Conference PaperPDF Available

How is Federalism Gendered? And Its Impact on Gender Reform



How federations are 'gendered' and the impact of such 'gendering' on the reform of family law & other reforms to advance women's status.
Dr. Jill Vickers, FRSC , Emeritus Chancellor's Professor and Distinguished Research Professor
in Political Science, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
Presented by Skype to the Participatory Federalism and Decentralization conference, sponsored
by the Forum on Federations and the Pakistani government, Islamabad , Pakistan, 25-27
September, 2013.
The paper explores how ’gender’ interacts with federalism in relation to Pakistan’s current
decentralization of power through constitutional revisions. Since ‘gender’ is often invisible
when standard concepts and method are used, the paper first explores how ‘gender’ shapes
political institutions and discourses; and how it is manifested in ‘ federal arrangements’ (Vickers
2010) , i.e. the institutions, practices, ideas and discourses that constitute ‘federal arrangements.’
The resulting gender lens can identify some differences in the effects of‘ federal arrangements ’
on women and men, and how women’s interests may differ from men’s when constitutions are
being restructured and power is being decentralized . The paper also considers how ‘federal
arrangements’ may facilitate and/or obstruct women’s access to and influence on political
decision-making, especially regarding gender reforms. It theorizes how ‘ decentralization’
achieved through constitutional re-structuring or inter-governmental negotiations creates new
opportunities for reforms, and new barriers to obstruct their achievement. The paper outlines
some of the effects of decentralization on women’s participation, representation and capacity
for holding governments responsible. But achieving gender reforms that involve decentralization
also depends on regional governments’ willingness and ability to enact them. Consequently, the
paper also considers the extent to which organized women get regional governments to respond
to their needs. It concludes that under some conditions, decentralization makes gender reforms
harder to achieve but that some mechanisms can ameliorate some negative effects.
The paper explores how ‘federal arrangements’ affect gender reforms, including the institutions,
practices and ideas associated with vertically divided government, as manifested in
constitutional pacts that can be restructured through IGR or formal amendments . All
federations involve some decentralization of power to regional and sometimes local
governments. But mono-national, i.e. national federations ( Australia, Germany, the U.S. ) are
often highly centralized compared with many increasingly decentralized unitary states (i.e.
‘quasi-federations like Spain) with increasingly powerful regional governments. In national
federations, central governments dominate and often can restructure arrangements without
regional governments’ consent because of their greater fiscal power. But in multi-national
federations, legislative and/or administrative powers are more decentralized to satisfy the
demands of territorial minorities’ that may even include threats of secession. Moreover, if
regional governments have sufficient resources and taxing powers, they can and will defend
their powers against central government intrusions. Devolving power also may be a way to
promote democratization and check autocratic central governments. But downloading
government powers also is a neoliberal strategy that had harmful effects for many women. To
understand the varying effects of these different situations on gender reform, the paper develops
and uses a gender lens.
What is a gender lens ? A ‘gender lens’ involves drawing on concepts of ‘gendering’ (or ‘re-
gendering’) categories hypotheses and theories about phenomena that facially are gender-
neutral. ‘Gendering’ involves identifying the differences in women’s and men’s experiences of
political phenomena. It also involves identifying differences between majority- and minority-
culture women who differ because of their nationality, race, language, ethnicity etc. There are
four techniques for ‘gendering’ : 1. Reading women in by asking 'Where are /were women?
or ‘ What were women doing when this occurred ?’ 2. Reading standard texts against the grain
to find any insights ‘hidden in plain sight’ in apparently gender-neutral texts .3. Reading
gender into facially gender-neutral narratives by extrapolating from gender’s relational aspects.
4. Inserting gender-specific concepts into apparently gender-neutral narratives . These
techniques help ‘gender’ analyses of ‘federal arrangements,’ decentralization , democratization
and citizenship – the focus of the paper.
Federalists make multiple, gender-blind claims about the benefits of divided government and
decentralization . These claims are: 1) that federal arrangements expand liberty because divided
government prevents concentrations of power at the centre; 2) that federal arrangements
facilitates active citizenship by creating multiple governance sites through which citizens can
access decision-makers – multiple access points (map) ; 3) that federal arrangements provide
some degree of self-rule for territorial minorities; 4) that federal governments manage conflict
between diverse populations sharing a state most effectively; 5) that multiple governance sites
promote democracy as more representatives govern fewer people, decide on fewer issues and
provide more opportunities for political expression through debate and voting; 6) divided
government facilitates policy experimentation because regional units act as laboratories that
foster policy learning, innovation and then diffusion of the best policies; 7) decentralization of
state power increases efficiency as long as taxpayers determine the services their regional
government will provide; 8) divided government is more market-friendly because it limits the
ability of citizens’ to intervene in markets. To develop and use a gender lens involves asking if
these claims actually apply to women – and if so, to which women.
Exploring these claims through a gender lens will show that how ‘federal arrangements’ affects
men and women differently. The gender scholarship on federalism (overviewed in Vickers 2013
) includes many counter-claims that show that when women are explicitly included, many of the
propositions aren’t sustainable. This paper over-views the counter-claims focused on
democratization and citizenship. 1 Gray (2006) asserts e.g. that while ‘insiders’ i.e. full citizens,
‘may benefit from ‘federal arrangement’ as federalists claimed, ‘outsiders’ who aren’t white,
affluent , heterosexual men who are part of the majority culture rarely benefit. Historically, they
were excluded from citizenship, but even after they gain the right to vote, they remain
marginalized, i.e. excluded from roles other than voting (e.g. jury duty). They also are under-
represented as legislators, senior bureaucrats and judges. Gray also maintains that divided
government and the decentralization of power weaken the capacity and will of central
governments to implement gender reforms and ‘women-friendly’2 policies. Divided government
1 See Baines 2006, Fenna 2011; Grace 2011; Gray (2006, 2010) , Haussman 2005, 2010 ; Irving
2008, Mettler
1998; Obiora and Toomey, 2010; Sawer 1990 ; Smith 2008, 2010; and Vickers 1994; 2010, 2012, 2013,
2013a .
2 'Women-friendly' policies promote women's equality, advance their rights and status. This may mean
using affirmative mechanisms e.g. quotas to enhance their representation in political institutions /
processes and to provide space e.g. for women's organizations. Measuring ‘ women friendliness' is
complex because different groups of women may disagree but international treaties and standards are a
good starting point.
and decentralization obstruct central governments’ interventions in markets (Fenna 2011) ,
which are necessary to achieve most gender reforms and ‘women-friendly’ policies . A key
example is state-supported childcare as explored by Mahon and Brennan (2013), Grace ( 2011);
Mahon and Collier (2008, 2010); Mahon and Brennan (20163.
