Examining Women’s Participation (or lack thereof) in Political Campaigns: Part 3 of 3

Institutionalized Barriers: Electoral Systems (…even the one in Canada!)

As a final reflection in this three part blog post looking at why women participate less than men in political campaigns of all shapes and sizes, I want to show that this is not merely because of a conscious choice that women make not to run that they participate less. Rather, from an assigned class reading – namely, the Proportional Electoral Systems  section (p. 57+) within the New International IDEA Handbook, I learned that a woman’s chances of electoral victory can be affected (and unfortunately diminished) by certain electoral systems. Let me explain.

In countries (like Canada) that use a FPTP electoral system, political parties must agree to allow one nominee per electoral district to run as the candidate representing their party within that district. Research has shown that the method by which the party selects the candidate has an exclusionary effect for women wishing to pursue a seat in the legislature. In fact, evidence suggests that women are less likely to be elected to the legislature under plurality or majoritarian electoral systems than under electoral systems based on proportional representation. The following excerpt from the New International IDEA Handbook explains this phenomenon quite nicely:

Proportional Representation (PR) electoral systems are almost always more friendly to the election of women than plurality/majority systems. In essence, parties are able to use the lists to promote the advancement of women politicians and allow voters the space to elect women candidates while still basing their choice on other policy concerns than gender. […] In single-member districts most parties are encouraged to put up a ‘most broadly acceptable’ candidate, and that person is seldom a woman. In all regions of the world PR systems do better than FPTP systems in the number of women elected and 14 of the top 20 nations when it comes to the representation of women use List PR. In 2004, the number of women representatives in legislatures elected by List PR systems was 4.3 percentage points higher than the average of 15.2 per cent for all legislatures, while that for legislatures elected by FPTP was 4.1 percentage points lower.

Although one may feel compelled to rebut the claims forwarded in the research regarding “the most broadly acceptable candidate syndrome”, an earlier blog post this week about Belinda Stronach’s candidacy in the leadership race can be taken as one piece of evidence that women can be perceived as less acceptable candidates as a result of their differential treatment in the media. In other words, the mere fact that women may be perceived as less “broadly acceptable political candidates” in political campaigns can realistically provide no insight into their de facto quality as political candidates – and it is this discrepancy in particular that deserves not only our attention, but concern.

Thus, although disheartening, we at least may benefit from the insight these studies lend with regard to the topic of disproportional female representation in political campaigns in Canada – and now have left only to endeavour to affect change!


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