In Defence of Lovenduskianism

Originally posted on UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group:


Rosie Campbell, Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

In a recent post on the PSA Women and Politics Group’s blog, Jonathan Dean reflects on the June 2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender, as well as the state of gender and politics scholarship more broadly. Dean argues that the conference has made visible a number of struggles within the gender politics community and suggests that the core tension lies between those ‘Lovenduskian’ scholars interested in ‘feminising politics’ versus those who are interested in ‘politicising gender’. The first strand, he argues, considers the gender dynamics of political institutions to be the core area of study for the sub-discipline, whilst the second views the subject of gender itself to be a political project.

We welcome this call for dialogue between the diverse strands of gender and politics scholarship. However (in the spirit of this dialogue), Dean’s musings on the ECPG…

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The Gender & Early Career Researcher REF Gaps

Originally posted on Stephen R. Bates:

by Fran Amery, Stephen Bates and Steve McKay

Men in psychology, economics and biology are so good at research that 29-30% achieved 4* outputs in the last Research Exercise Framework (REF). Women in theology; anthropology & development studies; sociology; aeronautical, mechanical, chemical and manufacturing engineering; civil and construction engineering; agriculture, veterinary and food science (and men in art & design) are perhaps not so impressive: only 13-14% achieved 4* outputs in these units of assessment (UoA). Overall, 22% of men and 19% of women submitted to the REF produced 4* outputs. These apparent differences in purported research quality were highlighted in one of the supplementary reports accompanying the recent metrics review by HEFCE, The Metric Tide*.

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Constitutions, Quotas and Women’s Political Representation

This blog was originally published with the Centre on Constitutional Change. Read the original post here

By Meryl Kenny

Constitutions capture aspirations for the future, setting out broader principles of fair treatment and representation. As such, constitutions inevitably have a gendered impact – they frame women’s inclusion in, or exclusion from, the constitutional community (as well as that of other marginalized groups), and can, therefore, promote, or alternatively, present obstacles to gender equality. Moments of institutional and constitutional restructuring thus offer ‘windows of opportunity’ for gender equality agendas, giving women and other traditionally marginalized groups a chance to integrate gender concerns into these processes. While women’s interest in constitutional design is certainly not new, women’s constitutional activism has taken off in the last several decades, while the importance of a gender perspective in constitution-making is also increasingly recognized by international bodies, most notably in UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

As the constitutional lawyer Helen Irving notes, for women to be full members of the constitutional community, they must be represented and they must take part in all dimensions of the law-making process. Yet, women continue to be politically under-represented around the world – women hold only 22% of parliamentary seats worldwide, and only three countries in the world have achieved 50% women or better in their national parliaments. These are, currently, Rwanda at 64% women and Bolivia at 53% women; and, previously, Andorra at 50% women (dropping to 39% in 2015). Many democratic countries with long constitutional histories continue to perform poorly on women’s representation: in Australia, the first country in the world where (most) women had the right to both vote and stand for the national parliament, women are only 27% of the House of Representatives; meanwhile, the UK has 29% women in the House of Commons; Canada has 25%; and the United States comes in even lower at 19% women in the House of Representatives.

Globally, gender quotas have become an increasingly prominent and popular solution to the problem of women’s political under-representation – and, increasingly, these measures are entrenched in constitutions and/or electoral law, rather than simply left up to individual political parties.  Gender quotas in the form of reserved seats are usually explicitly outlined in constitutional provisions – Article 76 of the 2003 Rwandan constitution, for example, reserves 24 of the 80 seats in the Chamber of Deputies for women.  Meanwhile, Article 83 of the 2004 Afghan constitution specifies the total number of seats in the lower house, and mandates that at least two women should be elected to this body from each province – in practice, at least 68 women (27%). In other cases, constitutional quota provisions are directed at political parties. The French Constitution, as amended in 1999, states that ‘statutes shall promote equal access by women and men to elective offices and posts’ (Article 1), and also requires that political parties ‘contribute to the implementation of [this] principle’ (Article 4). This was followed in 2000 by new legislation – known as the ‘parity law’ – which mandates that French political parties nominate an equal number of male and female candidates in municipal, national and European elections.

Are constitutional or legislative quotas more effective than voluntary quotas used by political parties? Research in this area shows that legal quotas do not in themselves guarantee increases in women’s political presence – they need to be well-designed and effectively implemented to produce results. Crucial here are placement mandates – for quotas to work, they must not only stipulate that more women be selected, but must also ensure that parties are running them in seats or list places that they actually have a chance of winning.  In Iraq, for example, the 2005 Electoral Law (which supports the gender quota provision in the Transitional Guidelines of the Iraqi Constitution) mandates that at least one of the top three candidates on each of the parties’ electoral lists must be a woman.

