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Numbers and Beyond: The Relevance of Critical Mass in Gender Research

  • Sandra Grey (a1)


Political scientists concerned with gender relations have long been interested in the numbers of women in national legislatures. Women make up slightly more than 50% of the world's population, yet average only 16% of the world's elected political posts. This has led to calls for action that would increase the number of women in legislatures based both on arguments of justice and on claims that an increase will substantively change decision-making processes and outcomes. Part of the debate about substantive changes in political decision making has centered on whether women in a legislature must reach a “critical mass” in order to bring about change in the political arena. The term critical mass is frequently used by politicians, the media, and academics, but can it offer insights into the influence of gender on political processes and outcomes? In this essay, I argue that critical mass is only useful if we discard the belief that a single proportion holds the key to all representation needs of women and if we discard notions that numbers alone bring about substantive changes in policy processes and outcomes. I use a longitudinal textual analysis of New Zealand parliamentary debates to begin development of a joint-effect model that can better explain the factors that aid (or hinder) the substantive representation of women.



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Politics & Gender
  • ISSN: 1743-923X
  • EISSN: 1743-9248
  • URL: /core/journals/politics-and-gender
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