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BroadAgenda Research Wrap is your fortnightly window into academia. We scour the journals so you don’t have to.

No topic too impenetrable, no research too eclectic; BroadAgenda Research Wrap brings you a glimpse of the latest gender research around the world – in plain English.

As November is fast approaching and the world waits with bated breath to see whether someone will indeed make America great again – this time with real actions rather than slogans – the first instalment of our new fortnightly research wrap focuses on topics near to our hearts here at the BroadAgenda HQ: democracy and inclusion.

The rhetoric of inclusion is well and truly embedded into the ideas of good governance – but what does it actually mean? Will the presence of women, or any other group with identity markers for that matter, at the decision-making table be enough to lift the game?

As with anything to do with science, it’s complicated.

The numbers are a good starting point, but for more meaningful inclusion, there’s a multitude of aspects to consider. From who gets to talk, for how long, who listens, how do people behave towards one another, and how do they react when others speak – just to name a few.

In this vein, the first article we take a look at comes from Dr Mary (Molly) Scudder, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Purdue University. In ‘The ideal of uptake in democratic deliberation’ (Political Studies, 2020), Dr Scudder unpacks the concept of inclusion by considering whether “ the arguments, stories, and perspectives that citizens share in deliberation” receive a fair consideration, it other words whether they are subject to what she calls a “deliberative uptake”.

The core idea is simple: even when actively listening, people often struggle to truly take up what others have to say. And it gets hairier still when the issue at hand is divisive and polarising. To illustrate her point, Dr Scudder uses the example of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the protesters’ voices being audibly loud and clear, many white middle class Americans and certain politicians – with their ill-thought of retort ‘all lives matter’ – showed that they had either misunderstood or ignored the arguments and grievances raised by Black Americans, essentially rendering them invisible and inaudible. 

Protest movements are of course by their very nature predisposed to shouty disagreements, but here’s the thing: the concerns about the quality of debate are universal across all levels of society, and often women bear the brunt. As we’ve so often witnessed in politics globally, a seat at the table, even in situations where the participants’ power differences are minimised by the virtue of their positions, does not automatically guarantee democratic outcomes.

Former Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop for example has called out the ‘gender deafness’ she experienced in Tony Abbot’s cabinet. Her ideas, no matter how clearly presented, were often met with silence and ignored until a male member repeated them. As the only woman in the 19-member cabinet, Ms Bishop was of course already in the minority. She has since quite rightly called for an equal representation of men and women in Parliament – but the problem is not purely a numbers game. The overly simplistic idea of ‘majority rule’ for example will automatically fail as a democratic ideal if the articulated ideas are not well understood by others.  

While theories about democracy and deliberation may seem like overtly academic pursuits, the concept of uptake is in fact extremely practical, and one that we all need to pay attention to in our interactions with others. For ideas on how to observe and assess it in practice, read the full article here.

Also on the topic of participation and inclusion, Dr Kei Nishiyama’s article ‘Between protection and participation: Rethinking children’s rights to participate in protests on streets, online spaces, and schools’ (Journal of Human Rights, 2020) provides great food for thought on how we treat children as democratic citizens.

All too often, as Dr Nishiyama highlights, the idea of children as vulnerable, passive, and immature beings in need of protection trumps the principle of participation. But as UNICEF has noted, participation – along with the principles of protection, survival and development – should be counted as core element of children’s human rights.

It’s easy to see why the desire to protect the seemingly vulnerable children is so overwhelming, especially when the 24/7 news cycle constantly bombards us with information about the dangers of the world – no matter how rare or distant. And again, the problem is deeply gendered, with young people in public spaces “frequently made to feel uncomfortable, unsafe and intimated, just because they’re young and female”. Now of course, the idea here is not to throw the kids out in the streets and hope for the best, but to empower them to develop into rational, thinking citizens while recognising the value of their participation in the first place.

Lastly, we take a look at the topic of diversity and women in politics. ‘Alternative strategies to support women as political actors in the Pacific: Building the house of peace’ (Women’s Studies International Forum, 2020) by  Dr Sonia Palmieri and Ms Diane Zetlin focuses on the Pacific region, which has consistently held the lowest regional ranking for women in national parliaments.

Diverse representation is a noble and an uncontested end game. But as it turns out, sometimes the diversity of the population calls for a whole new rethink of the strategies that will help us get there. As the authors point out, the commonly used strategies – electoral system change and individual empowerment – that have been effective in increasing the numbers in Western countries, and in some parts of Africa and Latin America, have not had the same impact in the Pacific region.

So, what is the key to transforming the status quo, when the situation appears so resistant to change, and diversity is deeply embedded in the everyday cultural contexts? Palmieri and Zetlin focus on the practical side, rather than simply diagnosing the problem, and offer insights about how peacebuilding strategies can help overcome the continued underrepresentation of women. Take a look here. 

Have you published journal article that would be a good fit for the Research Wrap? Email a link and a brief description to BroadAgenda Academic Editor, Dr Pia Rowe: pia.rowe@canberra.edu.au. Please note that while we endeavour to discuss as many articles as possible, we cannot guarantee inclusion.   

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