However, one of the advantages of constitutional and/or legislative quotas over voluntary party ones is that they allow for legal sanctions in cases where parties don’t follow the quota rules. The most effective type of sanctions are those that give electoral authorities the power to reject party lists that don’t include a sufficient number or percentage of women candidates, as seen in countries like Belgium and Spain, for example. Other countries have financial sanctions on the books, which are often less effective. In France, for example, the parity law does not specify any placement mandates and only includes weak financial sanctions for non-compliance – the larger parties can therefore afford to pay a fine rather than comply with the quota law. Thus, despite the existence of the above-discussed constitutional provisions and the parity law, women are still only 26% of the National Assembly.

The other advantage of constitutional and/or legislative quotas is that they apply to all parties in a country. Voluntary party quotas, in contrast, apply only to those parties that have chosen to implement them. In cases where multiple parties across the political spectrum have chosen to adopt voluntary quotas – for example, some of the Scandinavian countries – these measures can have a significant impact on levels of women’s representation. In countries like the UK, however, where the use of voluntary party quotas has been largely one-sided, gains in women’s representation continue to be slow and incremental. Responding to these trends, repeated calls have been made by campaigners at Scottish and UK level for the need for legislative quotas to ensure real change. These kinds of measures are potentially more difficult to adopt than party quotas – legal gender quotas require parliamentary support – but they are also necessary in order to achieve more equal and inclusive decision-making bodies.

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Feminising Politics, Politicising Gender


Jonathan Dean (University of Leeds) on varieties of gender politics scholarship — and the issues and tensions in play. Reflections from the 4th ECPG held recently in Uppsala. Signs of a healthy and dynamic field!

Originally posted on UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group:

Some musings following the 2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender from Jonathan Dean.

JoniThe Fourth European Conference on Politics and Gender saw no fewer than 450 scholars from across Europe and beyond descend on Uppsala in central Sweden, rendering it an excellent opportunity to take stock of the current state of gender and politics scholarship. At one level, the news is unreservedly positive. Feminist perspectives are being brought to bear on a bewilderingly wide variety of political phenomena, and the affective climate of the conference was often defiant and optimistic. But on digging deeper, one could detect numerous signs of unease. In the lunch breaks and in the bars of Uppsala all too frequently talk was of precarious employment and institutional marginalisation. No one could be left in any doubt that to pursue “gender-aware” political analysis is to engage in often bitter political struggle against a political science…

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Why women talk less


No easy answers – but a measured response to complex issues from the Debuk blog

Originally posted on language: a feminist guide:

This week on Newsnight, Evan Davis talked to three women about all-male panels—a subject made topical by the recent popularity of a tumblr set up to name and shame them. Why, he asked, are women so often un- or under-represented in public forums? Are they reluctant to put themselves forward? Are they deterred by the adversarial nature of the proceedings?

The women offered some alternative suggestions. Women don’t get asked, or if they do it’s assumed you only need one. Women aren’t seen as experts, unless the subject is a ‘women’s issue’. The age-old prejudice against women speaking in public means that any woman who dares to voice her opinions can expect to be deluged with abuse and threats.

But while all-male panels are obviously a problem, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Just ensuring that women are represented on a panel does not guarantee their voices will…

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Another Crack in the Glass Ceiling? Leslie Evans appointed Scotland’s top civil servant

Another first for gender equality this week: with news that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had appointed Leslie Evans as Scotland’s top civil servant – the first time a woman has held this position. Guest genderpol blogger Professor  James Mitchell, University of Edinburgh reflects on this break through and the barriers that remain for women in public service. 

Leslie Evans has been appointed Permanent Secretary at the Scottish Government. The office dates back to 1885 when the Scottish Office came into being (though had its antecedents dating back further). She is the nineteenth person to hold the post and the first women. That the new head of the Scottish civil service is a woman has drawn most attention.

While much attention and research focuses on the number of MPs, MSPs and councillors, there has been far less on the opportunities for women in the civil and public services. A year ago, research on Whitehall by the Hay Group concluded that the culture and leadership climate in the civil service prevented talented women from progressing into more senior roles’. This constraint on the talent pool was a major impediment in performance. The research concluded that women who entered the service had the qualities and capabilities required to reach the top but raised questions about the conditions that inhibited this talent from rising. The conclusion of the report (Women in Whitehall: Culture, Leadership, Talent) warned that if these matters were not addressed then the civil service would no longer be ‘fit for purpose’.

