Countries where women gain power in national legislatures begin to spend more on priorities like education and healthcare, according to a new research published in Political Science Research and Methods.
The study gains significance in the wake of women winning more seats in parliaments and national assemblies around the world.
The report mentions about Rwanda where women fill 56 per cent (59 out of 106), of the seats in the nation’s parliament, the largest representation in any national legislative body in the world. Similarly, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and Nigeria and many other nations having women representatives in single digits. The United States falls in the middle with women holding 27 per cent or 143 out of 535, House and Senate seats. Co-author of the study and PhD candidate in political science at CU Boulder Hannah Paul and her colleagues used machine learning tools to sift through real world data from nearly 150 nations. They found that women’s representation matters, but is a bit complicated,
With respect to education, the study found that increasing women presence in national legislatures can spur a bump in spending on education, but only once they reach about 20 per cent representation. When women occupy more than 40 per cent of seats, education spending tends to plateau, they said. Stating that there was much complex relationship between gender and politics, study co-author and assistant professor of political science Andrew Philips said: “when the representation of women is low, politicians tend to treat them like window dressing: They’re there to make the party look good,” he said. “At the same time, you can get to a point where there are so many women in politics that they can now prioritize different issues than they did before,” he added.
The study looks deep into Critical Mass, which is a sticky topic in the field of political science. Philips said that the idea of Critical Mass emerged out of research into the role of women in the business world. If only one or two of them sit on a board of 15 people, they might not be able to enact too many changes. Critical mass theory, however, posits that if they hit a minimum threshold for power-say they now hold five out of 15 seats-their influence will increase dramatically. The problem is that research on the impact of critical mass has been mixed, Paul said.
The researchers found that a sweet spot exists where women can affect the most change in the fastest amount of time. When women occupy roughly 15% to 35% of a country’s legislature, spending on healthcare jumps up sharply from about 6.4% of GDP to more than 6,7%. At the same time defence spending plummets as more women take the stage.