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II. Evolution of the Study of Women and Comparative Politics and Strategies for Research
III. Themes, Theories, and Approaches of Comparative Research on Women and Politics
A. Women and Political Representation
B. Feminist Comparative Policy
C. Gender, Policy, and the Welfare State
D. State Feminism
E. Policy Formation and Implementation
F. Women’s Movements
IV. Practical Implications
V. Future Directions
In 1976, Peter Merkl observed that the field of comparative politics had been woefully deficient with respect to the study of women (Merkl, 1976). Few comparative studies on gender existed, almost no presentations or panels appeared at professional meetings, and no academic journal specialized in the publication of research in the subfield. More than 40 years later, the study of women, and more broadly gender, in comparative politics has flourished, becoming an important area of research. A recent issue of Perspectives on Politics dedicated a whole section of the journal to a review of comparative politics of gender. This research paper is intended as an overview for students who wish to gain a general understanding of the evolution of this field of study. Several aspects of the study of women in comparative politics are summarized in this research paper. The first section highlights how the comparative study of women and politics has evolved since the 1970s, noting an increase in the number of scholars in the field and the acceptance of this area of research into mainstream political science journals. The second section examines some of the key themes and theories, including women and representation and feminist comparative public policy. The growth of studies on gender regimes and the welfare state, state feminism, the formation and implementation of women-friendly policies, and the influence of women’s movements on policy debates are presented. Next, some practical implications of these studies are noted, followed by a discussion of future directions of research.
II. Evolution of the Study of Women and Comparative Politics and Strategies for Research
Comparative political science has been around since the time of Aristotle. In its modern configuration, the subfield has been defined as involving both a comparative method of study and a substantive area focus on understanding the societies and politics of countries and regions of the world (Hull, 1999). In its early stages, comparative politics took a more formal-legalistic approach, using historical analysis or descriptive studies of political institutions and governments primarily in Western Europe and the United States. However, with the growth of behavioral perspectives and critiques in the 1950s and 1960s, comparative studies moved toward more empirical methods and theory building (Hull, 1999). Comparative studies of political behavior, political culture, democratization, development, public policy, and the state became more common and more global, with no single theoretical paradigm dominating the field (Hull, 1999). Even with these expansions in themes and methods, women were still remarkably absent, both as a subject of study and as practitioners in the field early on (Gruberg, 1999). Part of the reason was that gender was considered at the time to be a “marginal” or unimportant area for comparative political study. Since so few women were in key positions of political leadership around the world, the notion of women having power or political influence was perceived as irrelevant. Even the notion of gendered policy making was not considered, much less fully articulated or well developed, in comparative perspective. Furthermore, women entering political science were counseled to be careful to do “mainstream” work in order to be successful in the completion of a dissertation or accepted in the job market. Very little incentive existed for opening up new areas of research related to women and comparative public policy or political representation, or gender and politics more broadly (Hull, 1999). By the late 1970s, this began to change as political science, and comparative politics in particular, was impacted by feminist critiques and increased numbers of women in the discipline. Changes within the American Political Science Association itself, the role of key conferences in providing the impetus for research, and the creation of new academic journals all helped the study of women and comparative politics to become accepted in the discipline. For example, the seminal conference “Social and Political Change: The Role of Women” held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1974 called attention to the need to incorporate women into political and social studies (Merkl, 1976). The formation of the Women’s Caucus for Political Science in 1969 provided mentoring and support for women entering all subfields of political science. And finally, the creation of several key academic journals, including Signs in 1975, Women and Politics in 1980 (known since 2004 as Women, Politics, and Public Policy), and most recently Politics and Gender in 2005, all fostered interest in research on women and politics. By the late 1990s, mainstream journals such as Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, PS: Political Science and Politics, and Perspectives in Political Science all were publishing articles in which women were central in the analysis of various comparative topics. By the 21st century, research on women and comparative politics was much more widespread and acknowledged in political science than previously reported by studies of the discipline at the end of the 1990s (Gruberg, 1999; Hull, 1999). Over time, multiple methodological and theoretical debates also emerged. Much like the debates in political science as a whole, the debates surrounding the comparative study of women and politics, and more recently gender and comparative politics, have focused on whether to do large cross-national, quantitative studies or to employ smaller, detailed case studies (Mazur & Perry, 1998). The advantage of small qualitative studies is their ability to capture the complexities of cultural contexts and the interplay of race, class, and gender issues. The obvious disadvantages are the inability to generalize about cross-national patterns or to replicate particular research findings over time. On the other hand, larger, quantitative studies using data sets can offer more generalization but miss the nuances of difference that can be key in understanding the impact of identity and gender issues in particular. Since the late 1990s, some scholars have chosen “not to choose,” that is, to try to find some combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies such as those created by the Research Network on Gender Politics and the State (RNGS; Mazur & Perry, 1998). This network brings together more than 46 scholars to study and explore theories about gender, policy making, and state processes. Publishing a variety of books and articles over the past 10 years, these scholars have addressed some of the thorny problems of depth versus generalizability by using a combination of detailed interviews, data collection from numerous sources, numerous case studies, and more in empirical research.
