Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=198471
Story Retrieval Date: 5/22/2013 11:19:53 PM CST
Researcher and economist Lori Beaman shows the impact of increasing numbers of female politicians in India.
Gender affirmative action doesn’t have negative consequences
Women comprise less than 30 percent of elective offices in the U.S.
India's affirmative action law changed life for a generation of women, mandating that one-third of village councilor positions must be reserved for women. By comparison, the United States has a smaller percentage of women in state legislatures, according to 2011 data.
The new policy, adopted in 1993, opened doors to ambition and education, according to gender researcher and economist Lori Beaman in a report published Thursday in Science.
Beaman’s research used data collected from June 2006 to November 2007 and considered how the new legislation created female role models and raised ambition and educational attainment among young girls
“India is definitely a place where women are constrained in their opportunities,” said Beaman, an assistant professor of at Northwestern University. “This law gave Indian women, at the village level, a chance to demonstrate that they are capable leaders.”
Researchers surveyed 8,453 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 15 as well as their parents in 495 villages. After two electoral terms, the law altered prevalent stereotypes, Beaman reported.
The affirmative action mandate applied to villages on a rotating basis but, even after they no longer applied, women continued to be elected at rising levels, Beaman said. Parents in villages were 11 percent less likely to say in-laws should determine their daughter’s future occupation after two terms with the mandated levels of female politicians.
By comparison, in the United States, women comprised 23.7 percent of state legislatures in 2011, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. This is a 24 percent increase from two decades ago, but the percentage still falls, overall, behind the representation of women mandated for India's village councils.
“The U.S. has underrepresentation of women in politics,” Beaman said. People such as "Hillary Clinton can become role models for women in politics and other leadership positions,” she said.
By creating role models for specific groups, affirmative action programs can attain one of their objectives, Beaman said. “There wasn’t any negative reaction on boys, which is a concern one has when implementing affirmative action,” she said. Opponents of affirmative action sometimes say the policy creates reverse discrimination.
Beaman did not recommend any policy changes in the United States. Even though the policy in India has been “very successful in achieving long-term goals, we should continue to study the impact of affirmative action in context before making a sweeping policy recommendation,” she said.
Illinois is among the top 10 states with the highest percentage of women (31.1) in the state legislature in 2011, the Center for American Women and Politics said. Other states in the list include Colorado, Vermont and Arizona.
Around 100 countries have adopted gender allocation in politics, the study said. “In 2004, Norway became the first country to mandate the presence of women in corporate boards with a 40 percent quota,” researchers reported.
Neither the federal government nor Illinois has affirmative action quotas for electoral seats. Chicagoans have varying views about reserving governmental seats for females.
“If you look at the government, most of the [politicans] are men,” said Camila Mojica, a Loyola University Chicago undergraduate. Affirmative action “is going to have an effect on the way our government is structured and the mentality it brings through our laws.”
Firefighter Andy Hansen, 24, said gender quota laws bolster women who do not have the money or connections to become an elected politician. But “it shows we are weakening or lessening standards if we are setting aside a certain amount of seats for them,” he said.
Matt Husar, a 59-year-old railroad manager, said he is against changing the status quo.
“Women get to vote,” he said. “Women either voted for them [politicians] or wouldn’t. I’m sure there were many women that didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton or did.” Referring to the 31.1 percent of elected women in Illinois’ state legislature he said, “You’ve already reached the one-third in India without mandating anything.