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Women’s descriptive and substantive political representation : the role of political institutions. Lore, Grace Alexandra


This dissertation explores how political institutions shape the behaviour of women in politics. It asks whether the relationship between the gender of representatives (descriptive representation) and the representation of women’s interests (substantive representation) depends on the institutional context. Using prominent institutional perspectives a theory is offered for how the division or fusion of powers and electoral systems affect substantive representation in both individual behaviour and policy outcomes. When party ties are weakened and internal party competition increased, women do more to substantively represent women, while men focus on other unincorporated interests. Institutions affect policy outcomes, not only by affecting individual behaviour but also by determining how those actions are aggregated. The theory is tested using a mixed methodological approach. Two datasets capture individual behaviour - an international survey of representatives and an original dataset examining representative’s tweets. The results demonstrate that the gap between substantive representation by women and that by men is larger under the conditions of a division of powers and when electoral systems incentives the representation of unincorporated interests. Interviews and surveys with more than 90 legislators from 7 countries provide evidence of the causal mechanisms. The aggregate effect of the number of women on gendered policy outcomes is tested using data combined from a range of sources. The findings results are equivocal: institutions that facilitate individual action can also make policy change more difficult. In short, institutions moderate the relationship between descriptive and substantive representation at the individual level and, to a lesser extent, at the aggregate level. This ‘institutionalist turn’ improves understanding of how, when, and why women act to represent women. The ‘gender turn’ in the study of institutions demonstrates the flexibility of the theories and the broad and consequential impact of institutions. There are implications that extend beyond gender to include other issues and identities not incorporated into the party system, such as ethnicity.

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