Gender and politics in higher education: Banished to the sidelines?

By Fran Amery and Elizabeth Evans

While some universities offer gender as a specialism within another discipline (for example, Sociology with Gender), there are no higher-education institutions in the UK which offer an undergraduate degree in either gender or women’s studies. This can be linked to the decline of gender and women’s studies as a discipline in its own right, and the incorporation of gender scholars into other disciplines. But to what extent has gender been integrated into political studies education in the UK?

Our article in European Political Science highlights the absence of gender and politics modules within political studies undergraduate programmes in the UK. At the time of writing, out of 91 universities and colleges that offer an undergraduate degree in politics, only 29 – less than a third – offered a module on gender and politics. Of those twenty-nine institutions, only six offered more than one module on gender and politics: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, London South Bank, and York. No institution offered more than two modules on gender and politics.

We argue that this absence can be explained by a number of interrelated factors. Firstly, gender and politics is still considered to be a niche area within political studies as a discipline; despite the breadth of issues covered by gender and politics, it is still not considered a part of ‘mainstream’ political analysis. As a result, those who undertake research within the field are less likely to be employed on permanent contracts, as departments look to appoint academics who cover the core research and teaching areas, and are more likely to be on precarious temporary contracts with little freedom over the courses that they teach.

This is compounded by the fact that women are under-represented within the discipline. Those teaching gender and politics modules are overwhelmingly likely to be female academics, a group constituting just 30.8 percent of political scientists. Moreover, women are far more likely than men to be employed as teaching or research fellows, and substantially less likely to be professors. The often-times incompatible nature of academia with childcare is off-putting for a lot of women, particularly in the early stages of their career. These factors contribute to the perception of gender and politics as a niche area within political studies, and further decrease the likelihood of an institution offering gender and politics as an option.

Of course, failure to offer a dedicated gender and politics module does not mean that gender does not feature at all within a degree programme: introductory units on political analysis or political ideologies will sometimes include a lecture on feminism (often in the final week of the course). This approach could, arguably, constitute a ‘mainstreaming’ of gender issues by incorporating them into core modules. Yet such an approach cannot do justice to the breadth of issues covered by gender and politics, which includes areas such as elections, representation and government; feminist theories and activism; gender and IR; gender and sexuality; masculinities; and gender and development. Moreover, as Foster et al. observe, in ‘top-ranking’ politics and IR departments, only 8.9 percent of the modules offered include at least one week on gender or feminism. As these authors suggest, gender might more accurately be described as being side-lined rather than mainstreamed.

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CfP: PSA Women and Politics Summit on Women in the Profession



 Friday 10 June 2016

University of Edinburgh


Keynote Speakers:

Professor Jane Mansbridge, Harvard Kennedy School

Professor Yvonne Galligan, Queen’s University Belfast

This one-day international summit, organized by the Political Studies Association’s Women and Politics Specialist Group, and hosted by the University of Edinburgh, addresses a crucial question of pressing concern: how to diversify the discipline of political science and combat gender inequality in the profession. This summit seeks to take stock of existing research on gender equality and diversity in the profession and to share insights and best practice – bringing together academics, activists, and representatives from professional associations, universities and political science departments in the UK and beyond to develop strategies for change. We invite paper proposals on any of the above themes, broadly defined, and particularly welcome contributions that adopt an intersectional approach to questions of equality and diversity. Roundtable proposals and other contributions will also be considered.

Please send paper abstracts of no more than 250 words to: Dr. Meryl Kenny ( and Dr. Fran Amery ( by 15 FEBRUARY 2016.

The PSA Women and Politics Group provides a focus for members of the UK Political Studies Association whose research focuses on women or gender, and is also a resource for women in the PSA. It has a commitment to ensure the visibility of women in the PSA and the discipline, while also combating sexism.


