Gender In Politics

No doubt: gender plays a critical role in politics in general and for the Greens in particular. But why is gender important in Green Campaigns and what impact has gender on voting patterns?

This article takes up several arguments and elements for gender-sensitive green campaigns, bringing examples for the impact of gender in recent elections – especially from the Austrian Greens, who conducted several surveys – and provides a checklist of how to support gender balance in political parties.


gender in campaigning

Gender is one of many social factors (as age, education, origin etc). Everybody is gendered; we all live to a large extent through an identity as ‘man’ or ‘woman’, reflecting on roles we play socially that involve expectations of masculinity and femininity, and living a sexuality that shapes our relations to others while being judged according to prevailing ideas in our societies.

In political journalism, gender usually concerns a female politician:  reporting is affected by sexual stereotypes – appearance and voice are commented on. Often, the question about compatibility of job and family is only faced by women.

Primarily women are confronted with the personalisation of political reporting. Politics and the public sphere are still considered to be male. Media are constructing gender roles and perpetuate sex-related stereotypes.

Therefore, Green campaign managers should not only ask themselves what kind of role gender plays in their own campaigns, but also how gender is received and dealt with in political communication of the media and of journalists.

Considering gender means questioning forms of power and privilege. As we are not gender neutral a campaign cannot be gender neutral. A gender sensitive campaign means:

- avoiding gender discriminating subjects, issues and language

- consider the implications of gender in each issue: for example gender-based violence/ mobility/ labour market etc.

What impact can and should gender have throughout a successful campaign?

For Green parties throughout Europe, gender is an important topic. The principle of equality of women and men and the instrument of gender mainstreaming are included in most of the parties’ programmes. Gender balance is part of many party statutes. For example the European Green Party has a 50+ quota for women – more than any other political party in Europe. Most of the Green parties have a women’s network and roots directly in the women’s movement. For the topic of equal representation of women, the Greens have a kind of unique selling position, with all other political competitors being seen as less authentic.


Attracting female voters has the potential to be an important factor in a Green campaign for a number of reasons, but primarily because many policy areas that are important to many women are ignored by traditional parties.  Greens acknowledge the gender-blind nature of many laws and seek to shift the balance. As such this opens up a number of electoral tactics for the Greens, including the ability to focus on certain gender specific topics, gender targeting, gender sensitive use of language and imagery.

The 2012 Eurobarometer-survey for the election of the European Parliament 2014 concerning gender equality in the EU showed interesting results worth to be taken into account in Green campaigns – adapted to national environments and experiences:

  • Women (42%) were slightly less likely to vote in the 2009 European elections than men (44%).
  • Women continue to be most concerned about issues affecting day-to-day life, including jobs, the fight against unemployment and pensions.
  • Europeans believe that the overwhelming reason behind the under-representation of women in politics is the fact that the political world is dominated by men who do not value the skills of women enough.
  • To combat gender inequalities, in both the political and economic spheres, women and men tend to prefer measures for encouragement rather than coercion. 

Why should the principle of gender be reflected in Green campaigns?

Most voting analyses show that Europe-wide the Green electorate is the most “female” of all parties. For example in Austria a gender gap (as well as a generation gap) can be seen since the 80s – both in recent elections and in long-term analyses:

Opinion Polls[1]  for the 2013 national elections in Austria showed that more women (13%) than men (10%) voted for the Greens, especially young women under the age of 29. In general there was a clear gender gap[2] in the results: men tended to vote “right“, women tended to vote “left“. This is a trend we observe throughout western Europe: experts explain the gender gap in voting as – among other factors – due to better education of women that results in a higher closeness of women to post-material and socially liberal parties and movements.

Gender and motives for voting

Of course the impact of gender on voting decisions cannot be measured by looking at the percentages in the results alone. Therefore we need measurements with more variables that take various factors into consideration: different living conditions of the voters, different topics with different impacts on different target groups (that are of course related to gender): During the early days of the Austrian Greens during the 80s topics such as women’s quotas, environmental protection and peace policy were strong “pull-factors” for women.  Another example: recent analyses show that topics related to traffic – a core issue for the Greens – tend to polarise especially among women and men.

