Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 13, 2015

Women in government

Since Canada's new Prime Minister brought it up, this might be a good time to ask questions about women in government.

Treating the fair sex fairly
“A TOKEN sprinkling of women,” is how Luciana Berger, a member of parliament for the opposition Labour Party, dismissed the recent British cabinet reshuffle, the avowed aim of which was to make the government less male. Similar cries of tokenism followed last year’s appointment of Julie Bishop as Australia’s foreign minister, which made her the sole woman in the country’s cabinet. Almost everywhere women are in a minority in government cabinets… Some fret that they are treated as mere window-dressing, making the government look more representative but given neither meaningful portfolios nor the support needed to be effective.

New research suggests such criticisms may miss the mark. In a forthcoming paper, Maria Escobar-Lemmon and Michelle Taylor-Robinson of Texas A&M University compare the experience and accomplishments of the men and women among 447 cabinet ministers in recent administrations in five countries in the Americas... Experience was measured by relevant academic background, previous cabinet posts and political connections; and success by the number of bills presented, length of tenure and whether a minister’s time in office ended with firing or forced resignation.

If women were given unimportant portfolios or overlooked by the president, the authors reasoned, they would probably produce less legislation and be easier to get rid of than men…

But this was not what the authors found. Although female ministers initiated fewer bills than comparable male ones, overall they were as likely to succeed…

None of this is to say that female politicians are dealt a decent hand… And as the authors point out, their analysis says nothing about whether the women they studied were treated differently in cabinet meetings or by the media…

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