PSAWomenPollogo   SSPS LogoPSA logo     BJPIR

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Black Feminism, Womanism and the Politics of Women of Colour in Europe

A one-day symposium | Edinburgh, 3rd September 2016

Source: Black Feminism, Womanism and the Politics of Women of Colour in Europe

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On teaching political theory to undergraduates

By Manjeet Ramgotra

The recent Department for Education proposal on the theory component of the Politics A-Levels raises the question as to what counts as knowledge. The proposal more or less excises women and non-white men from the curriculum and limits understandings of what politics is, who produces knowledge and the type of knowledge that is produced. These questions are not limited to secondary education curricula. They are relevant to undergraduate introductory courses to politics.

How we form young minds matters. What we teach students to consider as knowledge structures and justifies social and political institutions. If we want to create greater gender and racial equality, we ought to reflect on this and what we are doing when we teach political theory. Most first year introduction to political theory courses do consider this. Some courses are structured conceptually and include the study of liberalism, socialism, feminism, multiculturalism and/or post-colonialism. Others approach the study of political thought historically and teach a historical canon of thinkers from antiquity to the present that occasionally includes thinkers outside of the canon. However, these courses do not necessarily include a wide diversity of thinkers and if they do, there is a tendency to classify these thinkers under categories of feminism or post-colonialism, notably in conceptually structured courses. This in turns leaves political theory as the domain of white men; to be sure these thinkers are also classified under labels of socialism, liberalism and conservatism. Yet these categories are of a different order than the issue and identity specific categories of women and race. When we diversify curricula we continue to allot more space and class time to white male theorists than to women or men of colour. Implicitly we reiterate a particular hierarchy even if we are attempting to put thinkers on an equal playing field.

The historical approach is also problematic. It presents a constructed history that tells the story of the development of Western political ideas and often imagines this as a conversation between thinkers that occurs over time where subsequent participants build on what has been said by earlier theorists. This approach is not only exclusivist, but it also purports a sort of (chronological) progression of ideas from the ideal Greek city-state to some sort of liberal democracy. This is not to say that this approach neglects critical voices and alternative views, but rather that these voices are not studied on the same level as those that are part of this historical conversation. Ultimately students are taught that this particular canon embodies knowledge and relates a particular story of progress and development. Indeed upper year university classes challenge and criticize these structures; however, in the first year, a certain formation takes place that is foundational so it is especially important to think, in my view, about these initial classes that provide the building blocks of higher education.

In teaching first year introduction to political theory, I have tried to disrupt these patterns and have integrated more female and political theorists of colour in the syllabus. This year the course began by questioning the canon through reading Charles Mills’ Racial Contract. It then put bell hooks and Aristotle in conversation. This not only questioned the authoritative status of the canon, but it also provided the opportunity to explain how to study ideas either in historical context or across time and space using philosophical and/or conceptual approach. Students were invited to consider how comparing two thinkers who wrote in very different contexts and times could be problematic and to think more widely about history and context. At the same time, students were asked to consider that both thinkers address the same question on the boundaries of the political and hence could be studied together. Juxtaposing Aristotle with a black feminist thinker is a critical statement in and of itself. The comparison worked well as much of Aristotle’s first book of The Politics deals with the household and establishes the power and authority of the male head of household over women, children and slaves. Whereas, bell hooks challenges these hierarchies. Reading the two theorists in tandem enabled students to read Aristotle and hooks critically and to consider how understanding the political and politics differs according to the position, identity and context of each thinker.

We transgressed boundaries in tutorials and in a debate on who should participate in politics, the students played the role of the opposite gender. The women had to defend Aristotle and the men had to defend hooks. The women were able to take on the male perspective easily but the men had difficulty in taking on the female perspective, which might reflect how they have been taught or socialized to think in particular ways. We did a similar type of gender role switching debate when we studied the social, marriage and sexual contracts and again the men had great difficulty articulating and defending the female perspective.

Our course progressed with reading Plato, Hobbes and Locke, which we disrupted with Mary Astell and Carole Pateman on the marriage and sexual contracts. It worked well to put the critical thinking at this juncture both historically as Astell was a critic of Hobbes and Locke and conceptually as Pateman’s critique is valid both today and in history, notably with regard to her critique of Enlightenment contract theorists. Students were able to understand problems of consent to a contract in a critical light. Additionally, we touched upon questions of education: Who gets educated? How are they educated and with knowledge? Who produces that knowledge? And, finally, how does this particular knowledge socialize people, set norms and hold disciplinary power over society at large? Consideration of these sorts of questions brings to the fore a more self-reflective approach to the study of political theory as it invites students to think of what they are being taught and how they are being formed.

