How are contemporary representative democracies gendered? The first strand of research has focused on the male domination of democracy, women’s political underrepresentation and their limited participation in democratic politics. Affirmative action and institutional solutions have been proposed to address this democratic deficit. Political parties as agents of gender representation have played an important role. Traditionally, left-wing parties have tended to nominate more female candidates than right-wing parties and exhibit higher levels of feminist substantive representation, but advances are also made by right-wing and far-right parties to include women. Indeed, some women appear to be making significant headway in politics, for example Liz Truss and Georgia Meloni.
What does it mean for women’s substantive representation and the endorsement of progressive gender agendas? The second strand of research is concerned with the gendered consequences of democratic backsliding. A recent rise of illiberalism, populism and ultraconservatism has entailed a backlash against gender equality, women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. Anti-gender advocacy coalitions have mobilized against LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, gender studies, sex education and other progressive initiatives including the Istanbul Convention. The Convention has not been ratified in a number of European countries including Bulgaria and Hungary. A near-total abortion ban has recently been introduced in Poland. This raises questions about gendered representation, participation and accountability and draws our attention to new forms of democratic engagement in extraparliamentary sites. In this lecture, I will reflect on the gendered nature of democracies drawing on democratic theory, gender and politics scholarship and examples from Europe.
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