Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Big Jumps in Women's Presence in Parliaments: Are These Sufficient for Improving Beliefs in Women's Ability to Govern?

Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Big Jumps in Women's Presence in Parliaments: Are These Sufficient for Improving Beliefs in Women's Ability to Govern?

Article excerpt


Since the mid-1990s, across the globe, quota legislation has fostered a breakthrough pattern in women's representation. Upon adopting quotas for women in national parliaments, more than twenty countries have made a historic leap, establishing what has been termed the "big jump pattern" (Paxton and Hughes 2013: 75)1. These countries have seen exceptional spikes in women's representation with an average increase of 16 percent in women's presence in parliaments from one or two elections to the next2. This spike is unmatched, for instance, among countries with the most consistent improvements in women's presence over the last 50 years3.

This article builds on the symbolic effects literature with a unique test of big jumps on beliefs in women's ability to govern. For the first time, I subject the relationship between change in women's presence in parliament and change in beliefs in women's ability to govern to a test of sufficiency. Tests of sufficiency assume that "when a sufficient cause is present, the outcome will always also be present" (Mahoney 2000: 392). I evaluate whether an increase in beliefs in women's ability to govern is present after a big jump in two key cases for which the pre and posttest attitudinal data from thousands of individuals are available: Iraq and Spain4.

This focus has three benefits. First, more cross-national, longitudinal evidence is needed to confirm the effect of change in women's presence on beliefs in women's ability to govern. Second, the big jump pattern has key methodological advantages. In this pattern there is a powerful increase in what was in some cases stagnate or in other cases slow, sequential growth in women's descriptive representation from one or few elections to the next in the same country. Thus, we are in a unique position to 'naturally' isolate the effect of the jump on the belief in women's ability to govern and conduct a sufficiency test through longitudinal within case comparisons across several thousand individuals.

Third, this article's focus has important policy implications. Confirming this sufficiency test across any cases with the big jump pattern is valuable for international and national policymakers interested in improving women's political leadership. The big jump pattern is largely driven by the adoption of policies that aggressively, effectively target gender gaps in parliaments. Indeed, several big jump countries have seen the adoption of female quota legislation prior to their jumps. Thus, the question of whether big jumps are sufficient for improvements in beliefs in women's ability to govern forms part of a broader line of research that tries to understand the effects of women's quota legislation on a variety of forms of political representation (descriptive, symbolic, substantive).

I analyze the Iraqi and Spanish cases with multivariate models run on the responses of 5026 Iraqis and 2411 Spaniards to surveys administered over the two points in time: pre and post jump. Before turning to the analysis, I discuss the symbolic representation literature, introduce theories that rival symbolic representation as an explanation of beliefs concerning women's ability to govern, and describe my sample, data, methods and results.

The Literature Review

The Symbolic Effects of Women's Presence in Parliaments

A key mode of gender socialization is role-modeling. According to Bussy and Bandura (1999: 685), "A great deal of genderlinked behavior is exemplified by models in one's immediate environment such as parents and peers, and significant persons in social, educational and occupational contexts." Male and female role models send powerful signals on what is possible given one's gender. Depending on the gender equality or inequality in modeled behaviors, individuals develop weaker or stronger sex-typed expectations that govern their perception of their ability to perform those behaviors. In cases of gender inequality, a sheer lack of role models perpetuates a vicious, supportive exchange between sexist beliefs and inequality in role models that maintains or even strengthens the discouragement of one of the genders from participation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.