Electoral Thresholds and the Representation of Women
There are large cross-national differences in the percentage of women in legislatures. Institutional arrangement is a considerable explanatory factor in the disparity in women’s representation, and many mechanisms have been implemented to increase parity. Within PR systems, electoral systems are a way to try to increase the representation of women. Previous studies have linked thresholds to increased party magnitude and in turn to increased women’s representation, but there have not been extensive studies to directly link thresholds to women’s representation. This paper analyzes the impact of thresholds directly, finding that the relationship between thresholds and women’s representation is not as strong or as direct as assumed within the previous literature.
General situation of women in parliaments
Women make up more than half of the world’s population, but as of August 31, 2003, compose only 15.3% of the elected representatives to national legislatures (IPU). A large discourse has emerged trying to explain this under representation, and a debate has developed about what variables have the greatest explanatory value. The political culture side of the argument claims that without certain socio-economic conditions, educational standards, or feminist movements the representation of women can be severely limited. It is only in more egalitarian societies that women obtain respected elected offices. Institutionalists, on the other hand, stress that institutions do make a difference. Without woman-friendly electoral systems, such as proportional representation, the success of women vying for political office can be greatly hindered. Even if a society is progressive and women have extensive rights, institutions can limit or expand representation. Not all proportional electoral systems are created equal. Various institutional “tweaks” can alter the woman-friendliness of a system. Electoral thresholds provide a strong example of how particular rules can affect the membership of a governing body. There is debate regarding the effect and importance of thresholds, and this paper adds to that discourse by directly examining the impact of thresholds on women.
An electoral threshold is the percentage of votes that must be achieved in order to gain access to the legislature. The relationship between thresholds and women’s representation has not been conclusively studied. In theory, high electoral thresholds are seen to decrease the number of parties admitted to the legislature, thereby increasing party magnitude and women’s representation. At the same time, low electoral thresholds may be important to women’s representation. Low thresholds allow new, small parties access to the legislature. These parties may be leftist and friendly to women, such as Green parties, and increase the number of women brought into the legislature. Despite these...