Women's Political Representation in European Countries. a Comparative Analysis and Examples of Good Practice

By Motoi, Gabriela | Journal of Community Positive Practices, April 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Women's Political Representation in European Countries. a Comparative Analysis and Examples of Good Practice


Motoi, Gabriela, Journal of Community Positive Practices


Introduction and context

The subject of this article is of particular sociological importance, given the massive volume of specialized papers dedicated to this problem, which highlight the fact that existing patterns of male/female interaction "must not be based on refusal of women's access to education, social and political institutions and functions, because this fact would indicate a facade democracy" (Kelly and Hanwkesworth, 2004, p.14). Women's 'advocacy' programs have long focused on improving the 'status of women' (Sen, 2000, p. 22), but in our days we may observe an expansion of the objectives towards taking into account their role in economic and social life.

For the theoretical part of this article, we chose to include and, implicitly, present three sociological perspectives to analyse women's participation in political life. First of all, we are talking about the theoretical perspectives that attempt to explain this in terms of gender differences, specific to societies that have a strong traditionalist character (Comte, 2004). In the twentieth century, these theories, based in particular on differences, appear in scientific papers under the titles of "the theories of gender realignment" or "cultural feminism".

The second category we will address in this article is the perspective of "progressive liberal feminism" (Mill, 2013), a perspective that focused on the struggle to obtain equal political and economic rights in the context of capitalist society, with a special emphasis on special policies to achieve equal opportunities.

The third perspective is the conflictualist perspective, taken from Karl Marx and Max Weber, and developed, among others, by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (2013), whose main purpose is to discover and understand the factors of domination, conflict and the means by which social order is preserved.

The second part of the article contains statistical data (including also data on the percentage of seats held by women in national parliaments or in the European Parliament) regarding women's political participation, during 2005-2015, in France and the United Kingdom.

Sociological literature review (Comte, Mill, Bourdieu)

From a sociological point of view, the idea that men are different from women in terms of biological differences, and the psychological differences lead them to live in different worlds appears mentioned since 1840 in Auguste Comte's work (Course in Positive Philosophy), where the French sociologist speaks about the two types of existing subordination relationships within the family, one of them being the "gender dominantsubordinate relationship" (Comte, 2004).

The author bases this idea, arguing that between the two sexes there are both physical and moral differences, and "the ability to govern is the most foreign to feminine sex because it implies an overall view, impartiality, independence from passions, what usually involves the reason more than the affectivity" (Otovescu, 2003, p. 55).

In the paper System of Positive Polity, Comte considered that women bear more easily subjection than men, because they are much more dominated by feelings, than by rationality. At the same time, Comte advanced the idea that woman is equipped with a lower-size brain than that of the man, which necessarily leads to the development of a lower form of intelligence, based mainly on affections and less on reason. This idea has raised many criticisms among his contemporaries (an illustrative proof being the wellknown Correspondence between A. Comte and John Stuart Mill), and among other sociologists, in later periods. For example, Gustave Le Bon recognized a woman's inferiority to a man, but he was considering it a kind of "charming weakness" (Le Bon, 1890, p. 451). Emile Durkheim did not deny the validity of feminism, considering women's mental simplicity as a virtue, but in the same time, he was promoting the idea that women "should seek equality in the functions which are part of her nature" (Durkheim, 1896, p. …

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