Women in Parliament Save Lives. Scores of Them
POLITICAL SCIENCES |

Women in Parliament Save Lives. Scores of Them

ACCORDING TO A STUDY PUBLISHED IN DEMOGRAPHY AND COAUTHORED BY A BOCCONI DOCTORAL STUDENT, WHEN FEMALE REPRESENTATION IN LESSER DEVELOPED AND WEAK DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES RISES FROM LESS THAN 10% TO OVER 30%, CHILD MORTALITY IS CUT BY 50% AND MATERNAL MORTALITY BY 80%

Women in parliament can save scores of women’s and children’s lives, especially in lesser developed and weak democratic countries, a paper by Bocconi University, University of Limerick and LSE scholars, published in Demography, finds. In these countries, when the share of women in Parliament goes from less than 10% to more than 30% (a threshold advocated by the United Nation Equal Opportunities Commissions), child mortality is cut by half, from 60 to 30 per 1,000, and maternal mortality is reduced by 80% from 250 to 50 per 100,000.
 
Given that women prioritize maternal and child well-being, expectation is that more women in parliament translates into a lower maternal and child mortality.
 
«According to our results», says Naila Shofia, a doctoral student at Bocconi University and co-author of the study, «gender quotas make sense especially where it’s less expected. Common sense would suggest that, in developed and democratic countries, established channels facilitate the transmission of women-backed policies. However, in developed countries welfare systems protecting women and children are already in place, with free press and NGOs acting as watchdogs should these systems falter. As a result, female MPs, in this context, can make only a marginal difference. In developing countries, on the contrary, they can contribute to establish such welfare systems by raising the issue in parliament should the press and NGOs fail to voice the need».
 
The percentage of women in parliaments across the world increased from 6.2% in 1975 to 20.4% in 2015, quotas are in place in countries such as Rwanda, and 42 countries have already reached the 30% threshold recommended by the UN. In order to understand whether descriptive representation (a fair share of women in parliament) translates into substantive representation (a better representation of women’s interests), the scholars analyze parliament composition and maternal and child mortality rates in 155 countries spanning from 1990 to 2014.
 
Women’s political representation turns out to be associated with significant decreases in mortality for women and children, with the strongest effects in contexts of low extent of democracy and low economic and social development, when women hold at least 30% of the parliamentary seats. «The threshold is important», Naila Shofia says, «because a low share of female MPs risks not only to be ineffective but also to be abused, by using female MPs as a token of legitimation for the policies chosen by the vast majority of male MPs ».
 
Naila Shofia is a PhD candidate at Bocconi’s PhD in Public Policy and Administration. Ross Macmillan (Bocconi University and University of Limerick) is a former Director of Bocconi’s PhD in Public Policy and Administration. Wendy Sigle is Professor of Gender and Family Studies at LSE.
 
Ross Macmillan, Naila Shofia, Wendy Sigle, Gender and the Politics of Death: Female Representation, Political and Developmental Context, and Population Health in a Cross-National Panel, in Demography (2018) 55:1905-1934, DOI: 10.1007/s13524-018-0697-0.

by Fabio Todesco

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