Friday, December 5, 2014

Intersectionality at Play: the Parliamentary Representation of Women and Ethnic Minorities

While there has been much research on women’s political representation and ethnic minorities’ political representation, there is very little about the intersection of these two, argued WAPPP Fellow Liza Mügge in this week’s seminar. In her lecture, titled “Gender and Ethnicity in Parliamentary Representation,” Mügge, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, presented her findings, which are part of a stream of research on gendered representation of minorities.

Professor Mügge explained that parliamentary representation of minority groups is important, both because equal representation is a social justice concern, but also because research shows that having political representation close to actual proportions within the population of a particular society is necessary for that society to remain peaceful.

Mügge conducted an analysis of the makeup of the Dutch Parliament starting in 1986, the year that that the first ethnic minority Member of Parliament (MP) was elected. The analysis focused on both descriptive and substantive representation and named three transition phases for an individual to be elected to office: 1) ineligible to aspirant, 2) aspirant to candidate and 3) candidate to elected. Mügge then used an intersectionality lens to understand why there were many more minority women than men in office in the 1980s and 1990s and how candidates can learn from their specific challenges and successes.
Member of Parliament Sadet Karabulut

In phase one, the primary criterion to transition from ineligible to an aspirant is Dutch citizenship. With a massive increase in naturalization during the 1990s and the fact that post-colonial immigrants were already Dutch citizens, this was not a significant barrier. Education level also factors in, and Mügge argued that part of the success of ethnic minority women is due to the education gender gap: 54% of ethnic minority undergraduate students are female. Ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in labor market participation, and political participation varies greatly by nationality, with Turks and Moroccans’ turnout close to that of those with European ancestry at about 57%, while Antillean immigrants are much lower at 18%.

In the second phase, how diversity is regulated and the availability of identity networks are crucial. The Green Party and Social Democrats have highly institutionalized women sections for networking and strategy and strong, though informal, minority sections. Mügge argued that the gender progressiveness of the Social Democrats especially has spilled over to include ethnic minorities, thereby helping female minority candidates win.

In phase three, the challenge comes down to whether the candidates are given winnable seats. Only 6% of all ethnic minority candidates across the elections studied were in a winnable seat, though there was not a significant difference between male and females candidates. 

Many, but not all, of the factors that boost women’s participation also increase ethnic minority representation. Leftist ideology that has often supported more gender parity in government also supports ethnic minorities in general, but civil society networks work for ethnic minority women much better than for ethnic minority men. 

Mügge concluded by explaining the issue in terms of demand and supply. The large increase of eligible citizens since the 1990s has created MP supply, while changing ideology and the availability of networks has created demand. At the end of the day, the political parties are the most influential gatekeepers, however, and they continue to greatly affect gender and ethnicity representation in Parliament. 

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