why women are so poorly represented in politics

why women are so poorly represented in politics

© Damien MEYER / POOL / AFP
Municipal: why women are poorly represented in politics

Parity in politics still seems distant. In the next municipal elections, we count a total of 21.32% of the heads of lists of municipalities with more than 1,000 inhabitants who are women. At the end of 2019, only 16.9% were mayors. How to explain this low representation of women in the political sphere, and especially at the local level? Two economists have looked into the matter.

Parity in politics still seems far away. As the municipal elections approached, AFP took stock and we are far from the count. In fact, a total of 21.32% of the heads of lists of municipalities with more than 1,000 inhabitants in the municipal elections of March 15 and 22 are women, compared to only 15.46% in 2014. Or an increase of 6 points, which represents a significant advance all the same.

In details, according to the administrative site “public life”, at the end of 2019, women were only 16.9% as mayors, and 29% first deputies against 40% municipal councilors. “For twenty years real progress has been made in the application of the principle of parity in political elections. For municipal elections, it is the laws of 2007 and 2013 which define the framework of parity”, notes the site which is at the heart of public debate.

84% of mayors are men

An observation which incites certain feminist associations like Dare feminism to claim real parity in politics and to ask future elected officials to compose an executive by allocating delegations in a non-sexist manner. Indeed, if parity is now compulsory on municipal lists for cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants, it is far from being effective, recalls the association which launched the hashtag # FeministonsLesMunicipales. Currently, 84% of mayors and 92% of inter-municipal presidents are men, while women represent 48% of councilors in cities with more than 1,000 inhabitants.

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Dare Feminism proceeded to examine the lists of the six largest political parties in the ten largest cities. The results are overwhelming: only 29% of women are at the top of the list, 40% for LFI and PS, 30% for LR and LREM, 20% for EELV and we barely reach 10% for RN. By requesting joint lists for all local authorities and intermunicipal associations, as well as the establishment of a joint tandem for the top of the list, the association follows the recommendations of the High Council for Equality (HCE) who launched a call for parity two weeks before the closing of the lists. “It is time to move from quantitative parity to effective sharing of power and to resolutely commit to gender equality within the community”, argued on 13 February the High Council for Equality between women and men (HCE).

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Voter discrimination against women

But how can we explain the low presence of women in politics, especially at the local level? Jean-Benoît Eymeoud and Paul Vertier, two economists, researchers at the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Evaluation of Public Policies at SciencesPo (LIEPP) have looked into the subject, by publishing in March 2020 the study “Gender discrimination and local elections”. The literature has shown that several barriers can explain this under-representation of women in politics. The first being an internalization of this gender inequality which makes women less natural towards politics, the second being the political party itself which will tend to put on the lists of women in areas which are not winnable . The last hypothesis is based on discrimination of voters against women.

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This study attempts to test this hypothesis in the case of France, by studying an unprecedented experience which took place in March 2015. For the first time, candidates were not to appear alone but in pairs which necessarily had to be joint, or composed of a man and a woman, explain the authors of this study. “The law also required that the order of appearance on the ballot be based on alphabetical order, which led half of the pairs to have a woman in first position and vice versa. This historic change of the electoral process may have led some voters to think that the candidate in first position on the ballot received more prerogatives than the person in second position, and thus to pay him more attention. “

Right-wing voters more discriminating

Our two researchers saw this reform as the ideal analytical framework for assessing the presence of gender discrimination. This study shows that only the right pairs with a woman in first position were discriminated against by their voters. “On average, they lost 1.5 percentage points of the vote in the first round, about 5% of the share received on average by a right-wing partner.” However, at the level of the other parties, “there are no significant differences between having a man or a woman in first position”, observes Jean-Benoît Eymeoud, who does not hide his surprise at such a result.

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Some right-wing voters may have misunderstood the rules of the election. “When they saw a woman in first position, they said to themselves that she had more prerogatives, hence the discrimination.” Another possible explanation, “part of this electorate did not understand that these two people had exactly the same prerogatives”. According to Jean-Benoît Eymeoud, the fact that this discrimination is only present on the right can be justified by the fact that historically, “this party has presented much less candidates than the other political parties”. However, previous studies have shown that when an elector has already voted for women, he will be more likely to vote for women in the future. When additional information, such as the function of the person, was delivered on the ballot on election day, it turns out that at the level of right-wing voters, discrimination disappeared. “Which leaves us to think that these voters have many negative stereotypes”, analyzes Jean-Benoît Eymeoud. Difficult to generalize the results of this study nationwide. “At a very local level, the perimeter is more limited”, underlines the co-author of this study. “Discrimination processes can therefore be stronger”.


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