In some circumstances, however, divided government and decentralization can facilitate
gender reform. Vickers (2011) theorizes that divided government can create ‘federalism
advantages’ around which women’s movements can strategize ‘venue shopping’ - moving
from an unfriendly government to one more open to gender reforms. But there are differences in
the effects of ‘feminist arrangements’ in different types of federation. This chapter uses a simple
dichotomy of (mono) national and multinational federations, that vary in the extent of territorial
diversity. Canada and Belgium are examples of multi-national federations, Australia, Germany,
the U.S are examples of national federations with a single identity focused on the central
government. Therefore, ‘federal arrangements’ often affect majority- and minority-culture
women differently. The text focuses on territorial diversity , i.e. minority nations; not individual
diversities that make non-territorial claims for equitable treatment that don’t demand self-rule.
But gender has both non-territorial features and also spatial aspects manifested through the
public/private divide.
Federalism combines self-rule for expressing the interests of regional and territorial-minorities
and shared rule for general or common purposes. Consequently, it may benefit women who are
part of cultural majorities as long as the central government is ‘women-friendly’. Federalism also
may provide some degree of self-rule to minority communities whose borders are congruent
with those of a constituent unit and who make territorial claims. This also may benefit minority-
culture women provided their regional government is progressive on gender issues. But women
who are part of territorially-dispersed minorities or territories not congruent with a regional
unit’s boundaries ; or who lack the political clout to gain self-rule may be disadvantaged. In
Catalonia , Flanders , Quebec and Scotland, e.g. federal arrangements helped organized women
promote gender reforms , often including reproductive rights (Vickers 2010). Devolution also
seems to have stimulated increased political representation in regional governments (Mackay
2006, 2010; Kenny and Verge 2013; Vickers 2012a ) , promoted by ‘nested newness’ and
institutional innovation (Mackay 2014). While in federations that have implemented electoral
quotas, they usually are limited to the central government. There are important exceptions,
however, with electoral quotas in regional governments e.g. in Spain and in Mexico.
Differently located women organized to promote gender equality (hereafter ‘feminists’ or
‘gender scholars’) often have different views about ‘federalism’, specifically about divided
government and decentralization . Those associated with cultural majorities usually favour strong
central governments; whereas, feminists who are part of (territorial) minorities are more likely to
favour greater decentralization provided ‘their’ regional governments are progressive . From
the perspective of feminists and gender scholars, how do divided government and
decentralization affect democratization and citizenship? Most gender scholars believe
democratization requires that all women have full and equal citizenship. But there is extensive
evidence that to be equal citizens, women must be equal within their families (UN Women,
2011-2012 ). The fact that western democracies are theorized to be divided into private and
public realms reveals their gendered nature. (FN re non-western.) Both divided government and
decentralization influence how democratization affects the citizenship of women and other
previously excluded groups that are under-represented in formal politics and marginalized in
their participation in (male-dominated) political parties .
There are competing hypotheses about how divided government and decentralization affect
women’s political participation , representation and capacity to achieve gender reforms. One
claim of federalists is that divided government and decentralization promote democracy by
bringing government ‘close to home’. But d women benefit from these ‘federal arrangements’?
Many gender scholars are doubtful, believing instead that ‘decentralization’ has been promoted
as part of a neo-liberal strategy to download and off-load government services on which women
depend more than men onto under-funded local governments and private agencies .
Gender analysis shows that divided government and decentralization can produce both positive
and negative effects . Hence determining whether on balance they facilitate or obstruct
gender reform requires detailed empirical assessments. Moreover, different aspects of gender
reform may be differently affected . The paper focuses on four aspects of gender reform that
‘federal arrangements’ and decentralization can affect : 1. achieving security for girls and
women from ‘domestic’ and sexual violence and promoting their economic security through
access to education, freedom of movement , occupational choice , etc.. 2. eliminating
discriminatory family laws3 so girls and women have equal rights in family relations and
equal access to family property making it possible for them to exercise their rights in the public
sphere. 3. providing equal social citizenship for girls and women i.e. by delivering ‘women
friendly’ services to individual female citizens. 4. ensuring women’s rights as citizens i.e. to
vote , hold office, serve on juries , as legislators, judges, and to organize independently and make
representation to governments. They will be measured by these benchmarks: 1.
Enacting/enforcing VAW policies; 2. family law reform ; and 3. provision of social benefits
that treat women as individual citizens e.g. maternity and parental leave, state-supported
childcare; 4. mechanisms to achieve full citizenship rights for women e.g. electoral quotas.
Gender reforms efforts are affected by the restructuring of ‘federal arrangements’ . Periods
of restructuring can provide opportunities for gender reforms 4 that are lost if women are
excluded during restructuring , are present only as tokens, or are ineffective because they lack
adequate security. Women’ s interests often ‘fall off the table’ because of the male-dominant
categories and concepts used in restructuring discourses. It is only if women’s movements have
the opportunity to consult widely through mass consultations to identify women’s self-defined
interests, that ‘women-friendly’ outcomes have resulted from restructuring , as in Canada when
the Charter of Rights was introduced and in the making of South Africa’s provisional
constitution . Women’s roles in shaping decentralization in Spain are explored in a later section.
How do divided government and decentralization affect democratization ? Democracy
requires that all adults be treated as equal citizens free to organize with those they share interests
or ideas with, express those interests through parties or movements, create constituencies around
shared interests and make governments respond to their claims. Democratization requires that all
children are educated to be equal citizens capable of participation, organization and advocacy,
and as potential representatives and office holders. While decentralization can make women’s
organizing and advocacy more difficult practically because they often must divide their energies
and resources among decision-making sites, it also can offer marginalized groups opportunities
3 ‘Family law’ designates rules about ‘private’ i.e. family relations and behaviour. Such rules may be
territorial i.e.govern everyone within a territory or non-territorial ‘personal status’ codes that govern
everyone in an ethno-religious community regardless of where they live. See McDermott, 2007.
4 Women’s presence is key during restructuring and can be increased through quotas and WPA access.
to promote reforms, especially if mechanisms such as electoral quotas and effective women’s
policy agencies (WPAs) are available to compensate for their marginalization . Originally
adopted to increase women’s presence in legislatures, quotas are needed in constitutional bodies
engaged in creating or restructuring power-sharing provisions, in regional legislatures , local
councils and for appointed offices. 5
How does federalism matter ? To what extent does it matter? And what does it matter for ?
(Erk and Swenden 2010, 7) . Using a gender lens, this paper considers how and to what extent
‘federal arrangements’ affect democratization in relation to women and girls, including their
ability to attain gender reforms. One approach gender scholars use to answer such questions
involves comparing gender reforms in similar federations and unitary states, e.g. which best
facilitates policies dealing with VAW (Chappell and Curtin, 2013) and how decentralization
affects the attainment of reproductive rights (Franceschet and Piscopo, 2013). A second
approach compares the effects of different kinds of federations on gender reforms , notably
national and multinational types and their effects on gender reforms. A third approach, considers
changes over time in a single federations. The paper draws on all three .
