Researching Gender in Divided Societies: A conversation

With the kind support of the PSA Irish Politics and Women and Politics Specialist groups, on the 7th of November the University of Ulster hosted a conversation between three leading academics on the pitfalls and possibilities of researching gender issues in ethno-nationally divided societies.

Organised by Jennifer Thomson (Queen Mary, University of London) and Claire Pierson (University of Ulster), the event brought together two academics with broad experience in researching gender in ethno-national environments – Dr Fidelma Ashe (University of Ulster), whose research expertise centres around feminist theory and gender in Northern Ireland, and Gorana Mlinarevic (Goldsmiths, University of London), whose work focuses on women’s experiences in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia. A small audience of PhD students, academics and practitioners also brought much expertise and insight.

The aims in bringing this conversation about were two-fold. One, to think through some of the issues surrounding work on gender and methodology (does gender research require a specific type of methodology? What are the differences between doing gendered research and ‘mainstream’ research? What are the specific difficulties when conducting research into gender/women/marginalised gendered communities?) And two, to situate this thinking about gender and methodology in work on divided ethno-national contexts: how are these difficulties exacerbated or overcome in contexts where gendered identity is subordinate to national identities?

The conversation shone light on both the difficulties and insights that gendered work in ethno-national contexts can bring. The feminist belief that the ‘personal is political’ still rings true in feminist academic work, with personal experiences being cited as motivation for academic research. As a result of this, both participants and the wider audience stressed the obligations they felt in ensuring that their research was not part of a ‘smash and grab’ on the community in question, but rather that enduring, permanent links were established with the groups being studied. Furthermore, the importance of challenging dominant ethno-national narratives appears central for work on gender in these contexts. Gendered research in ethno-national situations provides a new way of looking at accepted dominant narratives of conflict, and provides ways of thinking more fully about what justice and peace might look like.

From L to R: Gorana Mlinarevic (Goldsmiths); Jennifer Thomson (QMUL); Claire Pierson (Ulster); Fidelma Ashe (Ulster)

From L to R: Gorana Mlinarevic (Goldsmiths); Jennifer Thomson (QMUL); Claire Pierson (Ulster); Fidelma Ashe (Ulster)


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Amy Mazur Seminar at Birkbeck – 2nd December 2014

‘Studying Women’s Movements in Comparative Perspective: A New Measurement from the Research Network on Gender and Politics (RNGS)

Professor Amy G. Mazur, Washington State University

(& visiting professor at Birkbeck during the fall of 2014)

Tuesday 2nd December 2014, 13.00 – 14.30

Paul Hirst Seminar Room, Department of Politics

Birkbeck, 10 Gower Street, WC1E 6DP

The Gender and British Politics group at Department of Politics at Birkbeck ( is organizing a seminar with speaker Prof. Amy G Mazur (Washington State University) on the 2nd of December.

Summary: Scholars of women’s movements have thus far not had access to enough conceptual tools that permit systematic comparison across a variety of temporal, sectoral and cultural contexts in order to construct sound theory about movements themselves as well as their social and political impacts. This presentation will offer a way of comparing variations in women’s movement strength through conceptualization that builds from research on gender equality policy, state feminism, women’s movements, and social movements. This approach involves careful definition of movements and movement strength as well as the specification of their dimensions for empirical observation through description, comparison and assessment of change. Using data from the RNGS project about women’s movements from the 1970s to the early 2000s in 13 Western democracies, the talk will illustrate how this approach can advance the study of and theorizing about women’s movements both as drivers and outcomes.


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Call for Papers: UK General Election 2015 Conference


Citizens, parties and political action: Political participation and the UK General Election 2015

Wednesday 4 February 2015, 9.30 am – 5 pm

The Division of Politics and International Relations at Nottingham Trent University is pleased to invite participants to this conference which will run three panels:

*   Panel 1: Beyond the mainstream 1: The emergence of ‘new’ parties across Europe

*   Panel 2: Beyond the mainstream 2: The emergence of ‘new’ parties across the UK

*   Panel 3: Mobilising political action: The challenges of class, ethnicity, gender and age -based political participation inequalities.

The conference will culminate in a roundtable session, comprising national speakers as well as representatives from political parties, and will address a question of crucial significance for the future health of UK democracy, “Should 16 and 17 year olds be given the vote?”

In particular, we would very much welcome abstract submissions from PhD students and early-career researchers, as well as from more experienced academic researchers and citizenship and election professionals.