It was useful to put these two women before reading Rousseau for the students have taken a far more critical view of his conceptualization of equality, freedom and his portrayal of women in the state of nature and the state. It has made it easier for the students to understand that inequality is not natural but artificial constructed through political and social norms. In the second term, we will be studying Fanon, Thoreau, Gandhi and Catharine MacKinnon amongst Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault. In previous years, we have studied W. E. B. Du Bois alongside Thoreau and Gandhi and showed how political ideas travelled from the US to India and back to the US, for example. Thus students are exposed to comparative political theory and can see how ideas move across time and space. In addition, many of these thinkers deal with concrete political problems regarding domination, consciousness, self-determination and resistance which students study both in the texts as well as in the (frequently activist) contexts in which they were developed. Hence students develop an understanding of the performativity of politics that goes beyond the ideal notion of the political animal participating in decision-making in the political realm.

My primary intention in teaching a variety of thinkers was to make the course more diverse and open. I paired Aristotle and hooks because I wanted to open the study of politics with questions on the political, participation and citizenship. Although this opening makes a statement against the traditional canon and challenges the authority and status of these thinkers, I do not wish to deny that the rigorous thinking and philosophy of many key thinkers is not worthy of learning and being taught. To understand either Plato’s or Hobbes’s epistemologies is key to understanding how we know the world and how we approach this. Rather what I do want to argue is how we frame the teaching of these key thinkers in relation to other thinkers and the discipline of political theory itself is important for it shapes the foundations students acquire and I believe it needs to be rethought out to reflect the conceptually diverse world we inhabit. Teaching political theory in the contemporary world based on the canon either presented historically or conceptually does not reflect our reality, diversity, new and critical ways of thinking. An introductory course ought to capture this diversity and openness rather than reiterate patterns that reinforce racial and gender inequality. The questions raised by women and men of colour are about the political, its boundaries, knowledge, power, freedom, equality, structures and institutions. In other words, they are about political theory writ large and by pushing the boundaries they question what political theory is and ask why it is exclusive.

Overall, the students have been very engaged. They have had passionate debates inside and outside the classroom and the self-reflective quality of such teaching is mirrored in their capacity to think about what it is they are learning and why, who has produced the knowledge they learn and from what perspective and why. It provides particular tools and understandings critical to the study of politics including what is politics, power, knowledge, justice and the state from a variety of perspectives.

Manjeet Ramgotra Dr. Manjeet Ramgotra is Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London.

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Five things you need to know about Northern Ireland’s new leader

Sophie Whiting, University of Bath and Maire Braniff, University of Ulster

Northern Ireland is to have a new first minister in January, in the form of Arlene Foster, the new leader of the pro-UK Democratic Unionist Party. Foster will take over from her DUP colleague Peter Robinson, who has held the position since 2008.

Her arrival as leader will mark a pivotal change for the party and for Northern Ireland. This is what you need to know about the woman taking on the most tumultuous job in British politics.

She’s a she!

Foster is the first woman to lead Northern Ireland – which is certainly worth shouting about given the current gender disparity in the national assembly and at all levels of government.

Over the past 15 years, in local, national and European elections, Northern Ireland has been shamed by the gender parity efforts of the UK’s other devolved institutions.

The Scottish parliament and Welsh Assembly have had an average of 37% and 45% of female elected representatives respectively since 1998. Northern Ireland lags considerably behind at just 17%.

One of the main hurdles to gender equality are the conservative gender roles that Foster herself has acknowledged when we interviewed her in 2013:

Inevitably I get asked the question of my children … and what is really frustrating is that you never ask that of any of my male colleagues … I think Northern Ireland is a very conservative society. I think it’s changing and I do think that generally the electorate want to see a reflection back at them of society.

The analysis is spot on. In the 2015 General Election Survey, almost two-thirds (65%) of people in Northern Ireland said they wanted to see more women elected.

