Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Formal Institutions and Women's Electoral Representation in Four European Countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Formal Institutions and Women's Electoral Representation in Four European Countries: Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands

Article excerpt


Women occupy a unique position in both the household and in society, especially in the political sphere. Women's unique attributes and experiences place them in a disparate position compared to their male counterparts (Kia, 2000). The patriarchal perceptions that a woman's primary roles are childbearing, childrearing, and homework have been altered in some societies, albeit slowly, as the international community, including the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have taken initiatives to promote women's presence and involvement in the sociopolitical arena such as the gender-training program by the EU and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (European Parliament, 2008; United Nations, 2014). Likewise, some countries, such as Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal have legalized electoral quotas for women in the parliament and other elective positions within the government (European Parliament, 2008). Thus, the movement towards greater women's involvement in the public sphere has begun and is growing in Europe.

The subject matter of this paper is to produce evidence that formal institutions, such as electoral and internal party quotas, can advance women's active roles in the public sphere. The European Union has set certain goals for the advancement of participation among women. These include creating a more conducive and innovative environment for encouraging women's involvement in policy-formulating and decision-making bodies (European Parliament, 2008). The significance of this research to is to prove that institutions help achieve greater political equality among men and women in selected European countries.

The overall research question in this study is: "Do formal institutions, such as electoral quotas and internal party quotas, affect the level of women's electoral participation in Europe, particularly in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands?" The specific research questions are: 1.) What are the factors that affect women's political participation in these countries? 2) What percentage of the parliament is composed of women? 3) Does the presence of electoral and internal party quotas affect the number of women in parliament? and 4) Does the presence of electoral and internal quotas affect the number of women in decision-making bodies?

The dataset analyzed in this study was provided by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) of the University of Chicago. It is based on a research conducted from 2008-2010 covering 329 political party lists in 26 countries. For this study, only four countries were included: Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Theoretical and Conceptual Understanding of Women's Political Location in Europe

Theoretical Framework: Feminist Institutionalism

In the field of politics today, gender plays an important role in the realm of political change. Since gender equality has increasingly become a factor in the discourses on democracy and justice (include EU report in citation), a feminist institutional framework provides a heuristic tool in the analysis of the interaction of formal and informal rules with the politics of gender relations (Mackay et al., 2010). Institutions are concerned with legal processes and formal procedures with which these changes in gender relations are brought about or hampered. In other words, "institutions determine the rules of the political game" (Lake, 2006, p. 765). From the perspective of institutional feminism, institutions can either reinforce or eliminate unequal power relations between genders.

It is a rare discourse in institutional politics to cover gender as a crucial dimension in achieving a broader institutional goal for society's development. It is feminism that takes into consideration the dimension of gender in political processes. Feminism's clamor for gender equality is a response to the inability of institutional apparatuses to accommodate women into the public sphere. …

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