Chapter 02: Politics - Field Stories
Related Countries:
Women Representatives and Policy Outputs

Two particularly striking cases show that women often have a different set of demands than men, and a more representative assembly will lead to a different set of policy outputs.

In one case, political scientists assessed whether the proportion of the municipal council seats held by women affected the level of public childcare coverage offered in Norwegian municipalities from the 1970s to the 1990s.i They controlled for characteristics such as party ideology, proportions of single-parent families, and the percentage of women of childbearing age. An unambiguous pattern was detected: there was a direct causal relationship between the proportion of the city council that was female and childcare coverage.

In the second case, a 1992 constitutional reform in India introduced gender reservations at all tiers of local governance, including the local panchayat village council system, which is responsible for local government activities such as public works projects. One-third of all council seats were reserved for women-only competition as were one-third of council heads (pradhan). Specific panchayat councils were randomly designated to have a female leader.

Political scientists examined panchayat councils in a sample of West Bengal and Rajasthan villages and coded requests and complaints that came to the councils by the sex of the person making the request. Systematic differences were found in the complaints depending on the sex of the complainant. For example, in both states women were more likely than men to make requests and complaints concerning water resources, reflecting their role as managers of domestic water supplies.

There were no differences in the pattern of requests to male-led and female-led councils, but there were striking differences in the response. The number of drinking water projects was more than 60 per cent higher in female-led councils than male-led panchayats. In West Bengal, where jobs building roads are more likely to go to women, there were more road projects in female-led panchayat councils, while in Rajasthan, where road-building jobs were more important for men, there were more road projects in districts with male-led councils.

Both of these cases suggest that local politics can provide an opportunity for personal experiences to influence the decisions being made, thus building a strong case for ensuring greater parity in the numbers of women and men in elected and appointed political decision-making bodies.