III. Themes, Theories, and Approaches of Comparative Research on Women and Politics
Since the advent of comparative research on women and politics, several areas of inquiry have emerged, only a few of which will be discussed here. These include studies of women and political representation and feminist comparative policy, analyses of gender regimes and the welfare state, state feminism, policy formation and implementation, and the impact of women’s movements. Although women, or more broadly gender, have been commonly used as a variable rather than an analytical tool, more recent theoretical work in comparative research, overlapping with feminist international relations and women’s studies, has started to examine the possible gendered nature of policy, bureaucracies, and the state (Beckwith, 2010).
A. Women and Political Representation
The earliest comparative studies of women and politics focused first on issues of female representation in industrialized countries or the states of Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. Researchers were primarily interested in whether women were elected to key political positions and what circumstances tended to favor the access of women to political office. Formal politics, such as voting, elections, the role of political parties, and work of legislators were at the heart of these studies, with later work considering the role of women in civil society. Early classic works in these areas were Politics and Sexual Equality: The Comparative Position of Women in Western Democracies (Norris, 1987), Gender and Political Parties (Norris & Lovenduski, 1993), and Women and Politics Worldwide (Nelson & Chowdhury, 1994). In the past 15 years, studies on representation became more complex, focusing on what combination of factors contributed to a lesser or greater degree to the legislative representation of women. Political or institutional, cultural, and socioeconomic explanations also emerged as possibilities for investigation. Research also gradually moved beyond industrialized states to central and eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa (see Kenworthy & Malami, 1999). For example, institutional explanations looked at the nature of the electoral system itself, the construction and size of political parties and party candidate lists, the timing of women’s access to the vote, and levels of democracy. Although some studies disagreed, generally proportional representation (PR) in parliaments was viewed as more favorable than district-based systems as the number of seats available to women in PR systems tended to be higher (Matland & Studlar, 1996). Political parties with open party lists and term limits were also seen as favoring the advancement of women (Htun & Jones, 2002; Krook, 2005). And overall, the quality of democracy—that is, systems with multiple, competitive political parties, high voter turnout, and regular elections—also increased the representation of women (Lindberg, 2004; see also Viterna, Fallon, & Beckfield, 2008). A second area of interest focused on religious or cultural factors in determining levels of representation of women. Initial studies on cultural or religious factors ranged from examining the effects of Muslim or Catholic cultures in hindering women’s election to political office to studying aggregated attitudes toward gender equality (Tripp & Kang, 2008). Some research attempted to use binary variables measuring whether a state ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to examine attitudes about women’s equality and the connection between these attitudes and women’s representation (Tripp & Kang, 2008). More recent studies, including those by Inglehart and Norris (2003), have largely used data sets such as the World Values Survey, with information from more than 70 countries, finding that well-educated, less religious, and single respondents in postindustrial states were most likely to support equal representation for women. Pursuing a third area of interest, scholars have explored socioeconomic factors affecting women’s representation, in particular women’s levels of education and participation in the labor force. These studies have yielded mixed results. Paxton (1997), for example, found that levels of education or numbers of women in the workplace are not as important as institutional factors that may limit women’s access to political processes. On the other hand, Kenworthy and Malami (1999) discovered that the type of professional occupation indeed might enhance women’s participation. More recent research has returned to the question of whether development impacts women’s representation. Viterna, Fallon, and Beckfield (2008) have argued that in order to have a better understanding of this relationship, taking into account different political systems and economic circumstances, studies must examine developed and developing countries separately. Levels of democracy may still be important, but economic development does matter. In the past 6 years, researchers also explored the impact of quotas and to what degree they enhance women’s representation around the world. These studies call into question earlier institutional, cultural, or socioeconomic explanatory variables (Tripp & Kang, 2008). Quotas refer to a prescribed number of seats in parliament, on political party lists, or in political