Full details about the conference can be found at the conference web-site at:<

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Call for Papers: The Causes and Consequences of Male Over-Representation

European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR)

Joint Sessions of Workshops

University of Warsaw, Warsaw

29 March – 2 April 2015

CALL FOR PAPERS “The Causes and Consequences of Male Over-Representation” ***Deadline for submissions: December 1, 2014***

Submit under Workshop 16 at

Workshop Directors:

Rainbow Murray

Queen Mary, University of London

and Elin Bjarnegård

Uppsala University


Nearly every legislature worldwide has a male majority. This well-known fact has generated significant research on women’s political under-representation. While male over-representation might be explicitly acknowledged, it is usually problematised in terms of its impact on women, and is seldom the central focus of study. This workshop will open up new research agendas focusing explicitly on male over-representation, studying the causes and consequences of having male majorities (as opposed to female minorities) within legislatures.

The workshop seeks to bring together scholars currently working on men and masculinity within politics from a gendered and/or feminist perspective. While research with a focus on men, rather than women, is relatively rare, we also hope to inspire the many scholars working on women and gender to embrace this new research agenda by reconceptualising their research questions and producing new research in this area. We welcome participation from scholars working in related areas but outside the discipline of political science. We invite both theoretical and empirical papers that explore and develop the workshop’s theme of male over-representation. Papers exploring male power networks, masculinist cultures within parliaments, men’s interests, and the substantive representation of men are particularly welcome. We do not have a regional or methodological preference, and papers exploring single country case studies are welcome, as are more comparative pieces. We ask paper proposals to ensure that the primary focus of the research is men, masculinity and/or male over-representation, rather than women.

The full workshop description is available here:

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2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender Deadline Extended – 1 November

The deadline for proposals for the 2015 European Conference on Politics and Gender has been extended until Saturday 1 November 2014. The ECPG conference will take place 11-13 June 2015 at Uppsala University in Sweden.

For more details on how to submit a paper or panel proposal, please click here.

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Missing Women: It’s Time for Legislative Quotas in British Politics

Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs, Meryl Kenny

and the other members of the UK Political Studies Association (PSA) Women and Politics Specialist Group

Last week the Counting Women In coalition published its 2014 report into Sex and Power in the UK. Yet again women will be reading that they are under-represented in British politics: at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont, and in local government across the UK. Meanwhile, resistance to gender quotas continues, with a recent YouGov poll highlighting the lack of popular support for all-women shortlists. It’s time for political parties to show leadership on this issue and follow the global evidence – well-designed and properly implemented quotas are the most effective way to address the under-representation of women. Patience is no longer an option – the time has come for legislative quotas in British politics.

Still Counting

The findings from last week’s Sex and Power in the UK report are stark: women constitute more than half the population but only 23% of MPs and Government Minsters, 35% of MSPs; 42% of AMs; 19% of MLAs and 33% of local councillors. Globally, the UK’s performance on women’s representation is slipping – in 1997 the House of Commons was ranked 20th in the world for women’s representation; it is now 65th.

No one who knows anything about British politics will be surprised about this. Sure there are frequently lots of brightly coloured jackets on show at PMQs , but earlier this year the maleness of politics was laid bare at Westminster: the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister apparently failed to realise that their front bench was men-only. While the Sex and Power report is welcome, it’s but another in a long line of reports over the last decade and a half which show substantially fewer women than men in politics[i]. We also now know – for the first time systematically – that mothers are a particularly absent group in the House of Commons. Working class women are rarely part of elite male claims about the under-representation of working class MPs. And BME women are fewer than they should be despite gains and ‘firsts’: in 2010, the first BME Conservative woman MP and the first Muslim women MPs.

The research evidence is clear about the causes of women’s under-representation: a combination of a lack of women coming forward and obstacles placed in their path. Academic research also shows – based on UK and global analysis – that something can be done about it in the here and now. The use of gender quotas by the Labour party in the form of All-Women Shortlists (AWS) for Westminster elections in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010, and twinning in Scotland and Wales in 1999, reveals the critical role that UK political parties play as gatekeepers to political office. In short, when a political party has adopted a quota for women in the UK, women’s representation has increased.

Sex and Power shows clearly the impact of Labour’s quota for the 2015 general election on the numbers of women selected as parliamentary candidates relative to the other two main parties. While not all selections have been completed, the Tories lag well behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats in terms of the number of female candidates selected in retirement seats, and behind Labour in target seats. Admittedly, the Conservatives might be able to increase their selections of women candidates in the last year; meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats will need localized above national swings to protect their sitting women MPs. In contrast, Labour should – as a direct result of AWS – see a PLP that is more than 40 percent female.

