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What Does The Research Say?

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

We want to talk about women in elected office.

And so, as it turns out, do a lot of other people. Fortunately, there is more and more research on the subject. We'll be updating the Resources section of this website in coming weeks.

But here is a pile of papers to get you started!


"A broad-based recovery must include a strategy to support working women as caregivers. This includes universal access to paid family leave, sick leave and child care. Better child-care options can help women rejoin the workforce, improve job prospects and boost GDP. Investment in universal public pre-K and quality, affordable child-care programs is critical."


"The political polarization that exists in all aspects of our political lives affects women legislators, too. This polarization produces Republican women who are more conservative than their predecessors. Moderates tend not to run for election in part because of declining “fit” between their personal political beliefs and the platform of the Republican party itself. Primary voters are more conservative than the average Republican general election voter. And hanging over all of this, voters often (incorrectly) assume women are less conservative than they really are. That means the Republican women legislators who make it through these barriers are often more conservative to counteract that stereotype. As a result, in some states, Republican women legislators are more conservative than their male counterparts."


In her contribution to the Democracy Centre’s commentary series on democratic experiences in the coronavirus pandemic, Jennifer M. Piscopo explores the question of whether women leaders perform better. As she analyses policy measures along with the narratives projected in the public sphere, she highlights high levels of institutional trust as one of the key drivers of successful responses.


"As with our broader sample, the figure below shows that our Republican respondents are also less likely to support rolling back women’s rights when an all-male panel makes this decision. What’s more, leaving women out of decision-making more broadly damages Republicans’ faith in their political institutions. Republicans might prefer outcomes that restrict women’s rights, but appear to believe that women’s presence helps legitimate these decisions."


Jennifer M. Piscopo notes that more than 70 nations have adopted quotas. Some require political parties to run certain percentages of women for office, others to reserve a certain number of legislative positions for them. (The push has been notably strong in Latin America, with Argentina leading the way.)


2020 is a big election year. It has also been, so far, a very violent political year. In Belarus, women political opponents to the regime have been harassed. At the time of writing this introduction, the fate of Maria Kolesnikova is unknown. Violence against progressive politicians is on the rise. Paweł Adamowicz, the mayor of Gdansk and LGBT+ advocate, was stabbed to death last year as was Jo Cox in 2016. In the United States, the current president has not only ignored abuse against Black people, including police abuse but has denigrated, if not worse, far-reaching movements for racial and sexual justice, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Informal barriers also remain to discourage women candidates from running or even hindering their capacity to win elections in some extreme circumstances. Our third set of articles sheds light on the gender dynamics of elections.


"Women politicians have long faced a gendered media environment, where their novelty, potential (in)competence, family, and appearance have been over-emphasized in comparison to men. Results show that gendered coverage exists for women heads of government in potentially surprising ways. Fewer new stories are written about them, on average, than men. Women’s coverage features more feminine and masculine gendered identifies, as well as more coverage about their clothing. We find little evidence for increased personalization, and women’s character and competence are presented more positively than men’s. Though blunt, this analysis shows that news about heads of government remains gendered."


"To explore perceptions of online harassment of Canadian politicians, this study draws upon interviews with 101 people from diverse genders, racial/ethnic identities, sexual orientations, and partisan affiliations. Findings indicate online harassment does not depress political ambition in Canada but it is a gendered phenomenon in that women are far more aware of this issue than men. It also shapes the experiences of candidates and officeholders, not least by fostering a hostile working environment that can affect their ability to do, or willingness to stay in, the job. Online harassment thus succeeds in making women feel they are in a hostile political environment even as it fails to deter them from engaging in politics."


Notable insights include:

Women were significantly more likely than men to report spending time on domestic or household work. This finding echoes common understanding and unveils interesting nuances. Women were more likely than men to report spending time cleaning and cooking in all surveyed regions.

Women were consistently less likely to report generating an income, and more likely to say they fully depend on someone else in each and every region of the world.



"There are 18 (9D, 9R) women congressional candidates in 2020 who identify as Native American alone or Native American in combination with other races, including 15 (7D, 8R) Native American women candidates for the U.S. House and 3 (2D, 1R) Native American women candidates for the U.S. Senate. These numbers include all Native American women filed candidates, including those who may have already lost their primary elections. They do not include candidates for non-voting offices in the U.S. House. This is the largest number of Native American women who have run for the House or Senate, overall and in both parties, in any single election cycle."


"The connection between women leaders and superior pandemic performance is likely spurious. This narrative overlooks that women currently govern precisely the kinds of countries that should mount effective pandemic responses: wealthy democracies with high state capacity...Arguments emphasizing women chief executives’ superior pandemic performance, while offered in good faith, are misleading."


“I have a lot of optimal circumstances,” she said, “A successful career trajectory, an A-plus feminist husband who tries to step up and do 50-percent plus, and I have a workplace that’s supportive. But at the end of the day that’s not enough.”


The pandemic has exacerbated longstanding sources of conflict (related to partners’

insufficient support with parenting) and creat ed new sources of conflict (related to partners’

dismissals of mothers’ concerns about COVID-19), with serious implications for mothers, families, and public health.

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