During an all woman focus group, party members referred to Foster as an inspiration and “the champion of women” in the DUP. Let’s see if she will live up to expectation.

She voted against the Belfast Agreement

The peace process in Northern Ireland culminated in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The deal was approved by 72% of the population in Northern Ireland – but Foster wasn’t one of them.

She opposed the vague arrangements being made for IRA decommissioning, the early release of paramilitary prisoners and reforms to policing.

Foster will share power with deputy first minister Martin McGuinness
Reuters/Catha McNaughton

Having negotiated further on some of these key issues in subsequent agreements, including Sinn Fein’s support for policing in the region, the DUP entered power sharing with its historic republican enemy in 2007.

Interaction between the two governing parties remain minimal and relations are tense, but Foster has said that the difficulties between the two parties must be overcome since both have a mandate to govern. Pragmatism, it seems, trumps the politics of dislike.

She used to be in the Ulster Unionist Party

In 2004 Foster was among a group of politicians who defected from the Ulster Unionist Party to the DUP. She brought many grass roots supporters with her. One local party member exclaimed at the time: “Wherever Arlene goes, I follow”.

Between 1998 and 2006 the Belfast Agreement acted as the catalyst for a mass defection from the UUP to the DUP. The DUP was presenting itself as a party of protest and pledged to make sure Northern Ireland remained part of the UK. The UUP was seen as conceding too much to Sinn Fein at the expense of the unionist community.

The DUP’s defence of the union remains its main appeal – something Foster, as a former UUP member, will be well aware of.

She voted against same-sex marriage

The DUP is largely conservative and greatly influenced by Evangelical Christian beliefs. The UUP defectors tend to be less religious but the bulk of the party continues to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion.

Two-thirds of DUP party members say they think homosexuality is wrong and the party (including Foster) blocked a vote to legalise same-sex marriage in November, even though it had been approved by the assembly. This position appears out of step with public opinion in Northern Ireland, since only 28% in the Northern Ireland Election Survey opposed same-sex marriage.

Robinson with Foster at a DUP conference.
PA/Stephen Kilkenny

When it comes to abortion, four-fifths of the party membership are against legalisation in Northern Ireland. This, again, leaves the DUP in a difficult position, since a high court judge recently ruled the current law on abortion in Northern Ireland is “incompatible” with human rights law and that the almost total ban on access in Northern Ireland should at least be relaxed in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities. Less than a third of the Northern Irish population disagree that abortion should be legalised.

While the DUP remains relatively united against any change on either of these issues, Foster faces the tricky task of justifying its stance to the broader population.

She’s not entirely new to the job

Foster has in fact held the position of first minister before, replacing Robinson for six weeks as acting first minister in 2010 while he dealt with allegations about his finances.

During this time, she steered the DUP ship through significant political wrangling. Her appointment signalled that the DUP had faith in her political leadership. The looming election is an opportunity for Foster to assert her authority and set the tone for her tenure as party leader.

Her first tasks will be to work out how to accommodate a burgeoning DUP membership base with a broadening spectrum of attitudes, how to take on her former colleagues (and now main political rivals) at the UUP, and how to shore up the electoral gains made under her predecessor.

The Conversation

Sophie Whiting, Lecturer in Politics, University of Bath and Maire Braniff, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Ulster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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You Can’t Study Politics Without Women

The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group Response to the Department for Education’s A-Level Politics Consultation

PSAWomenPollogoWhile the PSA Women and Politics Group welcomes the inclusion of ‘Political Ideas’ as a compulsory topic within the DfE’s draft AS and A-Level Politics subject content, we are deeply troubled by the exclusion of feminism as a political ideology and the inclusion of only one woman political thinker across the entire curriculum.

The proposed new curriculum omits both the greatly important social changes that have resulted from women’s movement activism in the past century, and a hugely significant body of literature dealing with gender, politics and political change. Indeed, there is only one mention of women or gender in the entire draft content – with the suffragettes awkwardly shoehorned in under the banner of ‘pressure groups’. With Mary Wollstonecraft the only female ‘key thinker’ named, the document also overlooks a number of extremely influential women thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Rosa Luxemburg, Catherine MacKinnon, Nancy Fraser, Simone de Beauvoir, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Anne Phillips, Audre Lorde, Hanna Pitkin, Martha Nussbaum, Carole Pateman, and Susan Moller Okin – to name just a handful. This exclusion of women – both as key thinkers and as political actors in their own right – sends the erroneous message that women do not and have not made significant achievements in politics and political thought.