If we look to Scotland and Wales, Labour’s advantage remains, again thanks to quotas. Yet while Labour women continue to hold up headline figures, the previous Nordic-level highs of women’s representation at Holyrood and Cardiff are beginning to look rather like distant memories. In Scotland, the decline in women’s representation has been particularly dramatic, with the current SNP government only delivering a ratio of 1 in 4 women to men in their parliamentary group. This is likely to stall if not fall in the event of another SNP victory in 2016, given the party’s reluctance to follow Labour’s lead in adopting quota measures.

Following the Evidence: The Argument for Gender Quotas

As soon as quotas are raised critics are quick to tell us that everybody hates them. Male and female politicians (the usual suspects) are vocal in the media rubbishing them, from across the political spectrum. And a YouGov poll reported last week found that the public don’t like them, with not one group in favour of them. Indeed, if you ask the public what kind of representative they want, they don’t want women, even as they will agree that in principle there should be more women in politics. The findings of the YouGov survey should again not come as a surprise; surveys have repeatedly shown that voters are hostile to the concept of gender quotas or all-women shortlists. However, parties that present an all male face to the public risk looking out of touch and out of date, and the only short to medium term fix to this problem is to apply equality guarantees; be they AWS or ‘A lists’ rigorously applied.

Do quotas work? The global evidence is overwhelming – quotas that are well-designed and properly implemented are the most effective way of ensuring significant increases in women’s representation. Indeed, 17 of the top 20-ranked countries for women’s representation have used some form of gender quotas – ranging from voluntary party quotas to statutory legislative ones. Rather than follow the evidence, however, opponents of quotas usually advance a set of well-worn criticisms – quotas are un-democratic, they discriminate against men, they create ‘token’ women politicians, and so on. Well, here’s a few counterarguments to the critics, in the elite and in the wider society:

  1. ‘Just be patient, increases in women’s representation will happen naturally’. The evidence is clear – gains in women’s representation are too small and they are taking too long. As the Sex & Power report highlights, a girl born today in the UK will be drawing her pension before she has an equal voice in the government of her country. Such a scenario also presumes an upward linear trajectory – which in the UK and elsewhere is demonstrably not guaranteed.
  1. ‘There just aren’t enough women’. When parties are required to select women, they usually manage to ‘find’ that they had women who’d been willing to stand all along, if only somebody had asked them. Indeed, both Wales and Scotland managed to find women to stand for the new institutions, achieving record levels of women’s representation in 1999 and 2003. Many studies have shown actual increases in the share of women candidates following the introduction of quotas. Do we really think the UK does not have 300 women good enough to be MPs out of a population of 65 million?
  1. ‘Quotas promote unqualified candidates’. First, as above, qualified women are out there, just not ‘seen’. Second, the concept of merit is itself gendered, in that it privileges the ‘male-politician-norm’ over the ‘female-politician-pretender’ – there is no evidence to support the assumption that men are ‘naturally’ better at politics than women. Indeed, analysis of the career trajectories of Labour’s women MPs shows that they were as successful as their male colleagues.
  1. ‘Quota women will be stigmatised’. This may be a problem if there are only a few women, but where a larger number come in this is less likely. Labour’s AWS women have reported that their colleagues and the public rarely have an accurate sense of who was and who was not a ‘quota woman’. Finally, if one has sex neutral quotas – for example, 50/50 for both sexes – then you also create ‘quota men’, and the argument simply disappears.

The long Grass is no longer an option: time for legislative quotas now

Quotas work, but they lack popular support – does this mean that the issue of women’s under-representation is irresolvable? Absolutely not, there is a space for political leadership on this issue. As recent Scottish polls demonstrate, opinions change – voters agree that there should be more women in politics and they don’t penalise women candidates at the ballot box. When faced with an AWS woman the voter does not discriminate either.[ii]

Yet, the political parties have not yet tried to lead rather than follow public opinion on this issue. As a result, the UK debate over quotas has been marginal (within the parties, and only to any effect within Labour), parochial (refusing to engage with the global evidence), non-scientific (failing to follow the evidence), and ideological (refusing to accept that gender matters to democracy). The leaders of both main parties in England who are resistant to quotas have a tendency to raise their spectre only not to follow through: Cameron in 2010 said there would be some when the best candidates were women; Clegg is apparently prepared to countenance them after the next election…..we have become sceptical of such promises.

In this context, the debate about quotas in the UK can no longer be left in the hands of the parties. In all of the recent reports, recommendations have suggested that it is time for the UK to consider legislative quotas:


  • The concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which call on the UK to consider more prescriptive measures to address the political under-representation of women in political life

A Labour government is probably the most likely direct route; but a cross-party group of women MPs post 2015, if the numbers of women on the Tory and Lib Dem benches decline, would be another. Of course the House would need to be persuaded. Political leadership is essential – not just from the women who are most vocal on this, but from the men too who support the principle of equality. The exclusion of women from British politics is a serious democratic deficit. As such, it demands not patience but a solution that works: that solution is quotas.