leadership allocated to women within a political system. Quotas can be mandated informally through party practice or tradition, or more formally through legislative rules, constitutional amendments, and the like. Recent books on the impact and effectiveness of quotas include Representing Women? Female Legislators in West European Parliaments (Diez, 2005) and Women, Quotas, and Politics (Dahlerup, 2006). Articles on the subject have also appeared in several journals, including most recently a comprehensive study on the global impact of quotas by Tripp and Kang (2008) and work on quotas in Latin America by Jones (2009), both in Comparative Political Studies. Tripp and Kang’s (2008) study is particularly instructive in pointing to the impact of quotas vis-à-vis previous understanding of female representation. The nature of the electoral system, specifically in terms of proportional representation or levels of democracy, was earlier considered most important in determining the level of representation of women. However, the introduction of quotas in a variety of systems, democratic or not, has shown that although PR systems may still be important in some parts of the world, the existence of quotas, regardless of the type of regime, may be even more critical. Quotas also seem to matter more than religious or cultural factors as many predominantly Muslin countries have adopted quotas for women, raising their representation in the political process. This phenomenon contradicts earlier research pointing to the restrictive nature of religions such as Islam or Catholicism on women’s political rights. Furthermore, the existence of quotas may also be more important than the length of time women have had the vote in a particular country or the country’s degree of economic development. Quotas, according to Tripp and Kang (2008), seem to have helped women overcome limitations traditionally created by economic underdevelopment, authoritarian regimes, cultural contexts, or the features of regular electoral politics, thus challenging previous notions of whether political, cultural, or economic factors are most important in understanding the evolution of women’s representation. What is more uncertain is whether quotas create a permanent avenue for representation of women and greater impact in the policy-making process. As Tripp and Kang (2008) admitted, more longitudinal studies including future data on women’s representation and effectiveness in the political process are needed to learn whether quotas are indeed the key to ensuring political equality for women. Further work is also needed on understanding which women are privileged in the quota selection process. In other words, to what degree do race, class, and gender, or issues of intersectionality and positionality, matter? Additionally, more comparative work on women’s representation in developing areas, especially Africa, would be helpful in understanding the possibilities for social change.
B. Feminist Comparative Policy
Along with women and representation, a key area of research is the study of feminist comparative policy. This research has coincided with the emergence of various new social policies, ranging from equal job opportunities, shared part-time work, welfare programs, and parental leave to policies dealing with reproductive rights, sexual harassment, and violence against women in states globally. Feminist comparative policy research is interested in understanding the similarities and differences in the formation, implementation, and effects of these policies on women, and the area is moving from studies at the state level to examinations of the impact of policies of transnational organizations such as the European Union or the UN (Gottfried & Reese, 2003). The underlying hope of researchers here is that scholars and practitioners worldwide can learn from each other what policies pragmatically solve public problems and better the lives of both men and women. In the 1990s and early 21st century, much of this work focused on the West or women in the industrialized states. Ackelsberg (1992) found that several authors made contributions, including Gelb and Palley (1987), Sassoon (1987), and Boneparth and Stoper (1988). They explored how policies can affect men and women differently as well as to what degree women impact the policy-making process. This work raised important questions, such as: Who benefits and who does not when public problems are defined a certain way? Can women who are often marginalized or lack accessibility to decision makers affect policy? And how are inequalities reinforced, changed, or redefined by policy reform? By the 21st century, the RNGS group, among others, began making major contributions to this research, expanding the topics and theoretical issues pursued (Mazur, 2002). Gottfried and Reese (2003) found in their comprehensive review of feminist comparative policy research at least four categories or aspects of policy study that have appeared recently in the literature. These include gender regimes, policy, and the welfare state; the emergence of state feminism and its effects; the process of women-friendly policy formation and the challenges of policy implementation; and the role of women’s movements in shaping social policy debates. Some of the themes and findings in each of these areas are discussed next.