The inclusion of feminism in the Political Ideas section is extremely important in its own right, as is the inclusion of more women thinkers. It is not enough, however, to simply ‘add women in and stir’ – including a handful of women thinkers will not be sufficient to address the gaps in the proposed curriculum. Rather, we urge the DfE to mainstream women, gender and feminism across the curriculum – not only in the study of political ideas, but also in the sections on democracy and participation, elections and referendums, political parties, global politics, and so on.

Women and gender equality issues are not optional add-ons in the study of politics – they are central to political life and the nature of ‘the political’ as we know it. Feedback we have sought from both A-Level and undergraduate students suggests that feminism is one of the most engaging parts of the existing curriculum, particularly as it highlights the connections between politics, power and our day-to-day lives. In an environment in which there is widespread concern about political disaffection and disengagement, feminist perspectives foster students’ awareness of how politics is implicated in one’s everyday experience and encourage them to think about politics in more expansive, rather than narrow, ways.

To omit women, gender and feminism from the A-level curriculum is a political act. It is a conscious decision to exclude a substantial body of political thought, to overlook women’s contributions to political life, and to reaffirm gender biases that treat men and their interests as the norm and women and their interests as optional extras. It therefore runs counter to the consultation document’s stated aims and objectives, which stress the need to ‘develop knowledge and an informed understanding of contemporary political structures and issues in their historical context, both within the United Kingdom and globally’.

Politics cannot be properly understood while women are excluded from the curriculum.


The PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group provides a focus for members of the UK Politics Studies Association whose research focuses on women or gender, and is also a resource for women in the PSA. The group has a commitment to ensure the visibility of women in the PSA and the discipline, while combating sexism.

For further comment, please contact the Group’s Co-Convenors Meryl Kenny and Fran Amery.

Read the Political Studies Association’s statement on the lack of female thinkers in the draft A-Level subject content here

Listen to PSA Women and Politics members discussing the exclusion of feminism from the draft curriculum on BBC Woman’s Hour here (29 minutes in).


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The gendered dimensions of constitutional change: Women and the independence referendums in Scotland and Catalonia

By Tània Verge and Alba Alonso 

Credit: Roger H. Goun, CC BY 2.0

In the past few years, independence claims have reached the top of the political agenda in the UK and Spain. In 2014 sovereignty referendums were held in both Scotland and Catalonia – albeit not recognised in this case by the Spanish government. As has been pointed by Meryl Kenny, constitutional debates of this sort present various gendered dimensions and implications for women and gender equality policy issues more broadly. In this blog we discuss the following questions: Has there been a differential support by sex for constitutional change? To what extent have women and gender issues been present in the debates and what position have the women’s movements adopted?

In Scotland, pollsters consistently indicated that women were more undecided and less supportive of independence. In Catalonia, the initial gender gap in constitutional preferences gradually disappeared with the increasing salience of the territorial debate. This gap was rather simplistically associated by some political analysts to women’s higher risk aversion, which needs to be problematised. Firstly, risk aversion might well be a rational reaction to the uncertainty underpinning constitutional change, especially where debates on legality and process are more prominent than discussions about the – relatively unfamiliar to citizens – economic and political implications of the different constitutional options, as Christine Bell and Fiona Mackay argue. Secondly, the gendered impact of risk has been found to be conditional upon the type of hypothetical conjunctures about the future of the independent country individuals are confronted with. As shown by Tània Verge, Marc Guinjoan and Toni Rodon, it is only under hypothetical negative scenarios (like being expelled from the European Union or suffering from acute economic problems) that risk-averse women are significantly less likely to vote in favour of independence than men with similar risk-taking attitudes. In addition, as highlighted by Rachel Ormston, the women’s vote in sovereignty referendums is less expressively based than men’s and relies to a larger extent on instrumental reasons – such as maximizing the standard of living of the population.

