The Representative Claim And The Construction Of Gender

An Exploratory Approach To Constitutive Political Representation Applied to an Italy Case Study

Master's Thesis, 2012

39 Pages, Grade: A - Distinction

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THE REPRESENTATIVE CLAIM AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF GENDER. An Exploratory Approach To Modern Gender Dynamics Applied to a Italy Case Study.

Chiara Mantovani, MSc International Public Policy Master Dissertation


Traditional research on women's political representation focuses on the substantive (SRW) and descriptive representation of women and on the link between the two. However, the relationship has proved to be elusive and evidence is inconclusive. Recently a new conceptualisation of political representation, intended as a creative and performative act, has been advanced by Mansbridge (2003) and Saward (2006). Alongside, Judith Squires (2008) has advanced the concept of constitutive representation of gender (CRG), as a analytical tool that permits to avoid predetermined assumptions on women's identity and interests. This study applies these recent innovative perspectives to an exploratory case study of Italy. The analysis is based on the political manifestos of the winning coalition for the 2001, 2006 and 2008 general elections, and the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities concerning the ministerial program guidelines made at the beginning of each legislature. The purpose of the work is: 1) to explore how gender relations, feminine identities and their interests are constructed through representative claims, 2) to examine what policy pledges representatives commit to when they seek to substantively act for women and 3) to investigate the link between CRG and SRW by analysing the congruency between the pledges made for women and the legislation proposed by the Italian women's policy agency, the Ministry for the Equal Opportunities.


Women's political representation has been at the centre of a vast amount of research by gender and politics researchers, and the substantive representation of women and its link to the descriptive representation of women have been subject to intense analysis.

However the empirical evidence on the relationship between the two types of representation remains inconclusive, and the understanding of what is really 'going on' with the substantive representation is still open to redefinition and refinement (Childs and Krook 2008a, Mackay 2008).

Recently, some scholars have advanced the necessity to rethink what political representation is, by putting the performance of “creative” acts, through which the representatives “construct” the represented, at the core of the representation process (Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2014, Mansbridge 2003; Saward 2006, 2008). Building on these ideas, Judith Squires (2008) theorises the constitutive representation of gender (CRG). She understands CRG as supplement investigations to the substantive representation studies (SRW), which look at how representatives construct gender relations, as well as female and male identities, in particular ways (Squires 2008).

A CRG explorations permits to avoid a priori assumptions about what constitute the content of substantive representation of women and encourages the researcher to investigate multiple types of representation venues and actors (Squires 2008).

In this work, I apply this new concepts to an exploratory empirical case study of Italy. The study will focus on a qualitative content analysis of political manifestos of the winning coalition for the 2001, 2006 and 2008 general elections, and the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities concerning the ministerial program guidelines made at the beginning of each legislature. The purpose of the work is: 1) to explore how gender relations, feminine identities and their interests are constructed through representative claims, 2) to examine what policy pledges representatives commit to when they seek to substantively act for women and 3) to investigate the link between CRG and SRW by analysing the congruency between the pledges made for women and the legislation proposed by the Italian women's policy agency, the Ministry for the Equal Opportunities.

The first section offers an overview of the literature on women's political representation, from its traditional approaches to the new theorisation of claim-makings and CRG.

In the second section, the type of data analysed and the method applied for the analysis are described.

In the third section, firstly gender relations and identities are explored through the CRG perspective. Secondly, the substantive representation of women is investigated by analysing the pledges made for women in the political manifestos and in the speeches of the Ministers for the Equal Opportunities. Thirdly, a brief comparison is presented, between the pledges advanced in the speeches and the laws proposed by the Ministry, in order to investigate to what extent pledges for women are reflected into the actual legislation proposed.

In the analysis, I found that the constitutive claims of the party manifestos tend to propose a more traditional representation of both women's and men's identities and gender relations. Conversely, the speeches of the Ministries for Equal Opportunities offer more nuanced constructions of female and male identities.

Furthermore, in the exploration of link between CRG and SRW, a certain degree of coincidence has been found between the claims made about women and the pledges representatives make for women.

However, the relationship is not always straightforward, and there are also dissonances between claims and pledges. Finally, the laws proposed partially reflect the pledges made by the Ministers.

In conclusion, the study brings support to the idea that CRG explorations should be part of the process of empirically studying substantive representation, as they are a useful analytical tool that permits avoiding predetermined assumptions about women and their interests.

Finally, future research on CRG would greatly benefit by extending the analysis of representative claims to a wider set of actors and representative settings, which would allow to include in the analysis broader and diverse perspectives on gender relations.


1.1 Women's Political Representation: An Overview

Research on women's political representation is deeply indebted to Pitkin's work “The Concept of Representation”, published in 1972 (Celis 2008a, Severs 2010). This work represents the starting point for a vast amount of research on political representation and its dynamics and has been at the centre of intense analysis in gender and feminist studies (Celis, 2008a, Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2008, Childs and Krook 2009).

