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Women, Parties, and Democracy in Germany

29 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 15 Sep 2010

Sarah Wiliarty

Wesleyan University

Date Written: 2010


Given Schattschneideres famous statement that political parties created democracy and . . . modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties. (Schattschneider 1942: 1), we might expect theories of democracy and political parties to be closely linked. No modern democracy exists without parties. Political scientists who find evidence for the decline of parties are quite ready to link party decline to a decline in democracy more generally.

Parties are important to democracy because they have been the means for holding the government accountable. While other organizations such as interest groups or the media may inform the public and lobby the government, it is political parties that connect citizens to the state. Parties articulate and aggregate interests, structure competition, provide the means for throwing the rascals out. and also recruit new rascals to run in their place. While some of these tasks can and have been taken over by other societal organizations, parties continue to be a necessary institution for democratic government, albeit one that is experiencing significant challenges (Dalton and Wattenberg 2000).

By one measure at least, however, democracy in general and political parties in particular are not at all in decline: womenes participation. Womenes participation is up cross-nationally and across the board. Women are voting, running for office, and winning much more frequently than ever before. This is true not just in Western Europe and North America but across the industrialized and non-industrialized world (Dahlerup 2006; Inglehart and Norris 2003). Women are even winning executive office . the last political bastion of male dominance (Duerst-Lahti 1997) . in countries such as Germany, Chile, Liberia, Finland, the Ukraine, Argentina, and India. Despite the decline of political parties, if women are going to be truly incorporated into the political system, it must be through parties.2 How parties accomplish this affects how women ultimately gain political influence. Parties clearly are managing to incorporate women but the question is how they are doing this and what the consequences of different pathways to incorporation are. What are the effects for the female participants? For the parties themselves? For policy making? And indeed for the quality of democracy?

Incorporating women into political parties also raises questions about internal party democracy. How do women, as formerly less-active participants in politics, begin to make their voices heard within a political party, especially when they are very unlikely to form a majority of party members? What organizational arrangements within a political party can best promote womenes participation? Is encouraging womenes political participation in parties compatible with internal party democracy?

This paper takes a multistage approach to addressing some of these questions. When investigating the link between parties and democracy, the paper begins with the insight that even within the western tradition, there are different models of democracy. The paper examines the contributions and compatibilities of parties to three models: the competitive model, the participatory model and the deliberative model. These three models are arguably the most prevalent within the western tradition and the role for political parties differs according to each model. Rather than thinking about what the role of political parties is in \western democracy. we need to consider which kind of democracy we are talking about.

We also need to think about which kind of political party. The scholarly literature on political parties finds a wide variety of party types, varying by internal organization: mass party, catch-all party, cartel party . just to name a few. Different party types have been more or less prevalent depending on the time period and geographic location in question. Different party types have also been linked with differing conceptions of democracy (Katz and Mair 1995).

The paper proceeds as follows. It begins with an overview of the three models of democracy, competitive democracy, participatory democracy, and deliberative democracy, paying particular attention to the role of political parties in each type of democracy. For all three democratic models, I draw on a variety of theorists. The resulting discussion here is inevitably simplified. Differences among theorists of a particular model are glossed over in favor of attempting to present a more coherent overall approach to political parties taken by a particular model of democracy. Having considered the theoretical issues of democracy and political parties, the paper goes on to investigate two empirical examples, the debates surrounding gender quotas in the two largest German parties, the CDU and the SPD. Although both parties are catch-all parties, they have different internal structures with differing implications for internal party democracy. The debates about whether to institute gender quotas are analyzed from the perspective of each of the three models of democracy. The results highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the abilities of each of the democratic models to conceptualize the real-world politics of life within a political party. We begin with the first model of democracy, the competitive model.

Suggested Citation

Wiliarty, Sarah, Women, Parties, and Democracy in Germany (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Sarah Wiliarty (Contact Author)

Wesleyan University ( email )

Middletown, CT 06459
United States

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