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POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY GENDER AND REPRESENTATION 'Since men and women's political attitudes and behaviour do not differ in any significant way, the under-representation of women in legislatures is irrelevant.' Do you agree?
Introduction Different priorities/voting patterns/political behaviour Social Structures Partisan relationships Ideological The System - open to women?
Conclusion The Public Consequences of Private Inequality - APSR 91: Burns, Nancy et al
- Studies whether women, if unequal at home, can be equal politically. Men are politically empowered by household financial control.
- Time pressures upon women, namely dual employment and family roles, limit their ability to engage in political activity.
- The resources that facilitate political activity, including education, income, and civic skills, operate similarly across genders, but women have fewer of them1.
- The study found that, on average, men and women had the same amount of free time - 6 hours per day - irrespective of patterns of employment and household chores.
- Unexpectedly, women who contribute a higher proportion of household income, and exercise control over how it is spent, do not exhibit significantly higher participation rates. However, those who command relatively high respect do engage more. Men are seemingly unaffected politically by household dynamics2.
- The biggest drivers of women's political participation are education, income, and political interest, followed by domestic structures.
- Control over resources matters for men; belief in equality matters for women. Are Labour women MPs 'acting for' women? Parliamentary Affairs 55: S. Childs
- The British general election of 1997 saw 101 women elected as Labour MPs; 65 were elected for the first time in this selection. Their behaviour since the election has been constantly scrutinised. They have voted disproportionately with the government, and have been depicted as blindly loyal. One particular issue, the vote on the cut in lone parent allowance in autumn 1997, which disproportionately affected women, saw only one of the 65 new female MPs rebel. This, Childs argues, represents what is generally considered to be the moment that they failed to act for women.
- Yet, voting behaviour is only one way of examining whether female representatives act for woman; another approach is to ask those representatives, as Reingold suggests, whether basic to represent women substantively or not. Half of female Labour MPs felt that their very presence in Parliament enabled the articulation of women's concerns, whilst one 3rd felt that their presence in the constituency helped facilitate access by women constituents and the articulation of a feminised agenda.
- Nearly 2/3 of the female MPs interviewed argued that Labour women MPs articulated women's concerns; they specified violence against women, opportunities for woman, child care, caring, breast cancer and emergency contraception.
- Some MPs made a direct link between their presence and the responsiveness of the government regarding women's concerns; one argued that if it was not for the large numbers of women, then 1 The Public Consequences of Private Inequality - APSR 91: Burns, Nancy et al 2 The Public Consequences of Private Inequality - APSR 91: Burns, Nancy et al
the childcare strategy would not have had the funding it was eventually given. Furthermore, another MP argued that without those 101 women MPs, the imperative to act upon women's issues simply would not have been there. Another argued that it was the culmination of years of female activism within the Labour Party.
- Interviews with the 7 Labour female MPs who served on select committees provide a number of illustrative examples. Of the 2 MPs who had been on the education committee, one emphasised how the male members of the committee had regarded the investigation into school meals and early years education with suspicion, and the other emphasised the importance of a strong labour woman's presence on the Select committee. This was due to the fact that the female perspective would now no longer be seen as left field, but as mainstream.
- Previous research had established that nearly one 3rd of the interviewed new intake of Labour female MPs felt that women constituents access them in greater numbers because they shared gender identity. Childs assesses this, and argues the extent to which the perceived change has been maintained. There are 2 main dimensions to increased constituency access for women: individual access for female constituents and increased access for women's organisations.
* Over half the MPs considered that women constituents access them in greater numbers than their male predecessors, particularly through constituency surgeries.
* Similarly, a colleague felt that it was because she was both a woman and a Labour MP that there was a greater propensity of women and women's organisations to access her. In addition, 5 MPs considered that it reflected women's greater propensity to be responsible for the concerns that require MPs assistants and because women are at the centre of the family and of disadvantaged communities.
- Yet, Childs argues that this data is problematic, as it fails to record how male Labour MPs act for women; whilst the female MPs interviewed argue that they are often worse than women, this is perhaps anecdotal.
- Childs concludes that, whilst they have not always been successful, the 1997 intake of female MPs have sought to act for women. However, rejecting the critical mass thesis (which focuses purely upon the number of female MPs), and considering the safe spaces thesis (which argues that there must be space in which feminised analysis may be freely articulated), we can see that both party and gender identities are important element of the substantive representation of women by women. There is a link between women's descriptive and substantive representation3. Do Women Need Women Representatives? BGPS 40: Campbell, Childs, and Lovenduski
- Pitkin describes substantive representation as acting in the interests of the represented in a manner that is responsive to them, whilst substantive representation is considered as 'policy responsiveness'. Women are therefore thought to be substantively represented when deliberations regarding public policy consider the impact upon groups of women. Descriptive representation occurs when representatives only mirror the backgrounds of the represented.
- The sex of parliamentarians may not necessarily matter as long as the views of men and women are fairly represented.
- The ability of descriptive representation to enable a degree of substantive representation is generally accepted; Dovi argues that there are 2 supports in the case for woman's descriptive representation.
Firstly, the transformative argument, which predicts that increasing women's presence will transform politics by improving democratic functioning of legislatures; the assumption is that female representatives will behave in a more democratic fashion, and will pay more attention to political inequalities than men. Secondly, the 'overlooked interests' argument is that male representatives are simply not always aware of how policy affects female citizens. Thus, a single token female is insufficient to guarantee substantive representation of women; Weldon argues that the presence of individual or loan women is insufficient to
3 Are Labour women MPs 'acting for' women? Parliamentary Affairs 55: S. Childs
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