Traditional questions on gender and political representation ask: What is the political representation of women and what is to be represented? Do women in politics make a difference? Do women represent women? And, ultimately, what it is in essence political representation? (Celis, 2008a, Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2008, Childs and Krook 2009; Pitkin 1972; Sapiro 1981)

A basic definition of representation is given by Pitkin, who define it as 'the making present in some sense of something which is nevertheless not present literally or in fact' (Pitkin1972: 9-10). Pitkin (1972) than develops the concept of representation through two main categories: “descriptive” representation and “substantive” representation.

In descriptive representation, the representative “stands for” someone/something on the grounds of his/her resemblance to those being represented (Celis 2008a, Pitkin 1972). Substantive representation embraces a deeper form of representation and is defined by Pitkin (1972: 209) as 'acting in the interests of the represented, in a manner responsive to them'.

Starting from this fundamental distinction, feminist political researchers have investigated descriptive representation of women (DRW) and substantive representation of women (SRW), with the main purpose of identifying the the link between the two forms of representation (Celis 2008a, 2009; Celis, Kantola and Krook 2008).

A relevant body of the research on the link between DRW and SRW is based on the idea that women can be thought as a group sharing interests based on common social and life experiences, and that women representatives, by being female themselves, will consequently defend women's interests and advance women-friendly policies (Cowell-Meyers and Langbein 2009; Dahlrup 2006).

In this context, the critical mass theory was formulated to explain the reason why, contrary to the expectation, elected women do not always represent women once in power (Childs and Krook 2008). This theory states that the legislative action of women representatives is impaired by their small number and it is only when women's presence reaches a critical number that elected women can act in an effective manner and promote women-friendly policies as well as influence their male counterparts in supporting women's demands (Childs and Krook, 2008).

Traditionally, this critical tipping point was identified in a 30% threshold of women representatives in political assemblies, which had to be reached in order for women's action to be substantive (Dahlerup 2006). Although researchers discarded the concept of a specific tipping point already in 1980s; the idea attained great diffusion and was of primary importance for those actors pushing for an increase in women political representation and for the implementation of affirmative actions, and 30% is nowadays the most used quota percentage (Dahlerup 2006).

A dense body of research has developed around the implementation of gender quotas in elective settings with the aim of evaluating quota effectiveness and elucidating the link between DRW and SRW (Krook 2009). Proponents of gender quotas support affirmative actions on the base that women are underrepresented in national parliaments (the world average of women in lower and upper houses combined is still only 20%[1] ) and thus need specific actions to guarantee their balanced presence (Krook 2009). However evidence on the impact of quotas is mixed and inconclusive: for example, while Jones (1998) argues that the introduction of gender quotas had positive impacts on the number of women elected in Argentina, Franceschet and Piscopo (2008) find that gender quotas had the side effect of reinforcing negative stereotypes about women's capacities as politicians (for a review on gender quotas studies see Krook 2009). The link between a stronger presence of women in political assemblies and women-friendly policy outcomes remains elusive (Childs and Krook 2008a; Krook 2009; Franceschet, Krook and Piscopo, 2009).

Yet it could be argued that in a world in which the female population represents 49,6 % of the total world population[2], the current worldwide under-representation of women (with a few exceptions, notably the European Nordic countries and Rwanda[3] ) deserves special attention and addressing this unbalance becomes a legitimate aim per se on the road to achieve a fairer representative political system (Grey 2006).

Nevertheless, as Sapiro (1981: 712) argues, an 'increase in the number of women in positions of power' as an essential prerequisite to representing women is 'a necessary condition, but not sufficient', as there are many other factors that hinder female representatives' action.

It is important to underline, in fact, that the female legislator does not operate in a vacuum, but her action is constrained by numerous conditions: on one hand, institutional design and legislative contexts are never gender-neutral and historically reflect bias towards men's way of structuring norms and rules (Childs and Krook 2009, Celis 2008a). On the other hand, party ideology, candidate selection mechanisms and internal parties' rules strongly determine both the type of candidate that will be elected and the policy positions that he or she will promote once elected (Childs and Krook 2009, Mackay 2008). Finally, the legislator's personal preferences and identity, as well as the external political and cultural environment, must be also taken into consideration, since these characteristics play a central role in the legislator's decision to pursue or hinder women-friendly policy reforms (Childs and Krook 2009).

All the same, a woman is generally perceived as acting for women and substantively representing their interests in legislatures when she either votes for bills dealing with women's issues or speaks for women and about women's issues in parliamentary debates, and, first and foremost, when she proposes legislation reflecting women's needs and interests (Celis 2008b).

However, in view of all the constrains that women representatives face, researchers have proposed a shift from the study of only female representatives' action to the analysis of critical actors (who can be either female or male) defined as 'legislators who initiate on their own and/or embolden others to take steps to promote policies for women, regardless of the number of female representatives' (Childs and Krook, 2009: 138), thus distancing themselves from the concept of critical mass.

For instance, in her study of women members of the Parliament (MPs) in Belgium, Celis (2006) discovers that an increase in the number of women MPs did not automatically translate itself in an increase in interventions in favour of women; it was however a small group of very active women's MPs that substantively contributed to representing women. The study brings thus evidence to the theory that it is the presence of critical actors, and not a critical mass per se, that is crucial for women's representation (Celis 2006).

