Revisiting Representation: Communism, Women in Politics, and the Decline of Armed Conflict in East Asia


Bjarnegård, Elin, and Erik Melander. 2013. “Revisiting Representation: Communism, Women in Politics, and the Decline of Armed Conflict in East Asia.” International Interactions 39 (4): 558–74.

Authors: Elin Bjarnegård, Erik Melander


This research note evaluates one of the commonly used measurements for political gender equality: representation of women in parliaments. It demonstrates that caution is called for when interpreting results where this variable is used, because parliamentary representation implies different things in different settings. Societies with more women in parliament tend to have fewer intrastate armed conflicts. We investigate this statistical association with a particular focus on East Asia. This region has seen a shift from extremely intense warfare to low levels of battle deaths at roughly the same time as great strides have been made in the representation of women in parliaments. This research note shows, however, that this statistical association is driven by authoritarian communist regimes promoting gender equality as a part of communist ideology, and these countries’ representative chambers have little influence over politics. Using statistical tests and empirical illustrations from East Asia, the note concludes that the political representation of women is an invalid indicator of political gender equality in East Asia. There is thus a need for nuance in assessing the picture painted in earlier research. In addition, the suggestion that more women in parliament will lead to fewer armed conflicts runs the risk of being forwarded as an oversimplified solution to a complex problem, and we briefly discuss the instrumentalization of gender equality in peace and security studies.

Keywords: armed conflict, communism, East Asia, gender, representations

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Political Participation Regions: Asia, East Asia

Year: 2013

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