Beyond Presence: The Principles of Gender Sensitive Parliaments

20 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2013

Date Written: 2013


In this paper I introduce a novel approach to the study of women in parliaments. The point of departure is the debate on descriptive versus substantive representation (Pitkin, 1967). In her influential book The Politics of Presence, Anne Phillips (1995) presented reasons to expect a link between descriptive and substantive representation. She hypothesized that an increased number of women elected (descriptive representation) would lead to transformations of the political agenda and eventually to a strengthened position for women citizens (substantive representation). Empirical research, however, shows that the link is associated with a lot of uncertainty. Women in elected office do not always and everywhere give priority to issues of special concern to women citizens. Moreover, parliaments do not change easily, and women entering politics have met gender-specific obstacles (Lovenduski, 2005). I argue that we need new ways of understanding the prerequisites for turning descriptive representation into substantive representation. The research question is: What are the necessary conditions for women’s needs, interests, and concerns to be adequately integrated into parliamentary processes? I introduce a theory on gender-sensitive parliaments based on three principles: (i) the implementation of equal opportunities for women and men to influence internal parliamentary working procedures; (ii) the creation of room for women’s interests and concerns on the political agenda; and (iii) the production of gender-sensitive legislation.

Keywords: Politics of presence, gender-sensitive parliaments, women's interests

Suggested Citation

Wängnerud, Lena, Beyond Presence: The Principles of Gender Sensitive Parliaments (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper; American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting. Available at SSRN:

Lena Wängnerud (Contact Author)

Göteborg University ( email )

Viktoriagatan 30
Göteborg, 405 30

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