Hence, there is widespread consensus that the link between DWS and SRW is 'theoretically bothersome and empirically contingent' (Mackay, 2008: 125) and that SRW is a probabilistic process, rather than a deterministic one (Dodson 2006).

The shift to a probabilistic conception of substantive representation derives from what Jónasdóttir and Jones (2008) define as a crisis in the project of feminists political theory, that stems from the contrast between a traditional feminist conception of women and their interests and a post-structuralist view which de facto de-constructs the whole idea of 'women', 'sex' and 'interests', while focusing on how 'gender' and the feminine identity is constructed through discursive processes (Jónasdóttir and Jones 2008, Squires 2008).

Traditional and feminist studies have often conceived women's interests as something determined and existing a priori which women share because of common life experiences and perspectives and that can be substantively represented by descriptive representatives (i.e. women) in political arenas (Celis 2008b). For example, Sapiro (1981) identifies the origins of shared women's interests in the position that women occupy in the society and particularly in the distribution of labour inside the household, while Diamond and Hartsock (1981) focus on the gendered division of productive labour.

These approaches, however, tend to essentialise women as a category with homogeneous characteristics and deny the diversity existing among women deriving from differences in social standing, ethnic origin, religious beliefs and many other factors that influence the life of every human being (Celis 2008a, Pringle and Watson 1998; Weldon 2002, Squires 2008).

In order to overcome the crude essentialisation of women, in the 1990s a group of scholars distanced themselves from the concept of shared interests and advanced different interpretations on groups' identity and their needs (Celis 2008a). For instance, Young (1997) stresses that groups cannot be defined on the basis of shared interests. She states that groups' social perspectives derive from the structural position they occupy in the society and are built around a wide set of differences and similarities, such as gender, nationality, religion and so on (Young 1997). Philipps (1998) argues instead that women's interests are a priori undefined and contingent to the context. Along those lines, Pringle and Watson (1998:126) see interests as 'precarious historical products which are always subject to processes of dissolution and redefinition'.

Thus, as Squires (2008:189) notes, a growing number of scholars criticise 'the idea that “women” are a coherent and discrete group with shared interests […] as endorsing an essentialist logic that entrenches rather than unsettles cultural stereotypes'.

Yet, most of empirical research stills tends to rely on problematic demarcations of women's interests (Celis 2008a).

Celis (2008a) identifies three main issues with the operationalisation of women's interests in empirical research: firstly, both the process of selecting women's interests and what kind of interests are analysed is seldom explained, as well as the consequences of including or excluding certain interests. Secondly, the boundaries of “traditional” women' s interests are sometimes so stretched and blurry, that they end up embracing whole concepts, such as family and children, and as Celis (2008a:88) remarks 'these themes can, of course, given the traditional role of women, contain a gender dimension, but that does not per se apply to every theme regarding children or family'. Thirdly, the issues selected often have a typical feminist quality, such as abortion or domestic violence (Childs, Webb and Marthaler 2010).

By building the analysis on pre-determined assumptions, these approaches perpetuate a static conception of women's interests and, ultimately, rely on the categorisation of women as a group (Celis 2008b; Childs, Webb and Marthaler 2010).

Another way of choosing women's interests that tries to avoid a subjective selection looks at the main recurrent themes in the women's movements. However, this selection process faces some limitations too: it implies both the presence of a women's movement and the ability for the movement to formulate demands, a requisite that limits the analysis mostly to democratic nations (Celis 2008b, Childs, Webb and Marthaler 2010). This approach also takes for granted that all the women in the society support the movement's demands, assuming that the representation of women's interests equals that of feminist interests; and, finally, the analysis of women's movement programs is usually limited to their leftist-progressive positions, disregarding the diversity of perspectives present inside the feminist movement itself (Celis 2008a).

It is thus clear that finding clear-edged definition of women's interests is theoretically problematic and empirically controversial and, as Childs, Webb and Marthaler (2010:202) argue, 'politics scholars should admit that women's concerns are a priori undefined, context related, and subject to evolution'.

Hence, if we accept that women's interests are undetermined and unstable, and that “women” as a category does not hold, or it is at the best ambiguous, the question of what is represented remains open to further research and theorisation.

In order to answer this question, some scholars, such as Mansbridge (2003) and Saward (2006, 2008), have recently advanced the necessity of rethinking the concept of representation, putting the performance of “creative” acts, through which the representatives “construct” the represented, at the core of the representation process.

1.2 Rethinking Representation: The Constitutive Representation of Gender

As mentioned above, research on the DRW and SRW owns much to Pitkin's conceptualisation of political representation.

Substantive representation, which Pitkin places at the core of the representation process, traces a relationship between the represented and the representative in which the representative can act in two ways, depending on the degree of independence accorded by the represented. If the represented gives a clear mandate to the representative, then the latter has no independence and act as a delegate; on the other hand, if the represented leave the liberty to the representative to act on their behalf, then the representative is free to operate as an independent trustee (Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2008).

