Women in Regional Legislatures

There’s much research on the representation of women in national legislatures. Why is it that in some countries there are many women in parliament, and in others women are almost absent? Research points to aspects of the electoral system, and particularly to (cultural) attitudes about the role of women in society more generally.

If attitudes are such a strong predictor, we would expect them to play a role on a smaller scale, too: in regional legislatures. I have considered the proportion of women in the cantonal parliaments in Switzerland, and found no association with any of the variables I have tested. With cantons dominated by Protestants and others by Catholics, there appears to be enough variation, but alas it doesn’t fit…

Do I simply need better variables to capture relevant attitudes, are second-order elections exempt from the mechanisms suggested for national elections (why?), or is our theory lacking? With regard to the first, I have tried many variables, including the proportion of Catholics, the traditionally dominant religion of the canton, distance to traditional trade routes, or the years when women gained the right to vote. With regard to second-order elections, there is increasing evidence that this might be the case, like that the European Parliament is somewhat different. This leaves us with the last one: the suggested mechanisms are not specified well enough.

Ruedin, Didier. 2012. “The Representation of Women in National Parliaments: A Cross-National Comparison.” European Sociological Review 28 (1): 96–109. doi:10.1093/esr/jcq050.
———. 2013. Why Aren’t They There? The Political Representation of Women, Ethnic Groups and Issue Positions in Legislatures. Colchester: ECPR Press.
Stockemer, Daniel. 2008. “Women’s Representation in Europe — A Comparison Between the National Parliaments and the European Parliament.” Comparative European Politics 6 (4): 463–85. doi:10.1057/cep.2008.2.

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