in national parliaments. In addition to that “women’s share in the labor force is often found to be associated with the proportion of women in the parliament” (Ruedin, 2010). Thus, in times of recession and economic downturn it can be expected that the number of female legislators is going to fall, as women unemployment is going to increase.

Theory and hypothesis

The main theory that is discussed in this article is about how economic downturn affects women in politics. More specifically my hypothesis is about how the change in unemployment rate during the recession (independent variable) affected the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (dependent variable). In my opinion, there should be some causal relationship between these variables. In fact, as was mentioned above there are some evidences that women unemployment affects female representation in parliaments. Time period that is discussed in this paper is from 2006 and 2011. The main intention was to capture the unemployment rate and number of seats in the parliaments two years before and after the financial crisis. Furthermore, in order to make my research more accurate I decided to control my study for three other variables that might have an impact on my dependent variable. Thus, control variables that were used in this research are: political participation index, ethnic diversification (fractionalization) and type of electoral system. Certainly, all of these three variables may have an effect on the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments, thus by taking them into account in my study I focus on the pure effect of the change in unemployment rates in different countries.

Data and Methods

First of all, I selected the list of democratic countries from the United Nations web site. I selected only countries with democratic regime because there is no reason to study women representation in authoritarian countries as anyway there will not be sufficient amount of women in parliaments there. In addition to that elections that are held in non-democratic countries cannot be counted as honest and transparent enough, thus women do not have big chances to be elected to the parliaments. After finding the list of about 70 democratic countries I needed to choose only 50 of them randomly. Therefore, I used the web site (www.random.org) to randomly select 50 countries out of the list. Next, by using the World Bank statistics I gathered needed data for selected countries. In addition to that the United Nations web site was used to gather data for control variables.

My next step was to organize the gathered data and create one table in Excel program. Firstly, I conducted descriptive analysis (Table 1), which provided the complete information about each of my variables (average, sum, minimum, maximum etc.). After that my main method for analyzing the data was the regression analysis. I conducted two analyzes: bivariate regression output, which included just independent and dependent variables (Table 2), and multivariate regression output, which included independent, dependent and control variables (Table 3).

Findings

Descriptive analysis (Table 1) shows that in 2006 average unemployment rate in selected 50 counties was around 7.5%. Moreover, in 2010 there was an increase in the average level of unemployment rate, which was equal to 9%. The same positive trend can be seen in the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. It increased from 21.5% in 2006 to 24% in 2011. Thus, provided data shows that there might be a positive relationship between unemployment rate and representation of women in parliaments. However, the bivariate regression analysis (Table 2) shows that in fact there may be a negative relationship between the independent and dependent variables. Indeed, the slope of the equation is equal to -0.15, which shows that there might be weak negative relationship between the unemployment rate and women representation. The reason why it is not possible to say that there is a negative relationship for sure is that: firstly, the magnitude of the slope is not strong (slope of -1 would show that there is a strong negative relationship); secondly, I could not reject the null hypothesis. Indeed, the inclusion of zero in the 95% confidence interval forces me to accept the null hypothesis, thus accept the possibility that there may be no relationship between independent and dependent variables at all.

Multivariate regression analysis (Table 3), which also included control variables into account, also shows that there may be a negative relationship between unemployment rate level and representation of women in parliaments, controlling for other variables. In addition to that there may be a negative relationship between the type of electoral system and female representation (slope is equal to -0.5). Indeed, this relationship shows that there are more women in proportional systems compared to other types of electoral system, and in fact this correlates with the statistics and studies described before. The interesting part is that there is a possibility for positive relationships between the effect of political participation and ethnic diversity on women representation. Therefore, in countries where people participate more in political life and elections and in countries where there are more ethnicities - there are more women in the parliaments. The slopes are 0.6 and 1.3, respectively. However, again because in all cases zero was included in 95% confidence interval it cannot be concluded for sure that there are relationships between three control variables and independent variable.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper showed that there might be negative relation between the independent and dependent variables. In other words, increase in unemployment rates would lead to a decrease in number of women in national parliaments during the crisis. Moreover, there is a possibility for negative relation between the type of electoral system and female representation and positive relations between political participation, ethnic diversity and number of women in parliaments. Unfortunately, because in all analyzes it was not possible to reject the null hypothesis, I am not sure whether the relations described above really exist. However, there is still a possibility that the results that I have got are correct. Indeed, it possible that if this research would be done again several times the outcome might be different. Thus, more investigations are needed to make a concrete conclusion about the effect of the crisis on the women representation in national parliaments.

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