In both cases though, the represented-representative relationship assumes that 'the represented are “logically prior”, whereby the representatives must be responsive to the represented and not the other way around' (Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2008:101).

The distinction delegate-trustee hinges on a passive conception of political representation and has been criticised on three main accounts: it relies on a 'fixed, knowable set of interests for the represented' (Saward 2006:301), it depicts a static unilateral relationship from the represented, perceived as “principal”, to the representative, understood as “agent” (Mansbridge 2003, Saward 2006), and it conceives the represented as unproblematically given and prior to the process of the representation (Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2014, Saward 2006, Severs 2010)

Mansbridge (2003) and Saward (2006, 2008) stress instead the active aspect of political representation, intended as a performative, “creative” and iterative process, whereby the represented and the representatives mutually constitute each others as they interact over time.

Mansbridge (2003) proposes a more dynamic understanding of representation through the concept of anticipatory representation. Contrary to the traditional conception of representation that interprets the represented-representative power relation in a linear fashion running forward from the represented (principal) to the representative (agent), in anticipatory representation the power relation works backwards (from the representatives to the represented), as the representatives act based on their ' beliefs about the future preferences' of the voter and not on the actual voters' preferences (Mansbridge 2003:517).

This concept introduces a constitutive facet to representation, as the representatives construct what the future voter may wish for at a later point in time. If the construction is accepted, it can mean that the voters' future preferences have been correctly assessed, or, even more interestingly, that the representatives have successfully altered voters' perceptions about their own interests (Mansbridge 2003, Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2008).

In this sense, future voters can be thought as 'educable' or 'manipulable' through the constructions made about them by the representatives, as well as by other actors who propose their own explanations about both the representatives' votes and the voters' preferences, such as parties, media, interests groups, oppositions candidates and other citizens (Mansbridge 2003:517).

Therefore communication comes to play a crucial role in anticipatory representation and this way of understanding representation lead us to:

'shift our normative focus from the individual to the system, from aggregative democracy to deliberative democracy, from preferences to interests, from the way the legislator votes to the way the legislator communicates, and from the quality of promise-keeping to the quality of mutual education between legislator and constituents' (Mansbridge 2003:518).

Saward (2006, 2008) further develops the active side of political representation by placing the process of claim-making at its core. In fact, even though we generally understand 'one thing or person to represent another', it is also true that 'one thing or person is presented as standing for another' and that 'representation is no just matter of facts; it is also importantly a matter of claims and presentations, and whether those claims and presentations are accepted or not' (Saward 2008:94).

Elected representatives, but also a variety of other political actors (parties, interest groups, etc.), can be thought as creative actors as they engage in depictions and claims about their constituencies, and, by doing so ,construct them – make them – and their interests (Saward 2006).

Thus, since the represented and their interests are not transparent and pre-determined, the representatives have to “read in” more than “read off” their constituency's preferences and can 'only formulate interests after first deploying an interpretive frame containing selective representations of their constituents' (Severs 2010:414). In this sense, because representative claims are selective and contingent to cultural and social contexts, they are always partial and offer only one version among many possible others (Saward 2006).

By stressing the creative action of representatives, Saward (2006) dismantles the parallel represented-principal/representative-agent, and advances the possibility that the relationship may run in the contrary direction, whereby the representatives as claim-makers are the principal, while the represented must enact or adapt to the depictions made of them.

However, if representation, as Saward (2006, 2008) intends it, is a performative and interactive process, and if it is true that the representatives are the ones that discursively constructs the identity and interests of the represented, it is also true that claims can be contested and only work if the audience acknowledges and engages with them (by absorbing, accepting or refusing them). In this sense it is more appropriate to understand the relationship between the representatives and their constituents as one of 'mutual constitution' (Saward 2006:314).

Thus, both Mansbridge and Saward encourage researchers to approach political representation in a different way by focusing on its discursive and creative aspects and to avoid a priori generalisation about the represented. As such, also women and their interests need to be questioned and interpreted in the light of these new insights in political representation (Saward 2008).

By building both on gender theory and on the developments in the theory of political representation advanced by Mansbridge and Saward, Judith Squires (2008) formulates the concept of the constitutive representation of gender (CRG).

CRG is intended as supplementing the research around SRW, as it 'captures another significant facet of representative process, whereby representatives (including unelected femocrats and gender experts) articulate these interests in ways that inevitably privilege particular conceptions of gender relations' (Squires 2008:188). Hence, CGR approach moves away from SRW focus on categories such as “sex” and “women's interests”, to investigate 'the extent to which the process of articulating interests entails a form of claims-making, which inevitably contributes to the constitution of gender relations themselves' (Squires 2008:188).

The representative process must be therefore understood as being both enabling and constraining, as the representative claims advance representations that constitute gender relations in specific way, which can give voice or, on the contrary silence, the constituencies represented (Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2014, Saward 2006; Squires 2008).