The approaches all assume political institutions are ‘gendered’: i.e. their underlying logic is
the gendered division of societies into public and private spheres and the use of ‘separate
spheres’ doctrines to legitimize (elite) men’s control of public institutions and the exclusion
or marginalization of women’s from public activities (Motiejunaite 2005) . 6 A basic aspect
of gender analysis is that ‘federal arrangements’ shape and are shaped by a society’s
dominant construction of masculinity and femininity . While women now have the (official)
right to vote in federations , the private /pubic gender divide persists and the ‘separate spheres’
doctrines used to legitimize it remain embedded in federal institutions , discourses and
practices. Using a gender lens shows how they affect women’s marginalization and under-
representation in public sector roles. This is manifested in federations especially in the
division of powers regarding the level of government responsible for gender –sensitive powers ;
5 The five texts in the ‘Gender Quotas and Comparative Politics’ special section of Politics and Gender,
9, no 3, September 2013, 299-328 survey the expansion and legitimization of quotas.
6 See a summary of the literature that makes this case in Vickers 2013.
in women’s fragmented citizenship and in institutional arrangements , e.g. territorial pluralism
that makes reform of discriminatory family laws difficult and undercutting women’s capacity
to exercise their citizenship rights fully.
How does ‘gender’ affect political institutions? Understanding that ‘gender’ is a ‘primary
way of signifying relations of power’ (Scott 1986, 1063) opened up ‘high politics’ to gender
analysis. ‘Gender’ also is a relational category that ‘illuminates areas for inquiry, frames
questions for investigation, identifies puzzles…and provides concepts, definitions and
hypotheses to guide research’ (Hawkesworth 1997, 145). ‘Gender’ also is a process concept and
part of many decisions and actions e.g. the drafting and amending of constitutions, re/structuring
of political institutions, negotiating party alliances/ coalitions and organizing reform campaigns
(Beckwith 2010, 1). Chappell (2010, 184/5, ) defines ‘gender’ as ‘ a dynamic political process in
which organized women imbue institutions with gender norms’ through parties, movements and
WPA. Chappell (2001, 2002) theorizes that gender and states are ‘co-constitutive’, while
Vickers (2010) theorizes that influences between ‘gender’ and ‘federal arrangements’ constitute
a ‘two-way street . Strong states ‘make gender’ (Vickers 2013, 5) through ‘policies, laws,
practices, spending patterns, judicial decisions and discourses about how men and women should
act’ ; but ‘gender also makes states’ by encoding history in institutions, practices and
discourses. Lovenduski (1998, vii, 348) conceptualizes that models of masculinity and
femininity dominant at key moments i.e. during a federation’s founding or restructuring are
embedded in its political culture and remain until successfully challenged.
How are ‘Federal Arrangement’s ‘Gendered’?
There is much evidence that ‘apparently gender-neutral…large-scale social institutions and
policies’ are ‘gendered’ (Beckwith 2005, 13202, emphasis added). Studies of how ‘federal
arrangements’ affect gender reforms have produced many competing hypotheses. Based on
observations of how the devolution of power increased women’s presence in the new Scottish
legislatures , e.g. Mackay (2006, 2010) theorizes that devolution increases women’s
representation. The competing hypotheses about the consequences of divided power and
decentralization for gender reform vary across geographic regions. Observing the EU,
Outshorn and Kantola (2007) theorize that devolving power to regional governments stimulates
increases in the number of WPAs and facilitates multilevel WPA strategies. But comparing
(national ) Australia and (multinational ) Canada, Chappell (2012) concludes that this occurs
where regional states enjoy symmetrical powers; i.e. in national Australia or Germany ’ but not
in multi-national, asymmetrical federations . Comparing reforms of sexual minorities rights in
Canada and the U.S., Smith (2008) concludes that decentralized judicial systems obstruct
reforms using courts . Vickers (2010, 2011) finds that where regional governments have
autonomy and significant resources, IGR are more competitive . If so, organized women
associated with territorial minorities can promote gender reforms by allying themselves with a
‘women-friendly’ regional government . ‘Piggy-backing’ demands for gender reform onto the
claims of regions/peripheral nations is a successful strategy e.g. in Quebec, Catalonia, Scotland.
Federal states vary in their capacity and will to ‘make gender’; so how gender regimes are
made and reformed varies . A key condition affecting gender regimes is the division of powers
i.e. powers that relate to family law often are assigned to regional governments . This results in
territorial pluralism in which regional states can legislate different family law codes. With
controversial consequences regarding democratization , women’s citizenship and gender
reforms. Territorial pluralism fragments gender regimes and can also fragment women’s
citizenship (Baines 2006) by denying their incorporation as federal citizens. Writing about
the New Deal in the U.S., Mettler ( 1998, 5 ) shows that while ‘men, particularly white men ,
were endowed with national citizenship…[by being] incorporated into policies… administered
[by]…the national government…, women and minority men were… relegated …to … policies
…administered by states.’ Therefore, key consequences of decentralized power include the
fragmentation of citizenship and movements , and territorial pluralism.
Until women’s capacity to organize and create alliances develops , they are treated as second
class citizens, or not considered citizens at all. One way this happens was privatizing gender
issues ; using the ambiguities of federalism to justify no government accepting responsibility
e.g. for protecting women from VAW or designing service access so women or race
minorities are de facto excluded. Separate spheres’ doctrines are used to justify (elite) male
political dominance and women’s exclusion from or marginalization in the public sphere. Such
doctrines are embedded in federal institutions, constitutions and discourses (e.g. about elite
accommodation) unless federal arrangements are restructured to remove such constraints
explicitly.7 Moreover, remnants persist in ‘federal arrangements’ that contribute to women’s
continuing marginalization. Divided government almost always involves the assignment of
family law to regional governments, or its privatization , legitimized by ‘separate spheres’
doctrines . This insulates gender relations within families from the principles of justice and
reform. Governments’ failure to protect women’s security and defend their rights undercuts
their citizenship and obstructs their political participation and representation, limits their
capacity for organization, and alliance formation , and hampers their self-advocacy.
The concept of gender regimes facilitates analysis of how divided government and
decentralization affect women’s participation , representation and ability to make governments
responsive. (See definitions in Vickers 2013.) In this paper, ‘gender regime’ refer to gender
relations, as they are manifested in ‘federal arrangements’. To date, all states are characterized by
male dominance and women’s marginalization. The framework of gender regimes permits
analysis of the forms taken across gender divisions of labour, of power and the emotions
associated with each in different parts of societies.
How do ‘ federalism arrangements’ affect gender reforms ? Gender scholars agree that
federations can’t be or become democratic if women lack full citizenship . To assess how
divided power and decentralization affect women’s citizenship, the paper gender’s Erk’s (2006)
benchmarks of democracy – how federalism affects participation, representation and
accountability. Participation is understood to include more than voting , representation is
measured by its ‘inclusiveness’ ( Kincaid 2010 ) and accountability is understood in terms of
governments’ ‘responsiveness’ to the demands that women advocate for themselves . The
general argument the ‘democracy school’ makes is that the only true federations are (liberal)
democracies , which they maintain create ‘dual democracies’ , more active citizenship ; offer
more political levers citizens can use (Weinstock 2001,76-79) and more governance sites
through which citizens can access decision-making. The extent to which these claims apply to
women has not been considered by the ‘democracy school’ which has been assumed that men
and women experience the effects of federalism in the same way.