C. Gender, Policy, and the Welfare State
Since the 1990s, scholars in women’s studies, sociology, and political science have all been interested in trying to understand how gender is constructed in the politics of the welfare state. This work first moved toward reframing old welfare state typologies and theories into more gender-sensitive models, and then sought new ways of examining questions related to concepts of the nature of families, work, social care, and the state (Gottfried & Reese, 2003). Key to this work have been the contributions of Walby (1999), who examined the nature of gender regimes, Acker (2006), who introduced the concept of inequality regimes, and Lewis (1992), who elaborated on the concept and role of the male breadwinner model in social policy. Gender regimes refer to systems or patterns of gender equality or inequality in gender relations found in the household, the market, civil society, and the state. Walby (1999) was interested in how gender regimes in industrialized states move from private (within the family or the personal) to public domains (economics, civil society, policy, and government). She argued that four aspects were important in understanding gender regimes and the possibility for these transitions: (1) Gender regimes were social systems or gender orders coexisting with differing degrees of inequality or equality; (2) such regimes can be differentiated in a variety of ways along market, regulatory, or socially driven dimensions; (3) a number of public domains can exist where gender regimes operate simultaneously; and (4) gender regimes can also be created as a series of gendered social activities and traditions, constructed, reconstructed, and reinforced from one generation to the next. Gender regimes do not have to be static and can change over time. Acker (2006), a sociologist, took these ideas a step further and posited the notion of inequality regimes as an analytical approach to explain the creation and maintenance of inequalities in work organizations. Drawing on the concepts of intersectionality and the mutual and reinforcing reproduction of class, race, and gender relations of inequality (see O’Loughlin, Converse, & Hoeschst, 1998), she set the stage for the possibilities of detailed and complex comparisons of inequality, identity, and power relations in a variety of forms within the welfare state and beyond. Lewis (1992) focused on another aspect of gendered policy making by exploring the importance of the male breadwinner model. This model contains several assumptions about the role of men in the family and the household, including the idea that men are the primary providers. Lewis, and later Orloff (2002), found that this model has often permeated assumptions of policymakers and gendered the creation of social policy across industrialized states. Women become caught in situations in which welfare benefits or labor policies are determined by gendered assumptions that do not apply to the realities of their day-to-day lives. And even though the breadwinner model has waned or shifted with societal changes in different countries, it still carries a great deal of political power (Orloff, 2002). Armed with these theoretical frameworks, scholars in feminist comparative policy have examined public policies related to job training, employment, education, paid work, welfare, and many other areas. They have also investigated the institutional arrangements and political contexts that have fostered these policies. While the focus has generally been on case studies of industrialized states, recent research has started to explore labor and welfare policies and institutions in central and eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America (Pribble, 2005). One of the interesting findings in much of this work is that social, political, and economic changes, or the move from private to public gender regimes, are not always matched by new definitions of gender roles or greater economic, social, or political equality for women (see Pascall & Lewis, 2004). As will be discussed later, only when active women’s movements, creating fundamental shifts in perceptions and calling attention to equal treatment, are present do policies seem to be implemented and more likely to change conditions of inequality (Gottfried & Reese, 2003; Katzenstein & Mueller, 1987; Keiser, 1997; Montoya, 2004; Sainsbury, 1999).
