Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Women’s Suffrage: The Sequel

In the 19th century, women began their fight for political involvement in the form of a secured electoral vote. Fast forward to 2019, and women are still fighting a similar fight. A fight that I like to call, Women’s Suffrage Part II: equal representation.

According to the world classification of women in parliament, the United States is currently ranked 76th in the world in female representation with only 26 percent of its legislature composed of women. China ranks 72nd, the United Kingdom 39th, and New Zealand 15th with a whopping 40% percent of its parliament composed of women. So, what does it take to be in the world’s top 20 for women in parliament? What is New Zealand doing right? Well, what if I told you New Zealand’s electoral system was engineered to favor women?

An electoral system is a set of rules that determine how elections are carried out and how the results of these elections are determined. Electoral systems act as the instruments that generate the make-up of our legislatures. Too many men? Too few women? Not enough minority groups or political parties? Look to your electoral system for change. In this article, we take a quick dive into New Zealand’s electoral system and explain why female representation in parliament is dramatically increasing for the small island country.

New Zealand’s Proportional Electoral System

In 1996, New Zealand made a big change to its electoral system that increased its female representation in parliament by 30 percent! Before 1996, New Zealand experienced a divided parliament with only two major parties holding power. These parties were elected through an electoral system where voters could only choose one representative for each of their districts. Does this winner-takes-all system sound familiar? It should, because the United States has a similar electoral system in place.

The 1996 election in New Zealand ushered in the country’s first election where voters were given two votes. The first vote was for a preferred party and the second vote was a list of party members which voters could preferentially rank from one to four. The proportion of seats in parliament were determined by the percentage of votes received by the party in the first vote, while the politicians sitting in those seats was determined by the ranked vote. New Zealand saw immediate change in its parliament with an increase of parliament seats, an increase in represented political parties, and of course, an increase in female representation. You might be asking, how? How did a small change in the rules of the election game increase New Zealand’s female representation to 40 percent?

How it works

First, a factor contributing to New Zealand’s female representation is the higher number of seats and parties in their parliament. An increase in seats increases female access to parliament and can help women gain access to positions of political power by providing more elected positions to be filled.

Additionally, an increase in political parties can do two things. First, it can incentivize parties to want their majority power back, and therefore, broaden their influences on different populations. To do this, parties assemble a party list that includes diverse politicians with hopes that more people from outside their party would be interested in seeing a female or maybe even a minority elected. Second, more parties in parliament sometimes results in the existence of smaller liberal-left parties in parliament concerned with gender equality. These parties are likely to act on leftist ideology and increase female representation.

Next, the number of politician’s voters can elect, or district magnitude, is contributing to the increase in female representation in New Zealand’s parliament. In political battles where voters elect only one politician, men are known to take on the role of “party bosses” or “gladiators” and become more attractive party winners than women. The opposite is true in New Zealand’s two vote system where voters might be more favorable to voting for a female candidate as one out of many candidates. In this type of electoral system, women increase their chances of obtaining seats in parliament.

Third, ticket balancing is contributing to the increase in female representation in New Zealand’s parliament. Ticket balancing is adjusting party lists to consider gender, race, sexual orientation, or location. When party lists include a balance of males, females, minorities, and majorities, voters have more of a diverse selection when casting their second vote. As a result, the party seats in parliament are more likely to be filled by more women and minorities. After the 1996 adoption of the New Zealand’s new electoral system, party lists were adjusted to include the Maori ethnic minority and women, making it easier to further the demands for representation of women and ethnic groups in parliament.

The world’s top 20 countries for women in parliament is a sign of hope that equal representation can in fact be achieved. There are many different ways to increase female access to political positions within parliament. From focused recruiting and shifted gender stereotypes and norms, to a change in the rules of the electoral game, anyone can join in on the fight for equal representation.

Cheyenne Rivera is a senior at Brigham Young University studying political science and Spanish studies.

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