7 Constitutional amendments that establish women’s legal equality and change all laws and practice
are rare .
The ‘gender and federalism’ literature offers many challenges to the assumption that men and
women experience ‘federalism’ in the same way. The ‘gendering democracy’ project adds to the
challenges. In a Special Issue of Publius, Vickers ( 2013, Table 1,9) identifies seventeen
hypotheses about ‘ the effects of federal characteristics on women and on gender reforms.
Some agree that federal arrangements increase women’s opportunities for participation ( Simms
2001 ; Lijphart 1998,) . Others theorize that ‘federal arrangements’ i.e. institutions and
practices, limit women’s opportunities for democratic participation. 8 However, the hypotheses
differ regarding the effects of specific federal characteristics on different benchmarks and
aspects of gender reforms. Some examples are that federations’ multiple sites give women
more access to decision-makers , letting them move from a blocked site to one more open to
reform (Sawer 1990; Bashevkin 1998; Chappell 2002). Others think multiple sites increase the
number of veto points those opposed to reform can use to block (Immergut 1992 ); or that
they fragment and overwhelm women’s movements weakening their capacity to represent
women’s interests and make governments respond (Haussman 1995); or fragment women’s
citizenship as discussed previously. Conflicting findings may reflect varied conditions in
different types of federations or different aspects of gender reform. However, divided
government seems to have positive consequences for gender reforms more often in national,
symmetrical federations that are more centralized.
Are there common consequences of decentralization that affect democratization and women’s
capacity to attain gender reform; or what conditions modify its effects? Many gender scholars
and activists think centralization favours gender reforms (Gray 2006; Grace 2011, but the
cases cited often involve national federations , whereas decentralization has promoted reforms in
multinational federations . Moreover, it is important to distinguish among different dimensions
of decentralization - legislative, judicial, administrative, fiscal- since apparently ‘general’ claims
may not relate to all dimensions. Moreover, the aspect of gender reform also matters; e.g.
decentralization seems to has different effects on rights issues than on social citizenship policies.
Some findings are time-specific, others are more durable, e.g. about the negative effects of
supermajorities (Hueglin and Fenna 2006); and judicial federalism ( Smith 2008). Many
hypotheses are conditional e.g. the claim that decentralization facilitates WPA strategies
8 Federalism, Feminism and Multi-level Governance , Haussman, Sawer , Vickers eds. (2010) also
reflect this ambiguity but has more texts focused on non/quasi-democratic federations – e.g. .Nigeria,
Malaysia, Russia.
(Outshorn and Kantola 2007) applies in the EU, but not in multi-national , asymmetrical
federations e.g. Canada. Regarding the U.S., ,Mexican and Canadian abortion rights campaigns,
Haussman (2005) found that decentralization and the need to respond to so many sites
overwhelms women’s movements , taxes their resources and fragments their activism. But the
Quebec movement used devolved power to gain de facto abortion rights a decade before the
rest of Canada (Vickers 2010) showing that majority and (territorial) minority women’s
experiences with decentralization differ . The devolution of power in Belgium fractured its
historic women’s movement (Celis, Mackay and Meier, 2013), although subsequently Flemish
women gained from decentralization . ‘Abandoning the center’ was tolerable for women in
Belgium because the EU umbrella protected women’s rights, and social programs for the
moment remained the responsibility of the central government.
How do changes in ‘federal arrangements’ affect gender regimes and gender reforms?
Majority-culture gender reformers usually focus on shared rule and central governments for
pragmatic reasons . It is easier to lobby one powerful government and more effective to
frame gender issues as part of shared rule. In multi-national federations , however, gender
regimes are considered part of self-rule . This suggests that gender reform and federalism could
often be on a collision course. Indeed Fenna (2011, 15, bold added) maintains that : ‘feminism’s
focus on universal rights …[is] at odds with… federalism’s premise that local communities
should…constitute and reproduce their own identities through control over many of the
social and cultural rules that determine how these rights will be defined and exercised .
But, the modernist / universalist form of feminist values Fenna refers to differ from the values
of difference-based feminisms , especially those developed through relations with progressive
nationalist movements . Majority-culture women usually advocate universalist feminist values ,
territorial minority women’s values may be difference-based .
How do federations essential design features affect gender reforms? The division of power
between central and regional governments can fragment women’s organizations and advocacy
and establish ‘legal’ or territorial pluralism’. In some cases, central governments establish a
legislative framework that regional governments administer. But in British-colonized federations,
legislative powers are also divided albeit often in opaque ways. Understanding the legal division
of powers , the federal design of institutions and constitutions; and of how they affect women’s
organizing and advocacy are essential to attaining gender reform. Is there an upper house that
represents regional governments? Do regional governments appoint members to this house or
are they elected? Is it more powerful than the lower house? Women's movements must develop
the capacity to understand the rule of law and constitutional amendment. In Muslim-majority
federations, some women must become experts in interpreting religious law . The de facto
division of powers may differ from the de jure division, so knowing where key powers are
assigned or if they are shared, is important for deciding how to organize and which alliances will
be useful. Organized majority women often work to get (constitutionally ) regional issues onto
the national agenda by getting courts or central governments to make 'national ' responsibilities.
Understanding how IGR work is also important because many decisions are made by civil
servants and central and regional executives without ever being considered by legislatures.
Women in federations need a high level of knowledge to organize and advocate effectively for
gender reform, especially when institutions or competencies are being restructured. Getting
women included in social benefit programs as individuals e.g. is often difficult In federations
when regional units vary in wealth. It is easier if programs and their rules are determined
centrally, but if such programs are regional responsibilities, organized women must advocate
for an equalization system to even out resources fairly so all governments can provide
comparable benefits wherever citizens live.9 But how can organized women promote such a
system successfully? Since many women remain economically-dependent care-givers,
women's movements must challenge discourses that assume only (mostly male) taxpayers
rather than all citizens, should decide which programs regional governments will offer.
Viewed through a gender lens, federalism is both a societal and a political /institutional
phenomenon. So societal characteristics mediate how ‘federal arrangements’ affect women’s
efforts to achieve gender reforms. In societies with a single national identity and with no
territorial minorities pressing for ‘decentralization’ central governments usually dominate . But
in multinational societies , territorially-concentrated minorities that make ‘national’ claims will
demand more powers for regional governments . 10 Most francophone women in Quebec, e.g.
9 Some federations ensure comparability in social programs through a constitutional commitment to
equalization; (e.g. Germany) or a spending power' the central government can use to provides equal
services and benefits across the federation.
10 In multi-national federations, some minorities’ boundaries are congruent with those of constituent
units. But in single-nation federations, minorities spread throughout the country without territorial claims
support decentralization and regional provision of (generous) social programs such as better
maternity leave provisions and cheaper childcare that elsewhere in Canada . When a regional
government is progressive on gender issues as in Quebec, Catalonia or Scotland, many women
will support decentralization and greater regional autonomy/self-rule.
