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Beyond the token status – why gender matters for our women representatives

Open Panel

Abstract

In West-European parliaments the descriptive representation of women has overcome the token status. Women become leaders in main parliamentary positions. Furthermore, they take the responsibility for ‘hard’ and ‘male’ topics. Nevertheless women are excluded from agenda-setting power and informal influence. Institutions are still ‘male’ at their core. In this respect parliamentary institutions hardly changed. Neither full descriptive nor substantive representation is yet reached. This raises the question: Does gender matter beyond the token status, too? Based on empirical research the paper will argue that we have to analyse precisely what is meant by the inclusion of women in parliaments. First of all, we have to get over the difference between descriptive and substantive representation. Secondly, we have to focus on formal and informal institutions alike. Following these assumptions the paper will propose a theoretical model of the inclusion of women representatives that may be useful for empirical research. The paper uses a neoinstitutional concept, which tries to integrate questions of power and difference. Inclusion in parliamentary institutions is determined by communicative interactions in institutions. The paper defines institutions in a neo-institutionalist manner as rules, roles and identities which are (pre-)structuring – but not determining – the way representatives act. Finally, the paper presents a concept, called ‘structures of difference’, to explain the exclusion of women representatives. Such structures of difference are covered by the formation of institutions. They are linked with power and knowledge.