D. State Feminism
Another important area of comparative research on women and politics is the study of state feminism. State feminism refers to the emergence, within governments, of women’s policy machineries created to handle the advancement of women or women’s policy issues. These machineries can take many different forms, such as formal ministries, offices within a particular department of the state, or special formal commissions or committees created by the parliament or legislature. According to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, women’s policy machineries are any formal entity recognized and supported by the state as dealing with the promotion of equality for women. They usually are central, policy-coordinating units (see, e.g., the following UN document related to the Commission on the Status of Women: E/CN.6/1988/3; see also E/CN.6/2009/15). By 2009, two thirds of the world’s states had created women’s policy agencies and continued to play an important role in articulating issues related to women and girls (see, e.g., the following UN document related to the Commission on the Status of Women: E/CN.6/2009/15). Feminist comparative research has used a variety of strategies in examining state feminism (Squires & Kantola, 2008). Approaches have included single-country case studies, multiple case comparisons selecting most similar cases, and comparisons of case studies considered to be most different. Recent studies have moved from industrialized states to developing countries. Regardless of the number of policy cases or types of states, researchers have generally been interested in whether these machineries have an impact on women-friendly policy formation and are effective in improving the lives of women. Success might be measured in terms of whether women or advocacy groups were actually brought into critical policymaking processes and whether a redefinition of policy goals and practices occurred that addressed feminist goals of equality (Squires & Kantola, 2008). Academic studies done by the RNGS group, as well as research initiated by the UN Division for the Advancement of Women and the UN Commission on the Status of Women, have produced a complicated picture of the impact of women’s policy machineries in various regions of the world. For example, Mazur (2002) acknowledged the role of femocrats (a term coined by Australian feminists to describe the professional female workers in policy offices who supported gender equality agendas) in bringing feminist issues into the public discourse and the realm of formal politics. Weldon (2002) later explored the possibilities of a continuum of government responsiveness, arguing that the existence of women’s agencies did not necessarily mean that they were always effective. More recently, Outshoorn and Kantola (2007) have asked why, almost a decade after the proliferation of women’s policy machineries, more progress has not been made on the achievement of equality for women. They found that often gender mainstreaming efforts triggered the creation of a single women’s agency but at the expense of more widespread policy initiatives and funding for programs across government departments. The slowing of policy implementation also may have been caused by a need for expertise that was hard to find or by difficulty in addressing the needs of the multiple identities of women and their experiences. Furthermore, the larger economic situation and specific tensions between feminist policy goals and neoliberal market agendas collided in such a way that parties of the political right would attempt to reduce or to hold the line on costs of new social programs promoted by these agencies. Recent work by the Division for the Advancement of Women, under the auspices of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, has also acknowledged that women’s agencies must address a wide variety of issues and be supported financially and politically by governments if they are to be more effective. Recently, special attention has been given to the role these agencies may play in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the need to enhance their capacities to address education, prevention, and health issues. However, the UN itself acknowledges that without appropriate staffing, levels of financial support, and political will on the part of states, these tasks will be difficult (see, e.g., the UN document related to the Commission on the Status of Women: E/CN.6/2009/15). Nearly all these studies agree that the success of women’s policy machineries depends more on external factors than on the internal features of the bureaucracies themselves (Squires & Kantola, 2008). In other words, the general economic, social, and political environment, as well as the nature and strength of women’s mobilization, matter in the sustaining of these agencies and their effectiveness. State feminism, and its ability to formulate or to implement policy, arguably is susceptible to how visible, vocal, and influential women’s movements might be and whatever shifts or changes might be occurring within a country or region.