Many gender scholars consider central governments more progressive because they are more
easily influenced by ‘women-friendly’ international trends and standards. Many fear that
regional and local governments are easily captured by regressive, traditional authorities as
happened regarding abortion rights and rights for sexual minorities in many U.S and Mexican
states. . Therefore, decentralization may be risky because regional/ local governments are more
insulated from international pressure and values. . But much depends on rules regarding the
application of constitutional and international rights mechanisms. In Nigeria, e.g. family law
has been blocked because central governments’ commitments to international treaties e.g. the
Convention for the Elimination of All Kinds Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW ) must be
‘domesticated ’ through legislation, but attempts to pass a CEDAW law failed in 2006 in the
states-dominated Senate. This pattern also occurs in the United States. But in some national
federations e.g. Australia, central governments can take over a field and bind state
governments by signing international treaties.
Family law 11 is one way gender regimes are established and maintained . It is affected
especially when ethno-religious diversities are territorially concentrated in regional units with
some self-rule, unless strong central governments share the responsibility and will supervise
regional laws. Family laws originated in rules religious, clan and tribal authorities used to
control community boundaries by limiting those with whom women could reproduce
(Glendon 1989). The legal pluralism facilitated by divided government and decentralization lets
male elites control most aspects of women’s lives. Elite accommodation12 can sustain
to self-rule. Social engineering by the central government often caused this .
11 McDermott's (2007) family law scale measures six relational factors affecting gender equity, : spousal
ages on (first ) marriage ; ease/difficulty of divorce for both sexes ; rules against adultery for both ;
women's access to safe abortion; impact of the possibility that husbands will take new wives on marital
relations; if violence and rape in marriage are tolerated /criminalized. The rankings show how family law
affects women's autonomy and relative power in marital relations.. Rankings include both majority and
minority family laws and practices .
‘gentlemen’s agreements’ that ‘how we treat our women is our business’ . In such contexts,
democratization is profoundly gendered because it excludes or marginalizes women.
In assessing how ‘ federal arrangement’ affect democratization , the paper draws on the
gendering democracy’ project which is part of Coppedge and, Gerring et al ‘s (2011)
typology of democracies , understood as ‘rule by the people’. Gender analysts ask if women
are part of ‘the people’ which they often weren’t when older federations were founded. The
paper uses benchmarks for ‘democratization’ that relate to six models : 1. ‘Electoral
democracy’- measured by regular free and fair multi-party elections producing effective
governments ; 2. ‘Liberal democracies’ measured by constitutionally guaranteed individual
rights for citizens, civil liberties, limited government, transparency , decentralization and the
rule of law; 3. Majoritarian democracies’ measured by the majority’s power acting through
disciplined political parties; 4.‘Participatory democracies’ measured by citizens’ direct
participation in political processes; 5. ‘ Deliberative democracies’ measured by political
decisions produced by direct public deliberation including anyone likely to be affected by a
given decision; 6. ‘Egalitarian democracies’ measured by equal treatment and empowerment of
all citizens . For gender analysis the citizenship rules that determine the extent to which women
are incorporated as citizens are the key. ( See Coppedge, Gerring et al (2011) for gender
benchmarks and sources.) Many gender scholars also focus on how women’s presence in
central legislatures can be increased to a ‘critical mass’. 13 .
Many historical examples show that ‘democratization’ is a gendered process since the exclusion
and marginalization of women occurs in association with most types of democracy . In addition
to citizenship rules, therefore, the paper uses as the gendered benchmarks of democratization:
women’s participation measured by their incorporation into political party/lobby activism, and
by their independent and aligned organizing ; women’s representation in the sites and channels
the formal political system , and in the informal system, women’s movements. Women’s
abilities to exercise their citizenship rights effectively to make governments respond to their
demands for gender reforms. These capabilities are affected by women’s security, by the effects
12 Elite accommodation is when de facto decision-making occurs among the political leaders of the
majority and large minority groups in a cabinet or in IGR ,in closed, opaque settings.. The decisions
often are called 'gentlemen's agreements' reflecting the common invisibility of women as leaders ,
13 Upper houses and regional assemblies , executive and judicial positions are ignored.
of discriminatory family laws and by social programs that treat women purely as men’s
dependents. Women are most able to exercise their citizenship rights fully if they are protected
from VAW , enjoy reasonable equality in gender relations , have equal access to education and
employment so they have economic security and have social programs that treat them as
independent citizens.
How is women’s citizenship undercut by VAW, discriminatory family law and social programs
that treat women only as dependents ? U.N. Women ( Report, 2011-12 , 3) claims that
'inequality in the family is the most damaging of all forces in women's lives, underlying all other
aspects of discrimination and disadvantage' . Although some strong states use family law to
shape and enforce gender regimes, but ‘when nations choose federations…[they] often …
allocate ‘private matters’ to the regional authorities ( Baines and Rubbio-Marin 2005, 12 ). This
produce territorial pluralism with family laws varying across constituent units . Moreover,
gender relations are often considered part of self-rule so that central government supervision
many be considered ‘interference’ (Vickers 2013a). Kymlicka (2004, 27-8) thinks management
of diversity requires ‘ a system in which territorially concentrated minorities…[can] exercise
autonomy or self- determination on matters crucial to their identity and continued existence
without the fear of being overridden … by the majority group.’ But he sees no potential conflict
between women’s rights as individuals and groups’ cultural rights. 14
U.N. Women ( 2011) considers legal pluralism the greatest barrier to family law reform .
Legal pluralism takes multiple forms. One occurs when ethno- religious minorities are not
territorially- organized and central governments legislate personal status codes that regulate their
members wherever they live as in India, Malaysia. A second results when governments
privatize i.e. offload authority for regulating gender relations to non-government authorities.
This form is the most resistant to reform. A third form devolves family law to regional and
sometimes local governments i.e. territorial pluralism, either regulated by the central
government or autonomously undertaken by regional governments. The key is whether
constitutional rights or international treaties are enforced by the central government as part of
14 Women who are part of such minorities may well share their goals but this cannot be assumed.
shared rule ; or if gender relations are considered fully part of self-rule . The extent of legal
pluralism and the forms it takes vary; often all three forms are present .
How gender relations are regulated affects women’s ability to exercise their citizenship rights.
Legal pluralism significantly correlates with high levels of VAW that undercut women’s
citizenship (Hudson, Bowen and Nielsen 2011). Discriminatory family law creates insecurity
for girls and women especially when regional governments are autonomous but ignore or
tolerate VAW and other injustices in the ‘private’ sphere. The combination of divided
government, decentralization, and legal pluralisms hamper women’s exercise of their
citizenship rights and limit their abilities to achieve gender reform. Democratization can’t
empower women if governments privatize gender relations .
This section explores how decentralization creates new opportunities for women to promote
gender reform, and makes reforms harder to achieve . There is gender analysis of how the
reconfiguring of states because of globalization affect women’s movements (e.g. Banaszack,
Beckwith and Rucht 2003). The analysis in this section focuses on the effects of formal and
informal decentralization of competencies in federations and quasi-federations. The two are
different, although related. The section first overviews the gender-blind literature about
decentralization and then discusses some gendered findings. Decentralization is a complex
concept and process. All vertically-divided government is ‘decentralized’ to some degree
because federal constitutions assign one or more significant responsibilities to regional
and/or local governments. But what aspects of governance powers are devolved? Changes
made to ‘federal arrangements’ subsequently will decentralize different aspects ; e.g.
administrative powers may be devolved but not legislative powers , or both may be devolved .
