Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Women in Motion: Female Representation in the Rio Grande Do Sul State Legislative Assembly

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Women in Motion: Female Representation in the Rio Grande Do Sul State Legislative Assembly

Article excerpt

Introduction

The present article aims to contribute to the study of women's participation in political representation bodies, focused on the particular view of the feminist critique of democracy as a regime that reproduces sexual inequalities, among other forms of discrimination. For this purpose, we present an array of reflections which are backed by research conducted in the Rio Grande do Sul State Assembly, based on which some aspects of women's parliamentary participation are perceptible that merit the attention of those interested in the theme.

In the early twentieth century few national States guaranteed political rights to women. With the exception of some federative states of the United States, only New Zealand (1883) and Australia (1901) allowed women to vote (Therborn 2006). Yet, little by little other national states started to allow women to enjoy the right to vote. In Brazil, even though the 1891 Constitution set forth that every literate citizen was entitled to vote, women were only granted the right to vote in 1932, mostly as a result of the struggle of the suffragette movement, which had emerged in the country in the previous decades.

Despite breakthroughs in terms of electoral rights for women, which have been endorsed by all Western democracies, problems still abound regarding women's political representation, as research studies underscore the fact that women are underrepresented in the main local, regional, and local political structures (Álvares 2008; Araújo 2001; Avelar 2001; CEPAL 2007; Htun 2001; Pinto 2010; Prá 1996; Reis 2010; Tabak 2002, among others). Moreover, low percentages in terms of women participation in the body of political representatives eventually contributes "(...) to perpetuate the conditions for keeping them away, thus reaffirming the public sphere - and the political, in particular - as male territory" (Miguel 2010, 28).

In an attempt to contribute to the broader debate on women's political inclusion in Western societies, this article draws on two analytical dimensions. Firstly, we focus on elements surrounding the discussion about democracy by building on some women theorists' critique of liberal democracy. Secondly, we present data still little disseminated about women representation in the Rio Grande do Sul state legislature in order to illustrate the problem of sexual inequality in the field of legislative politics.

Building on the assumption that women are discriminated against in national parliamentary bodies in several countries, a fact that has been widely demonstrated by the specialized literature, we intend to show how this relation occurs in social spaces that have already been sufficiently investigated, namely the regional legislative level. Based on a research problem driven by an empirical curiosity regarding how sexual inequality is replicated in the various parliamentary spaces, we have found an array of data that illustrate women representation, or rather, women representation deficits in the Rio Grande do Sul state legislature.

In itself the information gathered does not suffice to explain the causal determinants of women's political underrepresentation, an inquiry transcending the purposes of this text, yet it provides a wealth of support material to deepen inquiry into these issues. Furthermore, the data point to differences regarding the election of parliamentarians in the diverse representation bodies, furthering the understanding of the problem as a process where the national parliament is just the tip of a chain reaction that is already present in subnational political arenas. In order to develop this analysis the text is subdivided into three parts. In the first part we approach the main critiques feminist authors make of liberal democracy, assigning special emphasis to the debate on the exclusion of women from the world of politics not only as a result of the institutional organization of modern political life - to which they propose political representation alternatives -, but also stemming from the strengthening of barriers between the public and the private spheres, a phenomenon regarded by many feminist authors as at the core of gender inequality. …

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