The Political Power of Legislatures and the Representation of Women

There are many papers that examine the reasons why there are more women in some legislatures than in others. Three kinds of mechanisms are usually identified: cultural reasons — as I highlighted in my ESR paper –, socio-economic reasons, and electoral reasons — principally PR systems. I was rather excited to see a recent paper by Leslie Schwindt-Bayer and Peverill Squire that highlights a new mechanism: the political power of legislatures.

While we could include the role of legislative power under the heading institutions alongside electoral rules, the approach is rooted in the insight that the characteristics of legislatures (as institutions) can influence the election of women into positions of power. Seen this way, the political power of legislatures (measured using the Parliamentary Powers Index) is just one aspect alongside other formal and informal rules and legislative norms.

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.

Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie, and Peverill Squire. 2014. “Legislative Power and Women’s Representation.” Politics & Gender 10 (04): 622–58. doi:10.1017/S1743923X14000440.

POS: Are Federal Systems More Open?

In the literature on political opportunity structures (POS), it is commonly held that federalism means more access points. More access points mean more opportunities.

It does not suffice, however, only to look at the number of access points. Leaving aside the fact that some movements may not be acceptable to potential access points, more potential access points mean a greater probability of findings an ally. However, more potential allies also means that the influence of a single ally is more restricted. Therefore, it is not at all clear that the opportunity (as in getting influence on policy-making, for example) is greater in federalist systems.

In federal systems, the entry might be easier, but the impact might be limited. If an organization gets access in a more centralized system, the impact is at once more significant. For this reason, I suggest that we should expect no significant differences overall.

Perhaps there is another mechanism that favours federalism, perhaps it is the inclusive political culture? In this case we should focus on the relevant variable. Perhaps it is acceptable to concentrate on the degree of federalism as a measure of political culture (inclusiveness), but the argument would need to be a bit different.