What caused the Gender gap?

January 15, 2024 | Akshaya Aalla

We know that the gender gap is present in our democracy. It influences everything from how competent a candidate may seem, all the way to genuine disrespect towards our women in office. It's necessary for us to be critical, and as the big questions: what caused it, and why is it so prominent? 

Let's get into it. 

When it comes down to it, there are three main reasons why we don't see as many women in politics: a lack of ambition from women, consequences from campaigns, and bias from both the voting public and political parties. 

National surveys have documented that when compared to men, who are equal to or less qualified, women who are potential political candidates report a lower drive to occupy executive offices. Unfortunately, this is just a fact of our patriarchy; women are consistently less encouraged to run for office. On top of that, they are less likely to believe they are qualified to run due to our society's entrenched belief that women are inferior to men. The tendency to shy away from competition also plays a valuable role, since the process of becoming a candidate is highly selective. In general, there is a lack of encouragement and confidence among our nation's women, which is not entirely a fault of their own. 

In addition, a woman's willingness to advance in their political career can also be influenced by their family and the environment they live in. Recent research from Folke and Rickne in 2020 shows that Swedish female politicians, who are promoted to the position of mayor, experience a significant increase in the likelihood of divorcing their partner, whereas this is not the case for men. This research creates an interesting conclusion: women often face more consequences for their ambition. The fact that this pattern does not affect men is another clear indication of how not just in our society, but globally, women are consistently facing hardship for and against their ambition.

A study by Barbanchon and Sauvagnat in 2019 compared votes received by the same female candidate in French parliamentary elections, across different polling stations. Their research concluded that votes for women were lower in locations with more traditional gender roles. This pattern is evidence of voters’ discrimination; in these areas, the perceived role of women is to be in the home, not making decisions. These mindsets are also accompanied with misogyny and sexism, creating a potentially insurmountable ideological barrier. Further, data from the latest wave of the WorldValue Survey showed that less than 20% of survey respondents agree with the statement Men make better political leaders than women do" in Western Europe. Yet, in locations with more gender bias, such as Armenia, Georgia, or Russia, the percentage of respondents who think that men make better political leaders than women is close to or above 50%. 

This bias exists not just on the level of voters-- it extends into those who control political parties. Party leaders, who often are key players in the selection of politicians, may prefer to promote male candidates more than female candidates. Inherently, it allows men to maximize their proverbial profits politically. In fact, it has been found that party leaders may also act as gate-keepers to hold women back even in absence of voter bias. Esteve-Volart and Bague's study in 2021 found evidence of a problem between voters and parties when looking at Spanish elections. While parties tend to nominate women in worse positions on the ballot, there is no evidence that women attract fewer votes than men; moreover, when competition increases, women’s position on the ballot typically improves. These two observations lead the authors to conclude that the disadvantage women face can likely be attributed to the increased bias from parties based on voter opinion. 

When considering all these factors, it is also important to note that the systematic under-representation of women in political institutions is likely self-reinforcing, due to gendered group dynamics. In spheres other than the political one, women in male-majority teams appear significantly less likely to put their name forward when compared to team leaders than women in female-majority teams. Overall, women anticipate lower support from their male team members. For example, female mayors in Italy are significantly more likely to be removed from their municipal councils than their male colleagues; this is especially true when the share of male councilors is particularly large. These studies suggest that, since the political arena has been historically male-dominated, gendered group dynamics can create vicious cycles of women’s under-representation.

The miles of data that clearly show women are consistently and systemic is disheartening. How can women stand a chance against a society that aims to limit their voice; their passion; their rights? This inequality is exactly what It's Her Right is trying to fix-- we want to educate, inspire, and work toward the destruction of misogyny in the political world. 

You can get involved with this fight today by joining our community, attending our seminars, and understanding that a woman's desire to serve in office isn't just an exception to their domestic 'duty', it's a right we deserve. 

Image Credit: Getty Images