Published by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra

Gender news & views powered by research

Voting for women: Lessons from Belgium

by | Oct 27, 2017 | News

 

Despite sustained efforts to improve the gender balance of political representation, women are still underrepresented in most legislative assemblies around the world. 

 

Research has extensively documented that institutional arrangements can increase or decrease the challenges women face, which range from their own inner critics (can I do this?) to the party selectorates and the voters’ views (can she do this?).

For example, quota laws and gender awareness campaigns have made a positive impact on the gender balance in different assemblies globally. In addition, the rules by which the votes are translated into the seats in these assemblies have a clear effect on gender equality.

Even under the most supportive institutional rules, both party and voters’ gender biases remain firmly in place

Proportional electoral systems tend to be more beneficial for women’s descriptive representation than majority systems. However, within proportional systems the gender equality of election outcomes differs, highlighting the importance of studying the actual use of electoral provisions in proportional representation systems. Our research in the context of Belgium’s list system shows that even under the most supportive institutional rules, both party and voters’ gender biases remain firmly in place.

Screen Shot 2017 10 28 at 5.55.18 pm

Belgium has strict quota laws; both the sex of the candidates on the party list, as well as the first two positions need to be balanced (50/50). These rules have resulted in a large majority of male candidates at the top position followed by female candidates at the second position of the list.

A recent study among Belgian voters also revealed strong gender disparities in voters’ choices. In the most recent local election, about eight out of ten voters supported at least one male candidate, whereas only one out of two voters supported at least one female candidate. Similar results were found when studying the national elections.

photo du gouvernement

The Federal Government. Source: www.belgium.be

What is more: voters could use their preference votes to increase the number of women in the Belgian legislative assemblies by using their preference votes strategically, but as our research shows, only a very small minority uses this opportunity.

Voters could strategically use their preference votes to increase the number of women in the Belgian legislative assemblies, but only a small minority does so

The voters can choose from a party list that has an equal supply of men and women, and they can cast as many votes as they like within a party list. Yet, people generally follow the party cues, voting significantly more for the first male candidate on the list. While they have the power to use their vote to advance female representation, they only seldom do so. In effect, female voters were – just like male voters- found to vote more for male candidates than for female candidates. While women do receive more votes from female voters in Belgium, the dominant preference vote among all genders is a vote for a male candidate.

 

Appel stemvrouw

Campaign poster: “Vote Woman”. Source: www.rosadoc.be

In conclusion, our research shows that while quota laws in Belgium have improved the gender diversity of its legislative assemblies, parties still try to tweak the rules to advance male candidates (for example by order on the list). In addition, while voters have the potential to improve the gender balance in political representation, they still tend to follow the party cues and vote for male candidates.

 

This blog post is based on a research article ‘Voting for Women in Belgium’s Flexible List System’, published in ‘Politics and Gender’.

 

Highlighted article

Other highlighted articles

Who are the women of the extreme right?

Who are the women of the extreme right?

On January 6, Ashli Babbitt, 35, became a martyr. The Air Force veteran was in the act of scaling a barricade of furniture in Washington DC’s Capitol when she was shot in the chest at point blank by a security officer. Babbitt, a Trump diehard and QAnon sympathiser,...

The baby boomers: why MPs are calling for change

The baby boomers: why MPs are calling for change

When Kate Thwaites was pregnant with her second child last year, she got angry. She got angry at the fact that, despite the widespread availability of sophisticated (and secure) videoconferencing tools, parliamentary rules deemed her unable to participate in...

Kamala Harris and the Vogue power pose

Kamala Harris and the Vogue power pose

One photo is all it took. One shot on the cover of a fashion magazine and here we are, bang, slap in the midst of yet another public stoush over how a powerful woman should look. Is she ‘pretty’ enough? Smiling enough? Does she look authoritative? If ever there was a...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This