Thirdly, as demonstrated by Meryl Kenny and Tània Verge, for a long time the public debates suffered in both countries from the absence of women’s voices and gender equality discussions, with all-male or majority-male panels found in media debates as well as in working groups appointed by the Scottish and Catalan governments. Why should it matter? When women are visible in the public debates, female voters may feel more “present” in the political discussions and be incentivised to acquire more information, a crucial element for decreasing levels of risk aversion. The increasing role of Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish campaign may have thus contributed to mitigate Salmond’s so-called “women problem”. In Catalonia, the fact that most of the social organisations specifically created to galvanize support for independence – like the Catalan National Assembly, Òmnium Cultural, and Constituent Process – were led by women during the referendum campaign might have also eroded the gender gap.

Therefore, gender differences in risk aversion should not be overemphasised. Indeed, in Catalonia post-electoral surveys showed that there were no significant differences between men and women’s votes in the 2015 regional elections (September 27) that were contested by pro-independence parties as a plebiscite on Catalonia’s future. In Scotland, gender differences were significant – 53% of women and 43% of men voted No in the referendum – but it should be noted that age strongly intersected with gender. In line with Verge, Guinjoan and Rodon’s findings, this suggests that the Better Together camp managed to shift risk aversion to its advantage through negative discourses – such as the issue of the viability of pensions in an independent Scotland.

We now turn to the women’s movement. Civil society was outstandingly involved in the referendum campaigns in both countries but the engagement of the women’s movement was substantially different. In Scotland, the women’s movement experienced a remarkable boost both in terms of number of women involved and structures created. Women’s groups were actively engaged by organising events, generating briefing papers on the potential consequences of constitutional change and running campaigns to encourage women to vote. Women for Independence (with over a thousand members) and Women Better Together were created within the frame of the Yes and the No campaigns respectively to mobilise women voters and to incorporate women’s voices in discussions about the future of Scotland – as illustrated, for example, in the “Women for Independence, Independence for Women” motto. Conversely, in Catalonia women’s groups have largely been reluctant to engage with territorial issues. Feminists for Independence is the main group aiming at engendering the process and the political agenda – by organising events, drafting policy briefs as well as seeking to build linkages among pro-independence female public officials beyond partisan alignments. Yet, most women’s groups remain focused on other priority topics such as reproductive rights (to counteract the restrictive reform on abortion the Spanish government sought to approve), gender-based violence or anti-austerity polices.

Some key elements explain this dissimilar reaction, as identified by Alba Alonso’s research. On the one hand, issues of process and legality were more rapidly solved in Scotland than in Catalonia. Spanish institutions have repeatedly voted down the formal petitions to allow some form of consultation to Catalan citizens and the very same process is still an unresolved issue. On the other hand, in Scotland equality and welfare made it to the core of the political debates about what a (non)independent country should look like and very prominently to the Yes camp, thus resonating with more traditional feminist demands. The referendum campaign was no exception to the historical alignment of the nation-building process with social-democratic values. In Catalonia the largest party leading the process at the institutional level, the centre-right Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya), is not seen as particularly women-friendly by the feminist movement and is strongly associated to austerity policies. The Republican Left in Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) has also traditionally suffered from a “women problem” due to its largely masculinised membership. Lastly, the Scottish women’s movement could take stock of its successful influence in the 1990s devolution process. In sharp contrast, the last occasion where constitutional issues were discussed in Spain dated back to the late 1970s transition to democracy, with pacts basically crafted by elites, despite the preceding social mobilisations – including those of the women’s movement to gain basic social and political rights for women.

Overall, without factoring women’s descriptive (presence) and substantive (gender equality policy issues) representation in constitutional debates, we are left with at best partial knowledge, and with troubling explanations that essentialise gender differences. Furthermore, we miss out relevant insights about the consequences of gender-blind debates on high-stake processes and decisions that affect the well-being of all citizens.

This blog was originally posted on Democratic Audit UK. Read the original post here

Tània Verge is Associate Professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona).

Alba Alonso is a Postdoctoral researcher at the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, and former Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

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