Central governments usually retain control over most financial powers and resources, but
regional governments that gain economic clout have more capacity for self-rule through
autonomous action. The power of regional executives matters significantly and in
presidential systems is measured by : how long chief executives can serve; if they can serve
successive terms; if they control budgets ; if they can veto legislation ; and if they are
appointed by the central government or s/elected in the region and so more responsive to their
constituents . Few women occupy powerful, autonomous chief executive positions, more hold
the weaker, appointed positions as in South Africa, Russia (see Table 2). In parliamentary
systems , regional leaders’ are s/elected as in the central legislature , so the extent of their
autonomy depends on relations between the center and region within integrated parties. Where
the party system is fractured between levels, regional leaders have more autonomy.
Decentralization affects the extent of women’s representation in regional legislatures , in
regional and local executive roles and on WPAs and women’s movements ’ ability to get
governments to respond to demands for gender reform. Bollyer and Thorlakson (2012) )
distinguish between de/centralization i.e. downward transfers of powers and the extent to
which regional governments exercise the new powers autonomously compared to both levels
of government exercising them interdependently . Comparing eleven federations, Bollyer and
Thorlakson (2012, 566) conclude that ‘decentralization indicators and indicators of
interdependence constitute separate dimensions’ that separately shape federal politics
especially IGR. Decentralization that transfers powers to regional governments is riskier if it
gives them have autonomous control especially when women’s rights are involved . if
governments remain interdependent in their exercise of downloaded powers, the risk is less.
In fact, interdependence can create competition between central and regional governments that
organized women can use to promote gender reforms .
The potential effects of decentralization depend partly on why governments decentralize.
Recently, a goal has been ‘efficiency’ achieved by ‘downloading’ the delivery of welfare-state
services to regional/local governments, usually with insufficient additional resources. According
to neo-liberals this increases efficiency by exposing ‘services’ up to market forces. International
organizations (IOs) e.g. the IMF and World Bank often imposed decentralization as a remedy
for financial crises . T here is an extensive gender-focused literature mapping the many negative
effects of such ‘remedies’ on women and their dependents - everywhere the majority of
recipients .
Decentralization is also introduced to stimulate development and democratization, especially
after authoritarian rule. Beal (2005) categorizes the administrative downloading described
above as ‘weak decentralization’ , compared to ‘strong decentralization’ intended to promote
democratization. The former exposes women to many disadvantages but ‘strong decentralization’
undertaken to deepen democracy can promote women’s participation and representation, and
gender reforms. Moreover, assessments by central government development agencies gender,
IOs , aid donors and gender-focused advocacy groups assert that decentralization can achieve
such goals without affirmative mechanisms that support women’s participation in decision-
making. The International Conference Decentralization, Local Power and Women’s Rights, held
in Mexico City in 2008a, brought many IOs and experts from over 50 countries to discuss these
issues . The report concludes that ‘decentralization reforms…promoted as a means of deepening
democracy and improving development…have not been sufficiently gender sensitive’ ( IDRC
2008, 2). Most findings cited in the conference Report apply to meso-level governments as
much as to their local counterparts.
Decentralization is also adopted to accommodate territorially-concentrated minorities’
demands for self-rule . There is much debate about whether decentralization encourages such
minorities to demand more extensive self-rule; or if diverse territorial communities can live
within a framework of shared rule while enjoying some degree of internal autonomy. As
discussed previously, this has mixed consequences for women, especially regarding their
incorporation as full citizens into democracy. Regional authorities that are progressive on gender
issues, incorporate women and encourage their participation as the region democratizes. The
authorities usually want to gain women’s support for greater self-rule and to show the
international community their commitment to democracy. However, if regional governments
reject women’s incorporation as citizens , making it hard for them to organize and blocking
gender reforms, devolution’s harmful consequences for women become clear . This may result
in demands for restoration of central government control.
Decentralization is also a manifestation of power struggles between central and regional
leaders; and the interests they represent. The conflict between modern central-state authorities
and traditional authorities in regional or local governments is a feature of these power struggles
that limits positive outcomes of decentralization for women. Hueglin and Fenna (2006,166/7)
conceptualize a federation as ‘a compromise’ between ‘modernizers’ who want ‘a unified,
common economic space’ and ‘social traditionalists’ who agree ‘provided there…was no
attempt to impose…cultural uniformity’. Beall’s (2005) account of the effects of ‘weak
decentralization’s on women in South Africa shows how traditional authorities captured rural
local government and, despite constitutional equity provisions, maintained discriminatory family
law and denied women access to resources e.g. commonly-held land . Moreover, ‘women face
greater obstacles to political engagement at the local level than the national level’( Beall,2005,
6). Traditional authorities in South Africa kept their powers and functions under colonial rule
and under apartheid through institutionalized indirect rule, a compromise they want to continue.
Despite varying circumstances across countries, there is a greater potential for elite capture (and
patron/client politics) in localized forms of governance, including non-professionalized regional
governments and governments dominated by non-urban elites especially in communities
dependent on resource extraction. Prejudices against women often are (and remain ) more
strongly held at local levels and in districts distant from large urban centers (Manon 1999, 97).;
e.g. Beall found the traditional authorities in South Africa that dominate local governance,
‘deeply antithetical toward women’(10).
The more localized governance is, the more robustly existing privileges are defended. Moreover,
defense is easier that in large urban sites because the power relationships that dominate
governance functions tend to be largely informal and so much hard for outsiders to challenge.
Further, the capacities and resources of local and many regional governments are much weaker
than central government or their highly urbanized counterparts. So when responsibilities are
decentralized , it is harder to get democratization on the agenda.
Comparative studies of decentralization to regional governments show varying patterns within
federations and across global regions. Latin American theorists have argued that
decentralization results from : the effects of changes in institutional factors e.g. new electoral
rules; fiscal crises ; international pressures; and demands from civil society following
authoritarian rule. But Gonzalez (2008, cited by Htun and Piscopo 2011) sees decentralization
-and re-centralization-as manifestations of power struggles between central and regional
leaders. With presidential systems and few territorially-organized minorities defending self-
rule , power struggles promote cycles of decentralization and re-centralization. Competencies
are decentralized to satisfy the demands of increasingly powerful regional governors, but central
government leaders grab powers back or use existing capacities to undertake new ventures.
Unless women are chief executives (and not always then ) inserting women’s interests and
demands for gender reform into inter-governmental dynamics is difficult unless inter-
governmental relations are institutionalized.