PSAWomenPollogoThe PSA Women and Politics Specialist 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. The group has a commitment to ensure the visibility of women in the PSA and the discipline, while combating sexism.


[i] See for example Sex & Power 2014, published by Counting Women In (the collective voice of the Hansard Society, Fawcett Society, ERS, CFWD and Unlock Democracy), September 2014; Improving Parliament, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament, July 2014; The Speaker’s Conference Report on Parliamentary Representation, 2010; and the Hansard Society’s Women at the Top, 2000, 2005, 2011.

[ii] Cutts, David, Sarah Childs, and Ed Fieldhouse. 2008. “‘This is what happens when you don’t listen': All-women shortlists at the 2005 General Election.” Party Politics 14(5):575-95; Cutts, David, and Paul Widdop. 2012. “Was Labour penalised where it stood all women shortlist candidates? An analysis of the 2010 UK General Election.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 15 (3), 435-455.

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**NEW BOOK** Deeds and Words: Gendering Politics after Joni Lovenduski

A new ECPR Press collection, edited by Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs, pays tribute to Professor Joni Lovenduski’s contribution to gender studies and feminist politics.

deeds and wordsHow does feminism shake up political science, the study of politics and electoral politics? What difference do feminist political scientists and politicians make to political institutions, policy processes and outcomes? The scholarship and activism of pioneering feminist political scientist Professor Joni Lovenduski helped establish these questions on the political science agenda.

This book, edited by Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs, addresses key themes in Lovenduski’s seminal work. State-of-the-art chapters by leading scholars cover gender and parties; elected institutions and the state; quotas and recruitment; public opinion and women’s interests. Vignettes by prominent politicians and practitioners, including Dame Anne Begg MP, Baroness Gould, Deborah Mattinson, and the Rt Hon Theresa May, bring the academic analysis to life.

Deeds and Words reveals the impact of feminist interventions on politics in the round. Its groundbreaking assessment of feminist scholarship and politics offers an appraisal of, and fitting tribute to, Lovenduski’s own contribution to gender studies and feminist politics.

The book is published by ECPR Press, and will be officially launched at the British Houses of Parliament in October. To purchase the book, please visit the ECPR Press website.

List of Chapters and their authors

Foreword by Albert Weale

Introduction: Deeds and Words Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs

Chapter One: Gendering Political Science Vicky Randall

Chapter Two: The Comparative Study of Politics and Gender Yvonne Galligan

Chapter Three: Representation Karen Celis

Chapter Four: Feminising Political Parties Sarah Childs and Rainbow Murray

Vignette – Gender and Party Politics: The ‘feminisation’ of the Conservative Party by Theresa May MP

Chapter Five : Gender and Political Institutions Fiona Mackay with Faith Armitage and Rosa Malley

Vignette – Gender and Political institutions: ‘Twinning’ – the Scottish Experience by Alice Brown CBE

Chapter Six: Women, Gender Politics and the State: The Words and Deeds of RNGS Amy G. Mazur and Dorothy E McBride

Vignette – Women and the State: Re-gendering our institutions by Baroness Howe

Chapter Seven: The Critical Mass Theory in Public and Scholarly Debates Drude Dahlerup

Vignette – The Story of Critical Mass: Women at Westminster by Jackie Ashley

Chapter Eight: Gender and Political Recruitment Meryl Kenny

Vignette – Gender and Political Recruitment: ‘How Can You Get the Best Person For the Job When the Best Person Hasn’t Even Applied?’ by Dame Anne Begg MP

Chapter Nine: How Quotas Work: The Supply and Demand Model Revisited Pippa Norris and Mona Lena Krook

Vignette – Beyond Quotas: Reflections on Parity in France by Axelle Lemaire

Chapter Ten: Gendering Policy: Praxis Joyce Outshoorn and Jennifer Rubin

Vignette – Gendering Policy: The Relationship Between Academia and Policy Campaigns by Mary-Ann Stephenson

Chapter Eleven: The Slippery Slope: Measuring Women’s Political Interests Peter Allen, Rosie Campbell and Ana Espirito Santo

Vignette – Women’s Political Interests: How the Women’s Vote is Decisive by Deborah Mattinson

Biography of Joni Lovenduski by Judith Squires

Afterword: Joni Lovenduski’s Contribution to Political Science Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs

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