Squires (2008) understands CRG as an analytical tool that permits to explore how a variety of actors that present themselves as speaking for women – be it elected representatives, femocrats, NGOs or women's policy agencies (WPAs) – constructs a particular view of the feminine identity and gender-relations which will privilege the substantive representation of some women's interests over others. In this sense, Squires is particularly concerned with the 'technocratic modes of operation' in which gender is represented and with the constitutive practices that derive from them, many of which favour 'marketised representation of gender relations' (Squires 2008:200).

The benefit of introducing of CRG in women and political studies lies on one hand in its theoretical contribution to the understanding of the process of political representation through claim-making. On the other hand, it enables empirical research to better investigate both what constitutes SRW, as there are no a priori assumptions made about women's identity and interests, as well as the relationship between SRW and CRG, since representations made about the constituencies form an essential part of what “substantively acting for” is (Celis, Childs, Kantola and Krook 2014 , Childs, Webb and Marthaler 2010; Saward 2006; Squires 2008).

Therefore, the study of CRG positions itself as a fundamental wedge between descriptive and substantive representation. As a consequence, the link between DRW and SRW should be empirically considered 'only a second research step following the study of the content of substantive representation', thus allowing us to take 'the theoretically a priori undefinable character of women's interests into account' (Celis 2008a:90).

This work applies the concepts of political claim-makings and of the constitutive representation of gender to an exploratory empirical case study of Italy. The study will focus on the analysis of political manifestos of the winning coalition for the 2001, 2006 and 2008 general elections, and the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities concerning the ministerial program guidelines made at the beginning of each legislature. The purpose of the study is: 1) to explore how gender relations, feminine identities and their interests are constructed through representative claims, 2) to examine what policy pledges representatives commit to when they seek to substantively act for women and 3) to investigate the link between CRG and SRW by analysing the congruency between the pledges made for women and the legislation proposed by the Italian women's policy agency, the Ministry for the Equal Opportunities.


The research on the link between SRW and CRG is still at its beginning. As such, there is only one empirical study, made by Celis, Webb and Marthaler (2010), that looks at how gender is constituted and substantively represented in the parliamentary setting. The study investigates how feminine and masculine identities are constituted in four Conservative manifestos for the 1992, 1997, 2001, and 2005 UK general elections and what kind of policy pledges the party makes “for women”.

The choice of analysing the Conservative political manifestos as sources of representative claims and starting point of the research is based on Squires' (2008) theorisation of CRG, in which she underlines the advantages in tracing a top-down representative process in CRG explorations.

A CRG approach implies in fact a shift from the SRW way to select women's interests: SRW studies traditionally draw on a bottom-up representative process, that first looks at women's interests and then examines the degree to which representatives articulate and reflect these interests (Squires 2008).

Conversely, Squires (2008) states that in CRG research a top-down representative process should be considered, whereby the claim-making of representatives forms the initial step of the analysis, which then proceeds to explore how identities are discursively constructed through representative claims.

Celis, Webb and Marthaler's paper constitutes an essential guideline for the study here presented, which, however, further expands their research in two ways.

Firstly, since Celis, Webb and Marthaler's analyse the Conservative party manifestos at times in which the party was not in power, their study falls short in answering how the SRW occurs as they cannot 'consider whether or how any of these representative claims and pledges are realized in practice' (Celis, Webb and Marthaler 2010:219).

This work focuses instead on the policy pledges advanced by the Ministry for Equal Opportunities. Henceforth, it is possible to trace how the claims and policy pledges are substantively enacted in practice. This is done by looking at the bills proposed and passed during the legislatures, which permits to investigate if there is congruency between the pledges made for women and the actual legislation.

Secondly, by including the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities concerning the ministerial program guidelines, this study expands the data analysed, and therefore allows for a wider perspective on gender constitutive practices (Saward 2008; Squires 2008).

The Ministry for Equal Opportunities is a type of women's policy agencies (WPAs). WPAs are governmental institutions created with the purpose of promoting the status of women (Weldon 2002). According to Weldon (2002), when studying the representation of marginalised groups (in this case women), it is crucial to take into account also other venues of representation, such as WPAs and women's movements, as they reflect, at least partially, women's perspectives.

The study of WPAs permits moreover to recognise the role that institutional structures play in the formulation of policies outcomes and the constrains they place on the individuals who hold a position within them (Weldon 2002).

Along those lines, Squires (2008) stresses that the representative role of WPAs is directly linked to their capacity of formulating claims, and a CRG exploration allows to understand how these institutions 'frequently represent women's interests in ways that actively constitute those gendered identities that are compatible with government rationalities' (Squires 2008:198).

The integration of WPAs in CRG explorations responds thus to a “thick” conception of substantive representation that looks beyond elected women representatives, in order to adopt a 'whole-system approach' which yields a deeper understanding of what is 'going on' with the SRW (Mackay 2008:125).

Hence, the analysis of the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities reflects the necessity to look at multiple actors and alternative sources of representation while investigating both the substantive and the constitutive representation of women (Mackay 2008; Squires 2008; Weldon 2002).