In African federations, e.g. Nigeria, decentralization was adopted both to promote
democratization and to ‘manage ’ conflict-producing territorial diversities. However,
center/region power struggles also are evident as ‘central governments ..clawed back
[ decentralized powers] ..[in] an informal recentralization of power’ ( Fessha and Kirby, 2008,
248, emphasis added). Moreover, some central governments e.g. Nigeria, South Africa,
‘ deliberately strengthened local governments at the expense of regional autonomy ’(248). The
central South African government further weakened regional governments by appointing
previously-elected provincial governors to remove regional rivals as Putin did in Russia. (Note
than in South Africa, many of the governors are women and active ANC feminists . ) In the
Indian federation, struggles between central and regional powers occurred within the dominant
Congress party for decades after founding (Bhattacharyya, 2010 140ff) but with the
increasingly competitive party system such power struggles are now more part of inter-
governmental relations (IGR). The extent to which IGR are institutionalized with specialized
structures also affects power dynamics. Closed and non-institutionalized IGR make it harder for
organized women to insert demands for gender reforms into these processes .
Gender Consequences of Decentralization
This section focuses on how decentralization affects democratization and women’s
citizenship using the three benchmarks of participation, representation and the
responsiveness of governments responsive to demand for gender reforms. Under the right
conditions , ‘decentralization’ can have positive results for women e.g. : more regional
women’s organizations, more women as regional legislators, more regional WPAs and
additional gender reforms such as regional legislative quotas. But comparative research shows
different patterns across global regions regarding the impact of decentralization- autonomously
or interdependently exercised. In Anglo-American federations , gender scholars (e.g. Sawer
1990; Chappell 2002; Vickers 1994; 2010, 2011, 2013 ) find varied effects of
decentralization depending on conditions. Vickers (2012a) theorizes that women’s electoral
representation in federations is repressed by inhibiting electoral systems and the absence of
quotas. But EU scholars Ortbals, Rincker and Montoya (2012, 84) find higher levels of
women’s representation in regional governments than in central governments and suggest this is
a positive effect of decentralization. Table 1 shows that in seven of the federations studied , the
levels of representation in regional governments are higher or the same, however, proportional
electoral systems and/or gender quotas for regional elections could explain this rather than
decentralization per se. A second claim is that significant increases in regional (and local)
WPAs that resulted from decentralization enhanced women’s substantive representation and
produced more innovative reforms than in central governments . Numerous studies ( e.g.
Rincker and Orbals 2009; Chappell and Curtin 2013; Outshorn and Kantola 2007) demonstrate
that positive policy learning and diffusion (including upward diffusion) occurs regarding gender
equality policies developed by regional governments. But the effects of decentralization are hard
to assess because central and regional government commonly exercise powers interdependently.
However, Lang and Sauer (2013) have identified positive effects of regional WPAs in
federations characterized by administrative decentralization i.e. Austria, Germany.
Assessing how decentralization affects women’s participation in, and ability to influence
political parties, especially leftist parties that support quotas and establish WPA, is complex.
Kenny and Verge (2013, 109) show how party organization dynamics mediate between formal
institutions and representation in recently decentralized countries, e.g. Spain and Britain.
Political parties that operate at both the center and the regions must adjust to decentralizing
pressures. But in multinational federations with fragmented party systems, decentralization may
fracture them further. Some studies ( cited Kenny and Verge 2013, 111 ) show that centralized
party structures ‘give elites more power to implement and enforce gender…reforms when they
are willing to do so’. But decentralized party structures also may produce gains for women at the
grassroots level. However, when political decentralization is combined with institutionalized
regional autonomy, shared rule is weakened and self-rule strengthened. Regional party elites
may resist what they see as the imposition of quotas and other reforms by the center of the party .
But they also may adopt regional quotas and reforms as part of self-rule or in competition with
other regions. Since parties are path dependent , their organizational structures shape how
elites respond to pressures to decentralize.
A final claim is that decentralization significantly increases the number of women’s
organizations as in Spain. (See below. ) This claim made about EU countries contrasts with
findings by North American scholars ( e.g. Haussman 2005, 2010 ) that decentralization
fragments the efforts of women’s movements and exhausts their resources. especially in
federations with many regional states Decentralization may also obstruct gender reforms by
empowering parochial, local resistance to central governments especially regarding what are
treated as morality issue’ – a framework that undercuts national approaches to gender equality
rights. But progressive regional governments may achieve important reforms that central
governments have resisted e.g. the achievement of de facto reproductive rights in Quebec a
decade before the Supreme Court struck down the federal (criminal) abortion law (Vickers
2009?) ; and abortion rights gained in Mexico City (Macdonald and Mills 2010) .
Gender scholars have identified conditions that mediate the effects of decentralization . The
impact of international norms on central/regional governments is one such condition that goes to
governments’ will to effect reforms. A second condition involves the capacities of central and
regional governments to achieve reforms . Some regional governments lack capacity, but others
do not and regional WPAs strengthen it where they exist. Regional politicians are often
considered less progressive than their central government counterparts. The logic here is that
regional offices are less professionalized and command less power, creating less competition for
them, and letting change-adverse elites capture them more easily than they can central
government institutions. However, regional governments vary in the extent of their
professionalism and in their ideologies. Those that represent minority nations aspiring to
independence often are more progressive and more responsive to demands for gender reform
because they want women’s support for their self-government project.
How/ does the decentralization of responsibilities to regional governments affect women’s
citizenship? Many federalists believe decentralization fosters a deepening of democracy
because decision-making occurs ‘close to home’; and because fewer people discuss fewer issues
more intensely with representatives who are more thought to be responsive because they live in
closer proximity to their constituents. Decentralization’s impact depends on the institutionalized
and de factor division of powers. i.e. If the regional governments can decide issues
autonomously; if they control their own finances; and if regional parties are independent or
controlled by elites at the center. The impact of decentralization also is mediated by numerous
gender conditions. As discussed above, a key feminist claim (Baines 2006; Mettler 1998) is
that decentralization fragments women’s citizenship.
How does decentralization affect women’s participation, representation and ability to make
governments respond to their demands –the benchmarks of citizenship? The paper explores
these benchmarks below in the case of Spain for which there is extensive evidence. Spain
lacks some features of a federation, but its ‘federalization’ offers useful insights and it reflects
is the EU pattern of significant increases in women’s political participation and representation.
This trend reflects the integration occurring in the EU and implementation of the subsidiarity
principle that issues should be dealt with by the lowest level of government practicable .
Studies of women’s representation in industrialized countries show similar increasing trends in
central governments, but ignore regional governments, our concern here.
Orbals, Rincker and Montoya (2012) assess the impact of decentralizing powers to regional
governments on women’s participation and representation. How the changes resulting from
decentralization affect women varies: e.g. a 1999 Indonesian law granted regional autonomy in
cultural matters that resulted in conservative governments imposing strict dress codes for
women ; Mexico City’s first-trimester abortion rights resulted in a backlash by conservative
states that introduced more restrictive abortion laws (MaDonald and Mills 2010). Why then
were outcomes in Spain more positive? Orbals et. al. (2012) insist that decentralization is no
magic bullet : women’s representation in regional legislatures were quite slow initially but
regional governments became more responsive as evident in their introduction of VAW policies
and gender quotas for regional legislatures. The latter increased the number of women
legislators more quickly and women became represented by more agents e.g. by women
bureaucrats in regional WPAs and many new regional women’s organizations, which they
theorize constitute a ‘triangle of empowerment” focused on regional governments.
