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Women representation in politics: A comparative approach between France and the Nordic countries

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  1. Historical and empirical data illustrating the gap in women mobilisation
    1. Rokkan's model on mobilisation of women in parliamentary politics
    2. The main and illustrative data of women political representation in France and in the Nordic countries
    3. The insufficiency of economic arguments for our study
  2. Beyond economic explanations: alternative factors to grasp the gap
    1. General cultural barriers to women empowerment
    2. The specific religious factor in women mobilisation
    3. An alternative and complementary explanation: the prevalence of institutional obstacles
  3. The increasing importance of affirmative actions: the nordic tolerance vs. French resistance to institutional promotion of women representation
    1. The implementation of quotas: general
    2. The Nordic countries: an incremental model
    3. The original French parity
  4. Conclusion
  5. List of literature
  6. Annexes

Nowadays women are increasingly accessing to high political positions in State office. Indeed, three women recently reached the status of Head of State in different countries: Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Ellen Johnson-Sirlead in Liberia, and Tarja Halonen in Finland. Moreover, women play more crucial roles on the political scene than before, as it is the case in France with the ambitious Ségolène Royal who is currently working very hard to become a possible presidential candidate and to overcome male scoffing. Nonetheless, progress in the inclusion of women's voices in politics and government has proved difficult. Despite some well-known world leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher, Gro Harlem Bruntland and Golda Meir, only thirty-nine countries have ever elected a woman president or Prime Minister. According to the UN report, today women compose less than one-tenth of the world's cabinet ministers (Inglehart and Norris, 2003).
Indeed, the gender variable is often used in political studies to explain political phenomena, in confronting men and women behaviours, even if other elements (like age, profession, social status ?) are available to grasp striking individual differences towards politics. However, it is important to introduce qualifications concerning the relevance of a gender approach because women do not always constitute a homogeneous group. But this does not jeopardize this study since it has been proven that political conducts exist proper to female.
When studying women in politics, several relevant approaches can be envisaged. For instance, gender gaps in voting behaviours had been for a long time put forward as women appeared to become more inclined than men to vote in the left of the political field since the 1980s (Oskarson, 1995) despite their traditional and apparently well-established conservatism. Comparing gender differences in ideology, public opinion and electoral preferences can be considered as being the most common approach to elaborate the meaning of the term ?gender gap'.
Nevertheless, concerning gender and politics, two conceptions have been developed namely the pessimistic and the optimistic perspectives. The first one aimed at stressing permanent predominance of males and consequently the continuous female exclusion. In this view, even the increasing proportion of women in political bodies is justified by the decline in the power and significance of political institutions. Moreover, the fact that women have integrated the so-called ?soft side' of politics (meaning the low status fields) restricts the relevance of female increasing empowerment (Bergqvist, 1999). The second approach asserts a sure degree of autonomy of politics and political institutions envisaging the possibility of positive changes in gender political positions because of the great importance given to actors. Today, the optimistic view takes prevalence in most studies.
For our part, we found germane to rely on Rokkan's model, developed in the 1970s, which resorts to four institutional thresholds that must be passed or overcome by the mobilising women group to achieve political power in parliamentary system (Raaum, 2004). In this model, each threshold constitutes an institutional obstacle while each phase in between can be considered as mobilisation periods.
Our study will focus on a comparative approach of female representation in politics at the national level of each country, i.e. France and four Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland). We put aside the Icelandic case since its gender profile differs from the situation in the four other Nordic countries. Indeed, its level of female political representation is relatively low (mainly because of its electoral system) and the social citizenship of Icelandic women has not been as broad as in the rest of the Nordic countries (Borchorst, Christensen, Raaum, 1999). Icelandic society has been regarded as a ?strong male-breadwinner model' (Raaum, 2004). Thus, from now on, the expression ?Nordic countries' encompasses only these major four countries. Besides, France seems to be an appropriate case on that subject as equality between men and women in politics has been a controversial and thorny question in our native country for decades.
Finally, let us clarify a few details on the Nordic case. In comparative studies, many authors lay the emphasis on the homogeneity of the Nordic countries in designating them as a ?case apart' in the matter of female representation (Karvonen, Selle, 1995). As tending to be at the top of the list concerning women representation in politics, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are often considered by the optimists as well as by the pessimists as a special model because of its unique character and its attempt to build a brighter future for women. However, we cannot deny that even though the Nordic countries share many common features, it must be admitted that several differences remain on the subject notably concerning the women integration strategies elaborated in each country. As it is highlighting by Christensen, the Nordic countries have chosen to develop various strategies in order to integrate women especially in the political field. For instance, Finland and Sweden have opted for a ?classic strategy' by relying upon a tradition of women' s sections in the political parties but also on the penetration of new women mobilisation in the parties. On the other hand, Norway and Denmark have done differently. Indeed, Norway has followed a ?modern strategy'; for instance, through the strengthening of the parties by the new mobilisation women or by their integration by means of quotas. Denmark, for its part, did not develop any integration strategy as the mobilisation of women used channels other than political parties since women for example lack sections within the parties (Christensen, 1999). Nonetheless, the central statistics underline that the Nordic countries offer a specific model of women representation in politics. In fact, in the early 1990s, there were 30 percent of women in Nordic parliaments whereas the world average, even today, hardly reaches about 16 percent. In addition, what is striking is that such a pattern is met not only concerning parliaments but also with regards to the executive branch of governments and to cabinet members. Agreeing with this rationale, we will compare the performance of the Nordic model to the French situation with respect to the four thresholds of women mobilisation.
In fact, theories about women and political power set a discrepancy between, on the one hand, women's lack of authority and, on the other hand, the political practice indicating their increasing degree of mobilisation as decision-makers in public policies. The political mobilisation of Nordic women constitutes a striking contrast to the so-called ?powerlessness model' to which France in our study may relatively belong (Raaum, 1995).
Luckily, thanks to reports provided by national French and Nordic authorities, numerous data on our subject are available that will constitute the point of departure of our study. These figures shed light on the existing gap of women representation in politics between France and the Nordic countries. Hence, we can wonder how these countries, close in many aspects such as economic development, may be so divergent in the field of our study as France is much far from realizing women expectations.
On this subject, many scholars put forward a common theory of the 1960s and early 1970s which argued that economic growth was the most effective strategy and incentive for the improvements of women status (Inglehart, Norris, 2003). These authors rely upon other factors to explain ?the rising tide of gender equality' such as the role of state or the cultural variable. To our point of view, we must follow this rationale in evoking other factors for women empowerment as we are comparing countries which are close economically speaking.
Our cross-national study will concentrate first on empirical and historical data illustrating the gap in women political presence between France and the Nordic countries (1). Then, we will try to sort out possible explanations for these differences that go beyond economic factors (2). Finally, it appears relevant to introduce a perspective on our subject by tackling the question of measures that aim at promoting women political representation (3).

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