Gender and Politics in the media

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

By Fran Amery and

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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