While stated policy was broadly positive, there were significant problems when it came to how this was translated into practice and particularly people’s perception of the reality – the rhetoric was not believed when it came to policy and promotions and what is valued. Many talented women simply opt out. The challenge was presented diagrammatically.


 There is considerable variation across the civil service with the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice and Foreign and Commonwealth Office amongst the poorest. The Department for Education was the only department in Whitehall in which the number of women senior civil servants exceeded men. The Scottish Government’s record has been better probably reflecting the nature of its responsibilities.

One response has been to scrap all-male shortlists, except in ‘exceptional circumstances’ and emphasise a more inclusive leadership climate. The greater effort to ensure more women are appointed to public bodies and boards is thought to contribute to a changing climate. Having diversity champions and mentoring and providing support for women before, during and after maternity leave, and training to remove unintended bias in interviews are all being encouraged.

The current climate is unlikely to have been decisive in Leslie Evans’ appointment but this appointment highlights the loss of talent in the career progression of the civil service. We are still some way from the day when the sex of a senior official is deemed the most notable factor in an appointment

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Women and the 2015 General Election: Fractures in the Glass Ceiling?

By Meryl Kenny, Juliet Swann and Fiona Mackay

The run-up to the 2015 General Election was dominated by coverage of ‘dangerous women’ shaking up the status quo in British politics – ranging from the ‘scarlet sisterhood’ of female party leaders to the now infamous photo-shopped ‘wrecking ball’ image of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. In the end, a record high of 191 women MPs (29%) were elected to the House of Commons on 7 May, an increase of 48 women from the immediate post-2010 election results. With the resignations of Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, five of Britain’s main political parties are now led by women – including interim party leaders Harriet Harman (Labour), Sal Brinton (Lib Dem)…and (briefly) Suzanne Evans (UKIP) until Nigel Farage’s recent ‘un-resignation’.

Yet, while these gains are to be welcomed, women’s presence at Westminster remains a long way from parity. The 2015 election results put the UK in only 37th place worldwide for women’s representation, lagging well behind several of its European comparators, as well as many African and Latin American countries – including the world leader, Rwanda (which has 64% women in its Chamber of Deputies). Those countries that have overtaken the UK on women’s representation have done so largely through the use of ‘fast track’ equality measures – 16 of the top 20 countries for women’s representation worldwide use some form of gender quotas (ranging from voluntary party quotas to statutory legal ones). The global evidence, then, is clear – without active intervention, gains in women’s representation at Westminster will likely continue to be slow and incremental.

How did the parties do? All three of the largest parties in the new House of Commons – the Conservatives, Labour and the SNP – have seen increases in the number and proportion of women MPs elected in 2015, though there are still significant disparities between the parties (see Table 1). Labour continues to lead the way on women’s representation at Westminster, with 99 women MPs (43%), due in large part to the party’s use of all-women shortlists in winnable seats. The Conservatives, meanwhile, will see more women MPs on their benches than in 2010 – rising from 49 to 68 – but these women are still only 21% of their parliamentary party. And women are 20 of the 56-strong SNP group in the House of Commons (36%), a huge increase from 2010 when the party had only one woman MP, Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan). After an electoral wipeout, there are no Liberal Democrat women MPs remaining, nor does the DUP have any women MPs. The one Green MP elected is a woman (Caroline Lucas), and, in Wales, Plaid Cymru elected its first woman MP (Liz Saville Roberts). The remaining two women MPs were elected in Northern Ireland: Margaret Ritchie (SDLP), and Sylvia Hermon (Independent).

Table 1: Women MPs by party (2010 and 2015)

2010 2015
Conservative 49 16% 68 21%
Labour 81 31% 99 43%
SNP 1 17% 20 36%
Liberal Democrat 7 12% 0 0%
Plaid Cymru 0 0% 1 33%
Green 1 100% 1 100%
Sinn Féin 1 20% 0 0%
SDLP 1 33% 1 33%
Alliance 1 100% 0 0%
Independent 1 100% 1 100%
TOTAL 143 22% 191 29%

Focusing on the Scottish results, the overall increase in women’s representation was dramatic – women are now 20 of 59 Scottish MPs (34%), a net gain of 7 women from 2010. These results are all the more significant given that Scotland has historically had a relatively poor record with regards to women’s representation in the House of Commons compared with the UK overall figures (see Figure 1). All 20 of these women come from the SNP, including 20-year old Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South), the youngest member of parliament since 1832. The remaining three non-SNP seats in Scotland were won by men: Ian Murray (Labour; Edinburgh South); Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrat; Orkney and Shetland); and David Mundell, the new Secretary of State for Scotland (Conservative; Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale).

