Review Political Power and Women’s Representation and Latin America By Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer

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Political Power and Women’s Representation and Latin America

By Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer


Barbara dos Santos


In this book Schwindt-Bayer research the “causes and consequences of the election of women in Latin America Legislatures” (p. 197). She theorizes that women formal, descriptive, and substantive representation are related to symbolic representation and that it is necessary studying all dimensions of representation in a complete picture to fully understand women’s representation in Latin America. This study presents many strengths and one capital weakness.

The main strength of the book is the explanation and application of Pitkin “Political Representation” theory in women’s representation in Latin America. Schwindt-Bayer uses this consolidated theory to support her argument that the four dimensions of political representation are interrelated and studying all four is the key to understand women’s representation in Latin America. Then she applies and test each one of the four dimensions showing how they are interrelated with each other, even reserving one whole chapter for descriptive and symbolic representation. Her theoretic foundation is very strong described in a beautiful way, making the reading an exciting exercise.

Another strength is the differentiation between attitudes (preferences) and behavior (legislation). Schwindt-Bayer brings a very good study of preferences and behavior of female and male legislators separately. This differentiation is very important as it brings a perspective, whether intentions are translated into action for men and women. In addition, this differentiation makes possible to explore the role of political marginalization of women because it demonstrates that many time women’s preferences are not translated into behavior.

Lastly, a very broad literature presented. Schwindt-Bayer cites more than 300 sources in very appropriated moments concerning specific topics. For a Latin America researcher this is possibly a great source of information as the author cites, perhaps, all relevant literature on the topic. Also the uses of quantitative and qualitative methodology is a mark of a very good study and research methodology.

The author differentiates various political settings in Latin American Countries. According to the author the countries vary in quota design and electoral context, these variations would influence directly women’s representation in each country. There are three dimensions of quota laws: size, placement mandate and strength. Also, there are four dimensions of electoral rules: whether the system is proportional or majoritarian, single member o larger districts, open or closed electoral lists and whether the system is party centered or personalistic (chapter 1). These variations make the study of representation largely complex because each state is different in its political composition and women’s representation would be different in each country. In this perspective, Schwindt-Bayer empirical test is fatal for the applicability of her study, especially with the structural approach applied by the author.

The empirical test is concentrated in only three countries and is not generalizable at all, even in Latin America. She uses the chapters 3, 4,5 and 6 to test empirically the hypothesis, but uses data only from Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica. The author doesn’t even provide an explanation for the selection of these countries. The empirical test doesn’t account for the dimensions of quota laws and electoral context cited above. In the text she says briefly what is the quota laws and electoral context in the studied countries and in some others, however the book doesn’t take these variations into account when testing empirically the theory.

If Latin America has 18 democratic countries with variation in quota laws and electoral context the extent, causes and consequences of women’s representation in each country is different as the countries adopt different systems. A better approach would be grouping the Latin American countries according to the quota design and the electoral context. Then testing empirically the theory in at least one country of each group. This would make the importance of electoral and political structure evident and the results would be generalizable because it would show how different political settings determines women’s representation.

In sum Schwindt-Bayer presents a brilliant application of the “political representation” theory, but a weak empirical test that, in my opinion, destroy the generalizability of her study. Still the book is a worthy reading by its theory and the amount of information presented.


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