Childs, Webb and Manthaler (2010:206) identify various advantages in using political manifestos as data source: firstly, they contain 'explicit statements of intent' that the party wishes to present to the electorate. Secondly, parties choose the content and format of the manifestos, and as such, manifestos are both product of the internal debate within the parties and reflection of the external political context. Thirdly the audience (i.e. the voters) is the same across time.

Bara (2005:587) defines a pledge as 'a specific commitment on behalf of a party to act in a certain area following a strategy also mentioned' and adopts a four-category system to classify pledges as 'vague, general, specific or detailed' (Bara 2005:589).

Following Childs, Webb and Marthaler (2010), this study uses a simplified version of Bara's category system, by collapsing the four categories into two: general and detailed. A general pledge 'states what the party seeks to achieve but provides no clear indication of how this will be achieved', while a detailed pledge 'indicates, albeit in different degrees of detail, how it will be achieved' (Childs, Webb and Marthaler 2010:205-206).

Identifying pledges made for women can however be difficult, as there is the risk to incur in those similar pre-assumptions made in choosing women's interests; therefore pledges that explicitly mention women can be unarguably considered “women's pledges”, while other types of pledges that may refer in a more subtle way to women are to be discovered through the research process and not to be assumed a priori (Childs, Webb and Marthaler 2010).

Due to the novelty of the CRG concept and its fresh and numerically limited empirical application, this work configures itself as an exploratory empirical case study.

The research method used is qualitative content analysis with a few instances of counting. Burnham et al. (2008) consider qualitative content analysis to be very near to discourse analysis as both methods put discourse at the centre of the research and focus on the role that dominant discursive practices have in shaping our reality and promoting particular perspectives. Along the same lines, Harpin and Heath (2012) believe qualitative content analysis to be more concerned with the latent content of discourse as it assumes 'that it is possible to expose the meanings, motives, and purposed embedded within the text, and to infer valid hidden meanings of interest to the researcher' (Harpin and Heath 2012:319).

Indeed, as Tickner (2005) underlines, feminist studies are aimed at challenging core assumptions and for this reason often rely on qualitative methodological orientations which offer a better tool of analysis in the exploration of social constructs and their, often hidden, constitutive dynamics.

In this sense, a qualitative content analysis method well fits the purpose of this research, since it allows for a more nuanced and unfixed exploration of the constitutive facet of political representation in the texts.

The texts analysed are of two types: the political manifestos for the 2001, 2006 and 2008 general elections in Italy and the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities presenting the ministerial program guidelines. In two cases it was possible to find a “follow-up” speech (in 2002 and 2009), in which the Minister summaries the work of the Ministry of Equal Opportunities in the year before, advances new interventions and answers to questions (for summarised information on manifestos and speeches see Table 1 and 2).

The general elections of 2001 and 2008 saw the victory of a centre-right wing coalition (called The House of Freedom in 2001 and People of Freedom in 2008) led by Silvio Berlusconi. He hold the role of Prime Minister from 2001 to 2006 (XIV legislature) and from 2008 to November 2011 (XVI legislature), when he resigned[4].

A centre-left wing coalition, The Union, won the 2006 elections. The Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, was in power for only two years from 2006 to 2008 (XV legislature), after which he had to resign due to internal conflicts in his coalition, which led to its dissolution.

Table 1. Party Manifestos, 2001-2008[5]

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In Italy the first state agencies for the promotion of equal opportunities were instituted only in 1980s, with a certain delay compared to most of the EU countries which already had well established WPAs (Guadagnini 1995).

The Italian women's and feminist movement has always suffered from internal fragmentation in a multitude of groups and associations with different expertise and little coordination, which has prevented the development of an umbrella organisation at the national level or of lobby groups able to advance their own agenda in the WPAs (Guadagnini and Donà 2007; Della Porta 2003).

The influence of the EU has thus played a central role in the advancement of gender-equality policies in Italy and in the creation of WPAs both at national and local level, and the Ministry for Equal Opportunities was set up in 1996, under the left-wing government led by Romano Prodi, in order to implement the directives of the EU (Guadagnini and Donà 2007).

The main tasks of the Ministry for Equal Opportunities are both to propose gender-equality policies and to introduce a gender-mainstreaming perspective in all the policies adopted by the government; it is, however, a ministry without portfolio and can rely only on limited economic resources (Guadagnini and Donà 2007).

Table 2. Speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities, 2001-2009[6]

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3.1 The Constitutive Representation of Gender

The political manifestos analysed present differences in the form, length and also in party ideology, which renders comparison more complex. In the 2001 and 2008 manifestos of the centre-right coalitions, we could expect more conservative views on women, while in the 2006 manifesto of the centre-left coalition we may anticipate a wider range of perspective on gender. It is indeed possible to detect a more nuanced construction of women in the centre-left manifesto, as it embraces a broader characterisation of feminine identities (for example women are depicted as being “citizens”, but also “students” and “university researchers”); however three major themes can be traced across all the manifestos.