E. Policy Formation and Implementation
Related to the study of state feminism is an interest in policy itself and understanding the similarities and differences of policy formation and implementation crossnationally. Along with the work of the RNGS group, several institutes and organizations have appeared in the past 30 years to extend the comparative research on women and policy. Among the most active and well-known groups are the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which works in affiliation with the George Washington University; the Center for Women Policy Studies, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.; and the Institute for Research on Women, located at Rutgers University. Although the work of these groups has often focused on internal policy making and implementation in the United States or Europe, interest has increased in the formation and implementation of policy for the advancement of women in developing countries as well. Many of these institutes have sponsored recent symposia, research projects, and special conferences related to the study of women and politics in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Scholars associated with these groups have published numerous studies using case studies, cross-national statistical analyses, or both, and have drawn a variety of conclusions. As early as 1997, Keiser found that legislation of a policy does not guarantee implementation or enforcement. Using child support policies as a case in point, Keiser noted that only where women have a strong political base and can push for accountability can policies achieve appropriate levels of enforcement (Keiser, 1997). In their review of workplace policy research, Gottfried and Reese (2003) found multiple causal factors in effective policy formation and implementation. In particular, rates of women’s unionization, types of legal systems, modernization of gender regimes, changing social and political divisions of power and authority, economic markets, and the pressures of transnational feminist networks—to name just a few—could all impact policy debates and actions to varying degrees. Gottfried and Reese also noted that further research needed to be done to clarify the role of policy recommendations and guidelines promoted by the UN and the European Union in enhancing the strength of policy implementation. In 2004, Montoya asked theoretical questions about what makes some policies harder to implement than others and called for more complex models of research for understanding policy formation and implementation. Starting with the acknowledgment of societal values, she built a two-dimensional model focusing on various types of mechanisms needed for policy formation and the potential strategies and resources required for women’s rights advocates to act and to interact with their political environments to ensure policy implementation. Focusing on the Italian experience as a case study, she concluded that depending on the policy issue, policy advocates both inside and outside government, with the potential for alliances and coordinated efforts, can affect policy outcomes. In 2006, Hannan took up the challenge of assessing some of the broad implications and outcomes of the frameworks and recommendations for gender policy promoted by the UN Platform for Action from the Beijing Conference. She found that whereas numerous women’s agencies and national polices had been created for the advancement of women and girls, the results were indeed quite mixed. Disturbing gaps continued between policy intent and policy outcomes. No matter whether it was health care, education, or the reduction of violence against women, progress was very uneven from state to state and region to region. Discrimination and public attitudes had not necessarily changed or improved at the same rate as reform efforts in legal or policy frameworks (Hannan, 2006). Current research explores not only types of policies and their outcomes but also the importance of distilling issues related to the influence of women’s movements, feminist activism, and gender issues more broadly defined. For example, Chappell (2007) has called for a shift from an agenda of comparative research on women and politics to an understanding of the role of gender norms and gendered institutions in policy making. In March 2010, Beckwith reviewed the logics of a comparative politics of gender, briefly enumerating the benefits of a comparative study of gendered analysis of political phenomena (Beckwith, 2010). This research has led to work on gender and courts, as well as opening up the possibility for studying both men’s and women’s positions in political structures at all government levels and in policy discourses.
F. Women’s Movements
Since the groundbreaking work of Katzenstein and Mueller in 1987 on consciousness, political opportunity, and policy making, scholars have explored the variety of ways that feminist goals and practices connect to policy, the state, and other political structures (Katzenstein & Mueller, 1987). While Mazur (2002) cautioned that the role of women’s movements is not always clear-cut, most feminist comparative studies have agreed that some level of women’s mobilization, through either autonomous movements or larger formal organizations such as unions and political parties, has been key in the formation and effectiveness of women-friendly policies in Europe and Latin America (DiMarco, 2008; Kahn & Meehan, 1992). Recent literature has continued to pose complex questions surrounding the evolution and role of women’s movements in civil society in different cultural contexts. Some of this scholarship has also explored the strength or viability of cooperation among local women’s nongovernmental organizations and global networks in influencing gender policy. For instance, Orr (2008) found that in some east European states, ethnic and regional divisions limited the ability of women’s organizations to work together on issues related to equality. Comparative scholarship on women and politics in the Middle East pointed to positive relationships between transnational women’s networks and global rights agendas promoted by the UN and women’s movements, as well as the important role women have had in shaping civil society (Moghadam & Sadiqi, 2006). Research shows that women’s activism does not necessarily reproduce Western gender frameworks but involves pragmatic and context-specific strategies that are still responsive to global trends promoting the advancement of women (Moghadam & Sadiqi, 2006). Although more studies need to be done regarding trends in Africa, early work suggests that here, too, cultural context matters and that strategies to improve women’s lives may not depend only on influencing formal structures of political systems but rather on the creation of local and communal women’s organizations and networks (Goetz & Hassim, 2003; Lindberg, 2004).
