Understanding the gender gap: Political participation of women in Georgia

Merkle, Ortrun (2016). 'Understanding the gender gap: Political participation of women in Georgia' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract Across democracies the widespread problem persists that not all citizens are participating equally in the political sphere (Brady, Verba, & Schlozman, 1995; Broockman, 2014; Griffin & Newman, 2005; Lijphart, 1997). This democratic deficit not only can bias the policy agenda but also frequently fortifies existing inequalities (Isaksson, Kotsadam, & Nerman, 2014). One of the groups that is still consistently underrepresented is women. While it is true that the position of women has improved significantly over the last decades the gender gap, especially regarding economic and political participation continues to be an issue and in recent years has often even increased. (Hausmann, Tyson, Bekhouche, & Zahidi, 2014). Political participation of women is an essential development issue. Research shows that it has a significant effect on the policy agenda where females raise different issues and have different priorities than their male counterparts (Carroll, 2001; Karvonen, 1995; Mendelberg, Karpowitz, & Goedert, 2014; Reingold, 2000). Reaching ‘a critical mass of women’ (around 30 percent of legislators) is associated with the ability to bring women issue on the policy agenda (OSCE/ODIHR, 2014). Female politicians have also shown to serve as role models that encourage women to get involved (Atkeson, 2003; Campbell & Wolbrecht, 2006; Wolbrecht & Campbell, 2007). At the same time the representation of women is an essential part of guaranteeing state legitimacy (Norris, 2006) which is especially crucial for developing countries. Understanding what factors impact women’s chances and willingness to get politically involved is a multilayered problem. Political parties are considered to be gatekeepers for female politicians (Norris, 1993) and party structures play an important role in deciding women’s chances for office (Caul, 1999; Wängnerud, 2009). Kunovich and Paxton (2005) argue that women have to pass two filters to become public officials, first they must be selected to run by the parties and then they must be favored by the electorate. For the latter, cultural norms on the role of women can be a severe hindrance (Norris & Inglehart, 2001; Paxton & Kunovich, 2003). Another issue is that women are often doubtful about their own qualifications to run for office (Fox & Lawless, 2004). While many factors have been identified nuanced research on specific cases is still lacking. This paper utilizes Georgia as a case study, where a women’s movement has taken off in Georgia last year, sparked by outrage over domestic-violence related killings of women. Gender issues since then have gained significant attention in society and politics. 50 interviews with politicians, civil society members and International Organizations show a multilayered picture of current challenges. Only 11% of parliament and local council seats are held by women, civil society on the other hand benefits from a large involvement of women, also in leadership position. This paper will explore this issue by looking at questions such as the perception of both men and women that politics is a dirty field, the double burden of work and family responsibilities and the focus on merit based hiring in civil society. The paper also explores why participation of women seems to be no problem in lower level of party politics, such as campaigning, yet the women who are involved there do not get invited on the party lists. The paper identifies the strong focus on friendship and kinship networks paired with the lack of intraparty democratic structures, especially in the regions, seems to be one of the major hurdles for women to obtain political office. 

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