Popular consensus holds that if 'enough women' are present in political institutions they will represent 'women's interests,' however, such generalized assumptions are frequently queried on theoretical grounds and consistently shown to be conditional in practice. In this text, Karen Celis and Sarah Childs address women's poverty of political representation with a feminist account of democratic representation. Celis and Childs rethink and redesign representative institutions, taking ideological and intersectional differences as their starting point.
Parliaments are everywhere highly masculinized institutions, created by and for men. Yet they are not unchanging institutions. The UK has just undergone an Inter-Parliamentary Union's Gender Sensitive Parliament's audit. This was one of the recommendations of the 2016 The Good Parliament Report. With its 43 recommendations, The Good Parliament Report was a blueprint for a diversity sensitive House of Commons. Since then, and through the newly established Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, Westminster has addressed some of its diversity insensitivities. This article reflects back on the author's secondment to Parliament and how her relationship with a feminist official was critical to the success of Report and indeed the day-to-day practice of seeking to be an impactful academic change actor.
This article addresses a foundational question of political representation: how do representatives act for those they represent? In a shift away from analyses of individual representatives' attitudes and behaviour, we identify Women's Parliamentary Organizations as potential critical sites and critical actors for women's substantive representation. Offering one of the most in-depth studies to date, our illustrative case is the long-standing UK Parliamentary Labour Party's Women's Committee. With a unique data set, and using both quantitative and qualitative methods, we systematically examine the Parliamentary Labour Party's Women's Committee efforts to substantively represent women over more than a decade. We find that the Committee sustains its focus on a small number of women's issues and interacts with party leadership to advance women's interests in a feminist direction. Our findings capture processes of political change, a frequently under-explored stage in studies of substantive representation. We close by identifying the potential for comparative research in this area.
Progress toward gender equality in politics is striking. With the help of electoral gender quotas in more than 130 countries, women's national legislative representation more than doubled in the last 20 years. Other historically marginalized groups—racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, immigrants, and indigenous peoples—are also increasingly making their way into our parliaments. Political institutions are, then, more inclusive today than they have ever been. Yet equal representation has not been fully realized: some marginalized groups have seen a decline, and men from dominant social and economic groups—hereafter "elite men"—remain numerically dominant. Globally, there are no known cases in which elite men do not hold a disproportionately high share of positions in national elective office (Hughes 2015).
Party member women’s organizations were early features of party development. While some contemporary studies maintain these are important sites for the substantive representation of women, there is also a claim that they are in decline. Our primary purpose here is to establish the existence of party member women’s organizations – as one test of the first dimension of party feminization: the inclusion of women. We draw on new survey data of 17 European countries provided by Scarrow, Poguntke and Webb. We establish that almost half have a party member women’s organization. The new data also permits analysis of relationships between party member women’s organization and gender quotas for the top party leadership body (National Executive Committee (NEC)), women’s presence among the party leadership and candidate quota rules. Together we see these (i) as a means to establish whether women are marginalized within the party, thereby limiting descriptive representation and (ii) as surrogate measures for women’s substantive representation. We importantly find that the presence of a party member women’s organization does not come at the cost of women’s presence on the NEC. In the final section, we turn our attention to building a new comparative research agenda that more fully addresses substantive representation.