Electing women can boost gender equality in both appointments and policies, research finds

By on 29/03/2017 | Updated on 21/09/2023
Kendall Funk, co-producer of the study and visiting scholar at arizona state university

Where women win election into local government roles with the power to appoint public servants, new research has found, more women are appointed throughout public bodies and those organisations enact more female-friendly policies.

The study, produced by researchers Kenneth J. Meier and Kendall D. Funk, used data from Brazil. It found that where political leaders had the power to appoint senior officials, the proportion of women in public sector jobs was raised – not only at the top levels, but also below them. And where women head the municipal social assistance agency, more women-friendly policies and services have been adopted – supporting, for example, shelters for abused women, daycare centers, birthing centers and policies promoting gender equality.

Kendall Funk, a Visiting Scholar at Arizona State University and a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University, told Global Government Forum that the team studied Brazil because “we needed to find a context where elected officials have discretion over bureaucratic appointments and the creation of public policies that affect women; and, also, where non-elected bureaucrats can influence the structure of bureaucratic institutions and public policies”.

Brazil is also a highly decentralised country, with over 5,500 municipalities – providing plenty of material for the research – but a relatively low level of women among elected representatives.

The research found that while electing women to senior roles – as mayors, vice-mayors and city councilors – boosts the proportion of women appointed to senior public service jobs, getting women into more junior elected roles has no effect. “ Increasing women’s representation in local elected institutions didn’t increase women’s overall presence in the bureaucracy,” says Funk.

The same patterns are likely to be found, she said, in any system where senior elected leaders may appoint people into influential jobs. “We might expect – and often find evidence – that women in government do things differently than men. And these differences can result in improvements for women citizens,” Funk added.

The report, entitled ‘Women and Public Administration in a Comparative Perspective: The Case of Representation in Brazilian Local Governments’, was published in Administration & Society journal.

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About Stav Dimitropoulos

Stav Dimitropoulos is a writer who has reported for CBC and CBS Radio about the Greek crisis and written for major international outlets. She holds an MSc in RCDM and a Diploma in Journalism among others, and has attended seminars in Micro/Macroeconomics, Political Theory and EU Institutions.

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