IV. Practical Implications
Practical implications for policy development and research can be drawn from the work on women and comparative politics over the past several decades. First and foremost, context matters; policies formed in the United States on pay equity and parental leave, for example, may not work or even be appropriate for countries in Asia or the Middle East, because of differing histories, cultures, economic systems, gender regimes, and political structures. Even though scholars and practitioners have much to learn from each other, importing gender policies from one country to the next should be considered with great caution and understanding that circumstances and conditions can differ from state to state. At the same time, that wisdom does not mean that general guidelines on the equal treatment of women should not be discussed or that general theorizing and empirical research should be abandoned. The creation of universal policies for all may not be possible, but international bodies such as the UN, the European Union, the African Union, and other transnational networks have roles to play in drawing attention to the condition of women worldwide and providing recommendations, support, and possible strategies for improvement where appropriate. Furthermore, the comparative study of similarities and differences in policy making can provide insights for policymakers within states, as well as point to broad patterns and themes cross-nationally. Placing gender at the center of these studies can also improve understandings of politics and political behavior generally. The use of quotas as a practical solution for increasing women’s representation in political systems is also important to note. Although further research should be done on the longevity and real influences on political processes overall, comparative research so far seems to suggest that this type of institutional reform may work at least partially to break old patriarchal norms and provide more representation to women in some contexts.
V. Future Directions
The study of women and comparative politics continues to be one of the dynamic areas within political science, with much research yet to be done. Only a few future directions can be suggested here. First, it is clear that more work is needed on the representation, political influences, and policy processes of women in developing countries. A paucity of research exists on women and Africa in particular. So far, most studies have focused on South Africa or Uganda, and few have gone beyond discussing issues of representation and policy formation (see Goetz & Hassim, 2003; Lindberg, 2004). Additional research on a wider variety of countries and policies would improve the understanding of diverse historical, cultural, social, economic, and political factors in the region, as well as gender activism and policy reform from state to state. As already discussed, continued research is needed on quotas as a practical solution for the advancement of women in politics. What is the long-term impact of quotas? Does election through quotas affect the perceptions of women by their peers? Are they viewed as equally qualified, or does the quota selection process tend to color their acceptance by fellow legislators, inhibiting their performance as policymakers? What happens after quota systems are lifted? And does the existence of quotas in party lists, parliaments, or other political bodies have any spillover effect in the direction of other policies related to equal treatment either for women or for other marginalized groups? And do race and class among women also matter in who is elected through quotas? These questions might be very interesting to explore in a variety of cultural contexts. Additional work on the process of policy transfer through international organizations like the African Union, the European Union, or the UN would also be useful. As yet, the academic literature has only started to explore to what extent states take these recommendations seriously and whether such policy recommendations are effective in improving women’s lives. With respect to policy outcomes as well as issues of representation and quotas, more longitudinal research is needed to understand the longer term impact of strategies, programs, and agendas for the advancement of women. Shifts to focusing on gender more broadly in comparative studies also open up the possibilities for more work on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues and public policy. To date, some comparative work has been done on politics and policies related to homosexuality and gay rights in Canada and the United States (Smith, 2008). However, considerably more research is needed to understand gender dynamics, political mobilization, and possible new directions for policy creation, reform, and implementation in this area in other countries around the world.
This research paper has traced the evolution of the study of women and comparative politics from the later 1970s to the present. Using methodologies common to political science, comparative research on women and politics has moved from topics focused on representation of women in various governments around the world to the study of feminist comparative policy. Over time, theoretical frames have incorporated intersectionality, gender regimes, and interests in gender as an analytical category, especially with respect to the state and policy-making practices. Practical implications for research include the recognition that historical, cultural, social, and political contexts matter in understanding policy formation and implementation. Case studies are vital in gaining these insights, and yet cross-national studies are still important in efforts to understand broad patterns and relationships of representation. Future directions for research include the need for more comparative work on women and politics in developing countries, especially Africa, and the topic of comparative public policy and sexual diversity. It is hoped that this research paper prompts students to consider doing research of their own in this dynamic area of political science.
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