1. Women are constituted as a group more often than men

Similar to the findings of Childs, Webb and Marthaler (2010), also in all three Italian manifestos women are more explicitly constituted as a constituency, while men are nearly not mentioned at all (see Table 3). Women are directly mentioned 5 times in 2001 manifesto, 21 times in 2006 manifesto and 3 times in 2008 manifesto. Men are mentioned only 3 times in 2001 (as policemen, professors and researchers) and 2008 manifestos (with reference to the job of policeman) and 5 times (of which one with reference to “father”) in 2006 manifesto.

Interestingly, none of the manifestos has a section especially dedicated to women: in the 2001 manifesto women are mentioned three times in the section titled “Family”, once in the one concerning “Employment”, and once in the “New Economy” section.

In 2006 manifesto, women are mentioned in the sections regarding international relations, socio and economic life, family, and education and university, with a prevalence of times in the family section (7 times).

The mention of women nearly disappear though in the 2008 manifesto. Women are named in the sections on family, employment and security; particularly in this manifesto, representations of the feminine identity is mostly reduced to depictions of women as vulnerable pregnant women or victims of violence, while men are mentioned as “policemen” who have the task of safeguarding the security of the neighbourhoods.

Table 3. Representation of women and men in political manifestos 2001-2008

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b. Workers and mothers: a difficult balance and a biological challenge

In the three manifestos, it is vastly underlined that women in the modern society are both “mothers” and “workers”, and as such face many difficulties in conciliating the two aspects. Interestingly, the link between women's employment in the workforce and being a mother is mostly constituted by considerations on the impact it has on fertility and birthrates.

Except for a few rhetorical claims which are present only in the 2006 manifesto and that propose women's employment also as an important facet in women's empowerment and in the creation of a socially fairer and economically stronger society, the vast majority of claims made on women workers and mothers underline how one of the aspect often excludes the other, with detrimental consequences either on the employment or on the birthrates and which consequently affect the wellbeing of the whole society. In 2001 manifesto it is in fact “the Italian population” that bears the consequences of low birthrates, as it leads to a “structural unbalance” between generations. The 2006 manifesto stresses how for many women “exercising the right to motherhood equals renouncing to the right to work” and points out that Italy is the country with the lowest birthday in EU.

Women are thus understood to be the major recipient for policies aimed at conciliating work and family care, such as the introduction of “flexible hours” and “part-time” and the extension of childcare services and maternity leaves. Only in 2006 manifesto, there is stated that both parents – mothers and fathers – share family responsibilities and the idea of a “parental” leave from work is advanced.

Hence, across the three manifestos, women are widely constituted in relation to their biological function as child bearers, understood through a bivalent perspective: on one hand, having children is represented as a “right” to which many women are forced to renounce because of economical reasons, as it would entails losing their jobs or not getting one. On the other hand motherhood is understood as a kind of “responsibility” women bear towards the whole society, which should be fulfilled once the necessary instruments and services to help women in their role as workers and mothers are put into place.

c. The family: an overbearing constituency

The main recipient that the manifestos address is by far the family, which is mentioned 45, 74 and 7 times in 2001, 2006 and 2008 manifestos respectively, and directly mentioned more often that any other kind of group or individual.

“Family” has its own section or contents page entry in all the manifestos: in the 2001 manifesto, the family is listed as the first of the five “cultural pillars” and has its own content page entry under the section titled “the five great strategies to improve the life of Italians”. In 2006 manifesto, the family is accompanied to “the person” in the entry “the new network of rights of citizenship: the person and the family”. In 2008 manifesto, the “family” regains its centrality with a solo content entry “Second goal: supporting the family”.

In the centre-right manifestos the family is portrayed as a homogeneous, non-gendered and unproblematic unit without internal conflicts, inequalities or hierarchical divisions. When “women” are mentioned together with “family” is mostly by virtue of the caring roles they have, such as the “childcare and assistance to elderly people”, while in one instance they are defined as “fundamental cornerstone of the family” (in 2001 manifesto). In 2008 manifesto they are not mentioned at all in relation to the family.

The depiction of the family in the centre-right manifestos shares many features with the Conservative party's representation reconstructed by Childs, Webb and Marthaler (2010). The family is intended as the foundations of the society and its traditions, it should be taxed less and the government and the state should refrain from intervening in families' choices. In 2001 manifesto “single parents” and “immigrant families” are also mentioned as vulnerable categories that may need financial help; they however disappear in the 2008 manifesto.

The centre-left party manifesto offers instead a more nuanced view on the family as a “place where to exercise intergenerational solidarity, care, and protection of the loved ones” and offers an understanding of the family as composed by individuals with their own rights. Nevertheless it is the family that is intended as the prominent target of the party's attention.

The CRG exploration of the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities and the comparison with the party manifestos analysis reveals a less static and traditional way in which gender relations are constituted (see Table 4).

The Ministers introduce new depictions of women completely absent in the party manifestos: 1) women as “political representatives” or “leaders” and the need to promote gender-equality in the top decisional settings, 2) women as “entrepreneurs” or “businesswomen”, who bring a fundamental contribution to the economy of the nation, 3) women as “citizens” with a primary role in the society, which they are part of and can actively contribute to.