  • Concerning the motives for voting, a survey of the Greens in Vienna showed a significant gender gap in two areas: for women (39.8%) the identification with basic aims and political orientation of a party is a less important motive for voting than for men (49.4%). And only for 3.6% of women compared with 10.1% of men was the protest motive important.
  • Concerning the correlation between topics and gender the survey showed a gender gap in the following topics: free parking, environmental issues, respectful behaviour in public, distribution of wealth between rich and poor and financial support for unemployed and people with less income: Women want more political effort for those issues, whereas topics such as transparency and anti-corruption are significantly more important for men.

In general, analyses show that – among Green voters – the factors of age and education are more important for voting decisions than gender. But: the examples above show that the difference in the impact of certain political measures on men and women must be taken into consideration both politically and strategically when planning a successful campaign.

Gender and political participation

Due to various factors, like socialisation, the political participation of women throughout Europe[3] – is less than that of men. The existing gender gap concerning time, income, family responsibilities etc. makes it more difficult for many women to participate in the same way as men. To raise the participation of women it is important for Greens to take those differences in into account when planning campaigns. e.g. in offering childcare or choosing comfortable meeting times (see also the “Checklist of how to attract women to green parties” below), but also in presenting topics in a coherent way: “wasted time” should be avoided; meetings without results have a tendency to be unattractive for women.

Women in political communication: “suddenly important”

The “Green experience” shows that women as a target group are often neglected. Only right before elections do they come into focus – a phenomenon of all parties in the political spectrum.

Although gender policy is one of the core issues of the Greens and Green parties try to present gender topics constantly, the resources for women within the party structures and the presentation of women in the media is often less. In many Green parties “gender” is not implemented as gender mainstreaming but as a special topic called “women´s issues” (or “gender issues” are treated like women´s issues. An emancipatory men´s policy is lacking in most parties).

During election campaigns women as voters are “discovered” by campaign leaders, special gifts for women are produced and heads of campaign exhaust themselves in mentioning that “women decide”. And after the election? Maybe one warm “Thank you for the vote” and then women’s issues are again put away until the next election. Greens have to act differently: we must not foster disillusionment with politics, but attract women directly and let them participate throughout.

Gender as explicit content of Green Campaigns: “Women on top”

One example of a successful Green campaign[4] putting gender into focus is the women’s day campaign of the Austrian Greens 2013. Being the only party with a female top candidate, they published posters in the forefront of the national elections showing the male top candidates of the other parties as women. Thus the topic of underrepresentation of women in politics was taken up in a funny way: the Greens are the only party that takes gender balance seriously.

Concrete proposals

Many previous green opinion polls and data analyses are lacking a focus on gender-related differences. Interrelations among gender, topical issue, top-of-the-list candidates and communication strategy have not been paid attention to in the past. It is necessary to undertake gender analyses already during the preparation for campaigns.

We need a gender- and diversity-related communication[5]. If not yet available, it is necessary for Green organisations to deal with the issue of “gender-related public relations” and to elaborate a manual about gender sensitive phrasing and non-discriminatory language.  It has to be ensured that Green campaigns are free of sexism (as well as racism and other discriminatory features) and do not reproduce gender roles in words or pictures.

Process plan for gender mainstreaming:  Generally, it is advantageous to anchor gender mainstreaming in all levels and sectors of the organisation.

How and why is it important to have a gender balanced group of candidates?

“Being a woman is not a political programme” is a traditional feministic slogan. But: women in politics and especially female top candidates are a role model for others. Gender Democracy is a basic Green principle and should not only stand on paper and in statutes but be shown in practice.

The decision to select women should not just be to maximise votes, but for the reason of credibility and equality. What tools can help to achieve gender balance, specific rules for candidate selection and by creating a positive environment in which all people feel they can contribute? Women should be preferred if two candidates have otherwise equal qualifications.

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