Despite making major inroads into national legislatures over the last 20 years, female politicians still do not attain parity either in national legislatures or in “P-Suite” positions, that is, as party leaders, president, prime minister, chair of powerful committees, or members of the premier’s cabinet. By the middle of last century, women made up only two percent of national legislatures, but today their presence has soared, reaching 22 percent of seats in all houses in 2014. Yet while the ranks of women have grown, few countries have seen more than a third of the seats in national legislatures allocated to women, and women are still severely under-represented in the highest positions of political power. Only 15 percent of countries currently have a woman as a presiding parliamentary officer; and women currently hold only 18 percent of ministerial positions worldwide. Today, Nicaragua, Sweden, and Finland are the only countries to have gender parity in political cabinets (IPU 2014). What drives the dramatically different representation of women about the globe, and what can activists interested in increasing women’s representation do to advance women in leadership positions?
Scholars interested in these questions have increasingly focused on how political ambition mediates women’s access to political power. In the United States, advocates have emphasized how candidate-training programs can narrow the ambition gap by encouraging more women to run. Such programs exist worldwide, from France to Mexico to Japan, all political contexts very different from the United States. One of the key purposes of this conference is to work towards creating a cross-national framework for researching candidate training programs, one that accounts for how institutional design shapes recruitment, ambition, and thus expectations for when and why candidate training is likely to succeed. For instance, several Latin American countries require that parties not just fill gender quotas, but spend certain proportions of their public money on training female candidates. For women in these political systems, ambition means positioning oneself within the right intra-party networks, and training programs emphasize party priorities rather than individual skill-building. Attending to these and other variations will push scholars towards understandings of candidate training programs that extend beyond the U.S. case.
Sponsored by FELS Institute of Government, The Christopher Browne Center for International Politics, Perry World House