Electoral System and Gender Representation in Sub-National Legislatures: Is There a National-Sub-National Gender Gap?

By Vengroff, Richard; Nyiri, Zsolt et al. | Political Research Quarterly, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Electoral System and Gender Representation in Sub-National Legislatures: Is There a National-Sub-National Gender Gap?


Vengroff, Richard, Nyiri, Zsolt, Fugiero, Melissa, Political Research Quarterly


Although there have been many studies which have looked at the impact of gender representation at the national level, there are relatively few which explore the sub-national level. In this article we provide an exploration of the patterns of representation of women within democratic countries, both developed and transitional that have elected regional, state, cantonal, or provincial legislatures which occupy the middle ground between the central government and local or municipal administration. We provide a systematic comparative analysis of women's access to and representation in such bodies. The focus is on a cross-national comparison of gender representation at the meso level and the gap in representation between meso and national legislatures. The impact of electoral system type, party magnitude, economic development, constitutional structure, and institutionalization of democratic structures are examined. The data on which this analysis is based are drawn from 536 meso legislative bodies in 29 countries. This is supplemented by party level data (n = 1,348) for the issue of party magnitude. Both OLS and logistical regression are used to test these propositions.

Many critical policy issues such as the environment, economic development, human resource development, health care, cultural issues and education transcend traditional local and municipal governments but are diverse enough to require alternative policies and solutions below the level of the central state. One major response has been to create intermediate (meso) levels of government between the central and local levels. These "meso"-level governments and their councils or legislatures are serving an increasingly important set of functions in the world's democracies. Among the many roles played by the meso level are (1) addressing issues of regional and ethnic nationalism; (2) provision of an increasing set of service functions ranging from health to the environment, transportation, education, welfare, and regional planning; 3) addressing the ideological association between decentralization and democracy and the redistribution of state power; (4) providing the opportunity for the central state to serve its own neo-liberal interests by downloading or dumping significant functions to the "meso" level while avoiding the need to raise central taxes (Sharpe 1993).

MESO LEGISLATIVE BODIES: A SPECIAL CASE FOR GENDER REPRESENTATION

For all of these reasons meso governments have become increasingly important, especially in relation to issues of particular concern to women (Andrew 1991; Ford and Dolan 1999). How women are represented in elective councils and legislatures at this level may therefore have a critical impact on a broad range of policy issues in the future. In addition to the critical areas of policy they address, meso elective bodies may provide attractive opportunities and easier access for women. These legislatures offer seats that are often less competitive, require less costly campaigns, and are less likely to require relocation away from familial demands, all conditions which have traditionally inhibited women's involvement in electoral politics (Lovenduski 1986). In addition, they also may serve as an important recruiting ground for women candidates for higher level offices.

In this study we explore the patterns of representation of women within democratic countries, both advanced industrial and developing, that have elected regional, state, cantonal, county, or provincial legislatures which occupy the middle ground between the central government and local or municipal administration. Although there have been many studies which have looked at the impact of electoral systems on gender representation at the national level, there are relatively few which explore the sub-national level. For example, in a recently published reference work, Women in Politics: World Bibliography, produced for the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU 1999), less than 4 out of 418 pages and only 19 of 650 titles are to be found in the section on women in sub-national governments. …

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