Has Democracy Failed Women?


Has Democracy Failed Women?

by Drude Dahlerup (2018)

Book Review

This book challenges conventional wisdom that Greece was the birthplace of democracy, as it totally excluded women from participation in the political process.

Has Democracy Failed Women? starts with a brief review of women’s long difficult battle for the right to vote. New Zealand was the first to grant women a vote in national elections in 1893. Other English-speaking countries, including Britain, enacted women’s suffrage following World War I. Catholic countries, including France, Italy, Chile and Argentina waited till World War II ended. It was 1971 before women could vote in national elections in Switzerland.

It’s well established that democratic assemblies with inadequate female representation, are incapable of addressing the continuing oppression women experience under capitalism.* Yet more the 100 years after first receiving the right to vote, women (who comprise 52% of the population) are still denied full representation in the institutions of power. In the West, only two parliaments have granted women full parity (40-60% representation). In the global South, only Rwanda and Bolivia have as many women as men in their assemblies.

Dallerup blames the “secret garden of politics,” the failure of most political parties to select candidates in a transparent or democratic process, for women’s failure to receive fair representation in government. In most places, party officials limit their candidate pools to well-established old boy networks.

In general, only countries with Proportional Representation (see The Case for Proportional Representation) are likely to achieve more than 25% female representation in their national governing bodies. Countries (like the US, UK and Canada) employing a Plurality/Majority (winner- takes-all) voting system based on geographic districts have the most difficulty achieving adequate female representation. In these countries, a woman usually has to defeat a male incumbent to win a seat.

I was very surprised to learn that 57% percent of countries have achieved better female representation by imposing gender quotas. Pakistan was the first in 1956 (though they have subsequently rescinded the quota), Bangladesh in 1972 and Egypt in 1979. Scandinavian countries took a big step towards gender parity via voluntary party quotas

As of 2015, only three countries had no women at all in government: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Trump has only two female cabinet members, the lowest since the 1970s.

In an era in which the power of elected assemblies is being systematically eroded by multinational corporations, Dallerup feels it’s also really important to ensure strong female representation on corporate boards and the regional and international bodies they control. Spain, Iceland, Belgium, France, Germany, India and Norway all have laws requiring a minimum of 40% representation on corporate boards (a move consistently linked with higher profits.

*Interventions Dallerup views as essential to ending women’s inequality and oppression include

  • redistribution of money and resources, eg to single mothers for maternity care and maternity leave
  • actions against the feminization of poverty
  • public services: care for children, the elderly and disabled
  • housing and public transportation
  • an independent judiciary without with gender biases; intervention against domestic violence; anti-discrimination regulations, ie on equal pay and equal treatment; and affirmation action (ie gender quotas)
  • support for men’s role as caregivers, eg paternity leave
  • protection from sexual violence and harassment in peace and war and the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconciliation

Also published in Dissident Voice

6 thoughts on “Has Democracy Failed Women?

  1. “Has Democracy Failed Women?”

    No, racism failed women. And before I get called out for falling for the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of the ‘elites’, I will add that it is a proven fact that white women will thumb their noses up at equality for ALL women since white women overwhelmingly voted, along with their husbands, for Donald Trump even AFTER it surfaced that he bragged about being able,because of his status and money, to “Grab women by the pussy.”

    Also, it was Black women who defeated Roy Moore in Alabama. White women had next to nothing to do with that. Black women came out in droves to beat back against racism and thankfully, were a force to be reckoned with. We don’t wait around for white women to do a damn thing about women’s issues because if we did, we would still be cleaning white women’s houses and cooking their meals. They’ve now got the Mexicans doing that, that is, when they’re not becoming expats and hiring natives of whatever country they’ve washed ashore on to do their menial tasks for them. It is Black women, for the most part, who have to worry about daycare expenses while they work outside the home out of necessity. And the ‘feminization of poverty’ is something that mostly Black women know about because the salary of Black women is still not on par with that of white women doing the same work. I know this for a fact. And, for the most part, it is Black women who rely on public transportation especially due to where they lived; mainly in inner cities, at least up until recently now that gentrification is in play by guess who? Whites and that would include ‘white women’.


    • You make a number of excellent points Shelby that can’t be disputed. Because Dahlerup is British, she has very limited knowledge of America’s long history of racism and how it poisoned the US feminist movement. There is a strong need for a Black American to write a similar book about the blatant failure of representation of Blacks or women in US society.


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