How does decentralization affect women seeking gender reforms more generally ? Electoral
quotas increase the number of regional women legislators . Also promoting regional level
reforms are energetic WPAs. Both increase women’s political clout and can stimulate effective
women’s movements. Supportive left-wing parties that voluntarily adopt and then legislate
electoral quotas was important. There was a huge increase in women’s organizations to 5,000
by 2007 with especially large and rapid increases in some regions. In Andalusia e.g. there were
just three women’s organizations during the democratization period, increased to 152 by 1989,
600 by 1993 and to 1500 by 2008 ( Orbals, et. al. , 2012, 94) . In the same period there was a
slow but significant increase in the number of women in regional legislatures that averaged 30
percent by 2000 , promoted by regional quotas. The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE)
adopted a voluntary 25 percent quota in 1988 and a 40 percent quota in 1997. It also passed an
Equality Law in 2007 with a 40 percent quota that applied to both regional and national
elections. Between the mid 1990s and the mid 2000’s, women’s average legislative
representation in the regional lower houses ( 41.6 percent ) exceeded that at the center (36
percent ) (Orbals, et. al. , 2012, Table 2, 89).
Is this story of decentralization and slow but significant increases in women’s presence in
regional ‘triangles of empowerment’ unique to Spain or can it be replicated? There are some
distinctive dynamics in EU countries that strengthen regional governments but don’t exist
elsewhere. Other comparative overviews reveal different trends. Siaroff’s (2000) survey of 28
OECD countries identifies variables in addition to PR electoral systems and quotas that
increase women’s legislative representation and indirectly their cabinet presence . But
methodological nationalism keeps such surveys focused on central governments. Htun and
Piscopo’s (2010) survey of legislative and executive representation in Latin America and the
Caribbean is more helpful. These national, symmetrical federations have presidential systems.
The representation of women in the South American cabinets increased from 10 percent on
average to twenty-one percent in the 2000’s. Women’s inclusion in executive decision-making
in generalist, parliamentary cabinets is slower to be achieved than in the specialist cabinets iof
presidential systems (Siafoff 2000). Women are less likely to hold positions (e.g. committee
chairs) that lead to cabinet positions. Such insights also apply to regional executives
Decentralization usually enhances the power of regional and local executives, increasing
competition for such offices. Across Latin America ,women average twenty-two percent of local
councilors but only nine percent of mayors. Table 2 illustrates diversity in women’s attainment
of regional governorships and chief executive offices. Five of nineteen federations had a
woman executive head in their central government ; eight had experienced one previously.
But the proportion of regional executive heads varies widely. Fifty-six percent of the appointed
regional governors in South Africa were women and feminists; but just four percent were
women in Russia. In Canada, the number of female provincial/territorial premiers varies
almost yearly in a parliamentary system without quotas. In 2012-13, half the premiers were
women and the regional units they governed contained three quarters of Canada’s population.
But in 2014, this had dropped by half. Moreover, Canada’s only woman prime minister served
just a few months. So while women are increasingly represented in legislatures at both levels,
this doesn’t translate easily into increased executive clout . Although women in Latin
American federations (except Brazil) are represented increasingly in both central and regional
legislatures, the substantive representation of women’s interests in terms of gender reform hasn’t
increased significantly. Bills related to gender reform are more than twice as likely to fail as
other types of bills (Htun and Piscopo, 2011, 8) in part because they lack the support of party
presidents and chairs of legislative committees. Htun and Piscopo (2011, 9) conclude that
despite some success in getting gender reforms e.g. electoral quotas , attempts to achieve
reforms that confront religious authority e.g abortion rights have failed . Indeed . such policies
have remained largely unchanged for a century.
Institutionalized federal arrangements have consequences for women’s citizenship and for
gender reforms. These vary significantly within federations over time and across federations,
with patterns also varying across global regions. Institutionalized divided government offers
women both opportunities for and barriers to participation, representation and making
governments respond to demands for gender reforms. In recent decades, women’s legislative
representation has increased in many federations , although we are only now understanding how
the trends affect regional governments. The decentralization of governance functions to
regional and sometimes local governments has affected women’s incorporation into
democratization significantly. Where ‘weak decentralization’ aimed at ‘efficiency’ has been
introduced the effects have been negative in almost every case. Despite such changes in
representation, however, in federations many decisions are made within inter-governmental
relations (IGR). The extent to which organized women can influence such decisions depends on
the extent to which IGR are institutionalized or part of the conflict-based interactions
characteristic of the more diverse federations. The least diverse federations (e.g. Australia) have
the most institutionalized IGR that are most open to organized women. In the most diverse
federations (e.g. Nigeria) , IGR is the least institutionalized and least open to influence from
‘outsiders’ such as organized women.
Where forms of ‘strong decentralization’ aimed at democratization are involved, the outcomes
have been better only when women’s effective participation is facilitated. The 2008 conference
cited above identifies quotas to increase women’s participation and capacity-building for
women’s organizations. But the ‘triangles of empowerment’ in the Spanish regions involved
more regional women’s organizations, WPAs and women legislators. Equally important are
mechanisms that increase women’s access to executive power in cabinets and as chief
executives s/elected regionally and responsive to regional constituencies. Especially notable are
the successes women have had in attaining gender reforms when they have struck alliances with
territorial-minority governments promoting more autonomous self-rule.
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Figure One: Women’s Representation in Central & Regional Governments, 2012/13
Federation % women in Central governments % women –Regional governments
Lower house Upper House Ave. lower houses Ave upper house # Units
Argentina 37% women 39% 29% women 26% 23
Australia 25 38 28 36 8
Austria 28 31 31 _ 9
Belgium 39 41 39 _ 3
Brazil 9 16 12 _ 27
Canada 25 38* 35 _ 25
Germany 33 28 33 _ 16
India 11 11 8 _ 28
Iraq 25 - 25 _ 14
Malaysia 10 % 23% 6% _ 13
Mexico 37 33 NA. _ 32
Nigeria 7 6 NA. NA 36
Pakistan 23 16 1 8 4
Russia 14 8 NA. NA 83
South Africa 42 32 37 _ 9
Spain 36 34 44 _ 19
Switzerland 29 20 25% _ 26
United States 22 23 25 21 50
Sources: International Parliamentary Union, womanstats , country /regional governments’ websites.
*Senators are appointed
Table 2: Women’s Presence in Central and Regional Executives 2012/13
Federation Central governments. % of Regional Women Governors
Sex of Executive Head & Executive Heads___________
Argentina F 8%
Australia F 38
Austria M 11
Belgium M 67
Brazil F 7
Canada M* 46
Germany F 25
India M* 11
Iraq M 0.
Malaysia @ M** 0
Mexico M 3
Nigeria M 0
Pakistan M* 0
Russia @ M 4
South Africa @ M 56
Spain M 16
Switzerland F 4
United States M 1
Sources: International Parliamentary Union website, regional government websites.
*Female executive head previously. **Religious heads @ appointed governors appointed.
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