Cultural norms in relation to political representation

In “Is gender like ethnicity? The political representation of minority groups” by Mala Htun, the author analyzes the politics of gender and ethnicity and its effect on various electoral systems before introducing the best system to represent these two types of groups. The author describes how gender is a crosscutting group, meaning that it does not smoothly coincide with other social structures, class, or geography. This type of crosscutting group is best represented in government using quota systems, which can be within the parties or legislature-wide. Many countries introduce quotas with the hope that they will be a temporary stop on the road to equal representation of women in the legislatures. On the other hand, coinciding identities tend to drive party membership and voting patterns and are best suited to reservation systems that go around the parties and alter the electoral system to be more just.

In Ireland, the introduction of gender quotas by regulating the party candidates in 2016 has lead to many more women participating in politics. However, Ireland’s spot on the gender representation world ranking has been seriously declining in recent decades and the quotas did not seem to win women actual seats in the legislature. Some theorize that this has to do with the long-standing Irish sentiment that a woman’s place is in the home. However, the numbers are more encouraging in local governments, where women hold about 20% of the positions that govern at the county level.

Can cultural forces to keep women out of politics be so strong that even quotas fall short of their goal to better represent women?

Cultural norms can be beneficial or harmful for women based on their location and regime type. For example, in the UK, it is normal to see women in the workplace (even if not always in the highest-paying roles), which makes participation in politics a small step forward rather than a shocking sight. In addition, powerful figures like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May have paved the way for other women in politics, so a quota system might be effective. However, some authoritarian societies like China have gender inequality rooted in the system so deeply that many Chinese parents have aborted or killed newborn Chinese girls since they have thought to be of less value than sons. In a society like this one, even quotas might not be effective since women aren’t very empowered even outside of politics.


Htun, Mala. “Is Gender like Ethnicity? The Political Representation of Identity Groups.” Perspectives on Politics 2, no. 3 (2004): 439–58. Found in Dickovick, James Tyler, and Jonathan Eastwood. Comparative Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. p255-268.

Demolder, Kate. “Ireland Needs to Elect More Women and This Is How We Achieve It.” January 23, 2019. Accessed January 27, 2019.

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