Monday, October 8, 2012

Representation and Marginalization

            Levels of women’s representation vary from country to country throughout the world. For a long time Scandinavia was thought to be the model in egalitarian representation, but several pieces of literature now disagree. Compared with other countries around the world, developed or developing, Argentina has a fairly high level of women representatives and representation for women. Argentina has been known to have female presidents, and over 30 per cent of their Chamber of Deputies are women, placing Argentina among the top ten national legislatures in terms of women’s representation. Political scientists rightly attribute this high percentage to a quota that was established in 1991 in order to raise the number of women in office.  Despite the seeming success of this measure, however, it has been shown that in reality within the legislatures women are mostly herded into certain women’s issues groups, leading to overrepresentation in such groups and continued lack of representation in other groups, such as foreign policy committees.
            Because of the success in bringing greater numbers of women into parliaments, quota laws are frequently assumed to improve women’s substantive representation. After adopting the quota to maintain at least 30% women in the Chamber of Deputies in Argentina, the percentage of women in the Chamber increased from about 5% in 1991 to 27% in 1995, reaching 34% in 2003. Studies of Argentina have shown, however, that quotas can affect substantive representation in contradictory and unintended ways, complicating women legislators’ opportunities to both change legislative agenda as well as succeed in passing new laws. They also suggest that quotas “generate mandates for female legislators to represent women’s interests, while also reinforcing negative stereotypes about women’s capacities as politicians.” 
            Despite having a place in the Chamber of Deputies or in the Senate, women are largely relegated to less influential positions. For example, the committees they chair are usually those considered to be of minor importance and traditionally regarded as ‘women’s’ committees. Despite gaining representation in the legislature, women can be marginalized within it, thereby exacerbating stereotypes and creating even more of a gendered divide within legislatures.
            “Committees provide resources that help representatives win reelection, and are an important veto gate in the policymaking process since they can develop, modify, and kill legislation.” As certain committees deal with certain issues or policies, then, there are certain committees that are going to provide politicians with particular experiences in utilizing their particular expertise. It would seem, then, that certain committees are more desirable than others, as someone who would like to build his career on fiscal policy, for example, would rather be on a committer pertaining to this than on one pertaining to child welfare. While this process is natural, the danger comes when politicians gain control of particular groups, appointing male politicians to their committees rather than females. Some argue that male politicians are likely to want to defend their turf in the legislative chamber and keep newcomers (females in this case) from holding policy power. This is not implausible, however, with time, female legislators will not always be newcomers, and in fact, it is unlikely that many are at this point. It is possible that with time men may adopt more egalitarian views, accepting women on their committees.
            In a recent study, women’s representation was examined in four types of committees, those being women’s issues committees, social issues committees, economic/foreign affairs committees, and power committees. They found that in Argentina that women made up about 52 percent of women’s committees, 19.4 percent of social issues committees, and 4.9 and 4.2 percent of power and economics/foreign affaires committees, respectively. In the Senate, the numbers were comparable, with the percentages being slightly less on the women’s and social issues committees. From these numbers one can easily see the disproportionate spread of females throughout committees. With the Chamber being comprised of about 30 percent women, it is evident that this quota does not extend to an even distribution across committees.
            Although one may hopefully think that women will eventually not be treated as newcomers, there is reason to believe that it will still be very difficult for them to gain seats on certain committees, due to the way in which the seats are controlled. Control over committee assignments generally occurs in one of three ways: chamber presidents assign legislators to committees, party leaders decide who in their party fill seats, or legislators elect one another in a floor vote. In Argentina, chamber presidents have committee assignment power, but can defer to party leaders to make the assignments, which has become a norm. It is very feasible, then, to keep certain people in certain committees, and assure that others did not make it into such committees. Specifically, it would be very easy to continue to marginalize women, despite their significant numerical presence in both the Chambers and the Senate, by placing them in certain, often less-influential committees.
            While Argentina holds a place in the top ten countries in the world for having high numbers of women representatives, they seem to be relegated to specific women’s or social issues committees, while a negligible amount are placed on power or economics and foreign relations committees. Even with their high numbers, then, they still seem to be left out of the loop and placed in stereotypical women’s positions, those being undesirable for men. So while the quota plays a role in initially increasing numbers of women representatives, the outcome is that they are often marginalized even after being elected, causing them to lose out on opportunities for varied leadership and participation.
Aggio, Carlos. "'Lady Leaders'. The Case of Quotas for Women's Representation in Argentina." International Feminist Journal of Politics. 7.1 (2005): 26-48. Web. 8 Oct. 2012.

Heath, Roseanna Michelle, Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer, and Michelle M. Taylor-Robsinson. "Women on the Sidelines: Women's Representation on Committees in Latin American Legislatures." American Journal of Political Science. 49.2 (2005): 420-436. Web. 8 Oct. 2012. <>.

Franceschet, Susan, and Jennifer M. Piscopo. "Gender Quotas and Women's Substantive Representation: Lessons from Argentina." Politics & Gender. 4.3 (2008): 393-425. Web. 8 Oct. 2012. <>.

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