Can Women Break Through? Women in Municipalities: Lebanon in Comparative Perspective

Citation:

Sbaity Kassem, Fatima. 2012. “Can Women Break Through? Women in Municipalities: Lebanon in Comparative Perspective.” Women’s Studies International Forum 35 (4): 233–55. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2012.04.002.

Author: Fatima Sbaity Kassem

Abstract:

Gender inequality is a pervasive global phenomenon, particularly in the political sphere. Previous scholarship sought explanations for the low female representation in countries' development levels, political regimes and/or electoral systems. Some scholars searched for answers within societies' religious and cultural value systems or political culture. These arguments, singularly or combined, can explain the pattern and predict broadly female representation across countries of different income levels and political systems. However, they overlook observed variations in middle-income countries and cannot explain the presence of overachievers and underachievers. They also fail to explain variations within societies of the same religious family, or across political parties within the same country. Previous explanations do not fully account for observed variations in women's political participation, which begs for additional explanation, one that examines the primary institutional vehicles for individual advancement in the political world – political parties – and highlights the factors that determine parties’ support for women's leadership and nomination to public office.

My work on women in politics departs from prior scholarship in that it explains variations in women's leadership and nomination to public office by looking at party-level variation in religiosity across countries and political parties. Parties are the main vehicles for recruiting, selecting, and promoting women. They are gatekeepers for nominating them to public office. However, different parties offer women different opportunities. For instance, most of the five Nordic countries have social democratic parties with high shares of female legislators, indicating the important role they play in advancing women and nominating them to public office. Thus, not only do parties offer a plausible explanation for variations in female representation, but also in providing an answer to why are some parties superior to others in advancing women's political career.

Party variation in religiosity is the missing link in this body of research. I have argued elsewhere that as party religiosity increases, women's leadership falls within parties’ internal decision-making bodies. Party religiosity, as distinct from individual religiosity, is the extent to which religious goals penetrate political platforms. The qualitative and quantitative findings of in-depth research conducted in Lebanon, as a focused single country case-study, are robust and support the theory of party variation in religiosity and women's leadership. Further, in a separate and additional cross-national quantitative study using multiple cases, the theory is found to travel, hence allowing for generalizations and predictions. It is tested on 330 parties across 26 countries in the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe: 13 Arab countries, seven non-Arab Muslim-majority countries, and five European countries with Christian democratic parties plus Israel, the only Jewish state in the world.1 This permitted studying the influence of three world religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) on women's political leadership.

In this article, I take the extra mile and extend the theory of party variation in religiosity from women's leadership within parties’ inner structures to the logical ‘outcome’ of nominating women for public office. I move the research beyond the institutional party-level to the national and local levels of analyses and explore religiosity as the main explanatory variable for female party nominations to parliaments and municipalities. Other party-level characteristics of import to women's nominations include democratic practices and pluralism in membership.  The main research question posed in this paper is whether municipalities – compared to parliaments – constitute a breakthrough for women in politics. Lebanon serves as a useful a case-study with its multiparty system. A single country case-study makes it possible to investigate variations in female nominations within a controlled socio-political environment, while holding constant the potential influence of the political regime and electoral system. Nonetheless, the findings of field research in Lebanon support the focus on party religiosity as an explanatory variable for female nominations. It also reveals quite different dynamics governing female nominations for municipal as opposed to parliamentary elections. These findings point to a potential breakthrough for women seeking a career in politics.

This article is organized in three sections with an introduction, summary and concluding remarks. The introductory part covers the theoretical background motivating the main research question and lays out the variables and hypotheses to be tested. Section A examines patterns of female candidacy for parliaments. Section B focuses on women in municipalities in comparative perspective to parliaments. In Section C, I estimate a regression model for female nominations to parliaments and another one for municipalities. The findings support the theory of party variation in religiosity to explain variations in female nominations for municipalities. However, it is not borne out for parliaments. The concluding remarks highlight the main findings and provide supporting evidence that municipalities may very well constitute a breakthrough for women, if they choose a career in politics. Thus, responding positively to the main research question that this article poses: “Women in municipalities: Can women break through?”

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Balance, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Post-conflict Governance, Political Participation, Religion Regions: MENA, Asia, Middle East Countries: Lebanon

Year: 2012

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