Our analysis of Scottish candidate selection figures (read more on the genderpol blog and the ERS Scotland website) found that only 27% of candidates for the six main parties across Scotland – the SNP, Scottish Labour, Conservatives, Greens, the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP – were women (see Table 2). 13 of Scotland’s 59 seats had no women candidates standing at all (beyond Scotland, an additional 89 constituency contests across the UK were men-only). The rise in the number of Scottish women MPs elected, then, is the result of the SNP electoral surge – the party selected 21 women out of 59 candidates in 2015 (36%), and all but one of these women were elected (SNP candidate Emma Harper lost to the lone Scottish Conservative MP, David Mundell).

Table 2: Scottish candidates 2015, by party and gender

Party Women Men Total (% women)
SNP 21 38 59 (36%)
Scottish Labour 16 43 59 (27%)
Scottish Conservatives 9 50 59 (15%)
Scottish Liberal Democrats 16 43 59 (27%)
Scottish Greens 13 18 31 (42%)
UKIP 7 34 41 (17%)
Total 82 226 308 (27%)

The increase in the proportion of SNP women candidates and MPs reflects a significant step-change in a party that has traditionally been seen to have a ‘problem’ with women. Much of this change has been driven from the top, with First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon making powerful statements on women’s representation, including her appointment of a 50/50 cabinet, and her support for the Scottish cross-party civil-society lobby group Women 50:50. But there are also significant changes within the party coming from the bottom-up, including a huge growth in membership and the entrance of grassroots activists – including women from groups like Women for Independence – into parliamentary politics. Indeed, the number of SNP MPs who are Women for Independence members and supporters now outnumbers the number of Liberal Democrat MPs at Westminster.

In terms of the overall numbers, however, SNP women are only 10% of all women MPs in the House of Commons. The majority of women MPs (51%) in the House of Commons come from the Labour Party, while Conservative women are just over a third of women MPs at Westminster (36%). While only 34% of Labour candidates were women across the UK, the party’s use of gender quotas (in the form of all-women shortlists) in key retirement and target seats meant that high numbers of women were elected. In Scotland however, the party’s proportion of women candidates was lower than UK-wide figures (27%) and the party only used AWS in two selection contests: Glenrothes (a retirement seat), and Argyll and Bute. Ultimately, only one (male) Scottish Labour MP was elected (in a seat with no women standing). The Conservatives, meanwhile, ran only 26% women candidates UK-wide, and were much less likely to run these women in winnable seats than the Labour Party.

Do the 2015 elections represent a breakthrough for women in British politics? When the parliament does reconvene, it will look significantly different – with substantially more women on the benches, and also a record number of black and minority ethnic MPs. It is also worth noting that the 2015 election returned the highest number of ‘out’ LGBT MPs. Seven of David Cameron’s 22-member Cabinet are women (32%), though men continue to occupy the majority of the most senior cabinet roles. But beyond the numbers, the outlook for women is mixed, with the Conservative government’s election commitment of £12bn in welfare cuts looming on the horizon, and women continuing to bear the brunt of austerity measures. Several advocates pushing for women’s representation in the House of Commons have also lost their seats, including (but not limited to): Jo Swinson (Lib Dem), Chair of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Gender Balance; Anne Begg (Labour), the Vice-Chair of the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation; and Mary McLeod (Conservative), Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament.

Despite the gains made for women in 2015, then, there is little room for complacency. There is still a significant distance to travel before we reach equal representation at Westminster, and further progress is unlikely without greater commitment by all of the parties. In Scotland, the attention will now turn to next year’s Scottish Parliament elections, where the numbers of women have dropped over time. While the SNP has led on women’s representation in the 2015 GE, the party continues to lag behind Labour in terms of women’s representation at Holyrood (women are currently 27% of SNP MSPs, compared to Labour’s 47%). There are promising signs here for 2016, including the SNP Party Conference’s recent backing of the ability to set all-women shortlists –the key now for the party will be effective implementation of these measures. But the prospect of equal representation at Holyrood and Westminster cannot rest solely on political will and individual party champions. Repeated calls have been made for the need for legislative quotas, led by the cross-party campaign group Women 50:50 in Scotland. It is time for Scotland and the UK to heed these calls in order to ensure real change.

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