These representations claim and stress the role of women in the public sphere, while the political manifestos' portrayals of women are mostly centred around the private sphere and the household.

Table 4. Representation of women and men in the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities 2001-2009

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The conflict between “workers” and “mothers” is widely discussed also in these speeches. However the focus on women's employment is principally oriented towards the fight against the obstacles in entering the workforce and against the discrimination at the workplace; women's employment is principally framed as a means to empower women, to obtain gender-equality, and to improve the economic situation of the country.

Especially in the 2001, 2002 and 2006 speeches, the policies for the reconciliation between work and family life are seen as a road towards facilitating and increasing women's employment: for instance, Minister Prestigiacomo defines them as “services that allow to expand the scope of women's freedoms”.

Men's identity are also constituted in a more varied way: they are defined as “fathers and workers” and are asked to share family responsibilities. Minister Carfagna underlines the necessity to “promote equal responsibilities for men and women both in the work and in the family life” and stresses that reconciliation policies are oriented “both to men and women” (in 2008 speech). While Minister Pollastrini identifies in “clever and wise men” possible “sponsors and supporters” in advancing gender-equality policies.

However, men are also labelled as “harassers”, “stalkers” and “aggressors” and inhabit the sphere of violence against women both within and outside the house. On the same note, women's identity is often constructed around the concept of vulnerability: women are “victims” of violence of physical, sexual and psychological nature, and need to be protected.

In this sense, it possible to trace a clear shift from the first speeches of 2001 and 2002, in which violence against women is addressed prevalently in relation to the abuse of women's human rights in the international environment (for instance the support to initiatives against “female genital mutilation”), to the last speeches of 2008 and 2009, where the theme of violence against women, especially of sexual nature, occupies a relevant part of the text. Immigrant women are described as a particular vulnerable category, as they are more easily subjected to sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Finally, the sexual identities of men and women are scarcely topic of debate. In the speeches of 2001, 2002, 2008 and 2009 there are a few rhetorical claims on the fight against any kind of discrimination, including the one based on the sexual orientation. It is only in the 2006 speech that Minister Pollastrini explicitly addresses homosexual couples in proposing a bill to regulate forms of stable cohabitation.

To summarise, the CRG analysis of party manifestos and of the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities was adopted to explore gender relations through the representative claims.

The analysis has shown that generally party manifestos tend to reflect more traditional and uniform views on women, with a special focus on their biological role as mothers and child bearers. Furthermore, women as a constituency tend to be at times silenced by the overwhelmingly presence of the family, which is constituted as the privileged recipient of the parties' claim-makings.

On the contrary, the exploration of the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities reveals that this WPA offers a broader perspective on women's and men's identities and interests. Even though the constructions of women as “mothers” or “child bearers” are generally predominant, the WPA advances new depictions of women as “leaders”, “businesswomen” and “citizens socially active” who inhabit the public sphere. Men's identities are also presented in more nuanced way, and range from positive portrayals of “fathers” and women-friendly policy “supporters” to negative representations related to violence and abuse against women.

3.2 The substantive representation of women: party and WPA pledges

In total, in the three manifestos, the greatest number of pledges concerning women are related to the family, followed by pledges for women's employment and pledges in favour of the conciliation of work and family care (see Table 5). The 2006 manifesto is the only one that advances pledges for women in the education and university field, that propose “positive action for the female enrolment” at the university level. Pledges concerning violence against women are formulated instead only in the 2008 manifesto.

Table 5. Pledges for women by theme and level of detail in party manifestos

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Notes: Pledges can be counted under more than one theme.

Interestingly, it is possible to trace a certain degree of congruency between the constitutive representations of women which resulted from the analysis of the manifestos – family, worker and mothers – and the quantity of pledges advanced for women.

Family. As above mentioned, families are mostly understood as homogeneous units and the pledges made for them do not take into account possible internal divisions. For instance, in 2001 manifesto the centre-wing party proposes to switch form the personal income tax to “a family income tax”: this kind of pledge well shows a perspective on the family that disregards the possible presence of inequalities in the household. In the three manifestos most pledges for families concern the decreasing of taxes or tax breaks and financial helps for families in difficulties.

Paid work, childcare, motherhood. These three themes are usually interlinked in the pledges made for women. In all three manifestos the extension of childcare services are considered essential to increasing women's workforce. In 2001 and 2006 manifestos pledges are also made for training aimed at helping the access to the workplace. Pledges for flexible hours and part-times are also especially made for women. Only the 2006 manifesto refers to both “maternity and paternity leave”.

In the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities, in total, the greatest number of pledges for women are those concerning the reconciliation between work and family life and those about gender-equality in the access to elective offices and leadership positions, followed by pledges related to women's employment (see Table 6).

Table 6. Pledges for women by theme and level of detail in the speeches of the Ministers for Equal Opportunities

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Notes: Pledges can be counted under more than one theme.

Women's representatives and leadership. The pledges on women's access to elective offices are particularly interesting to consider, as they clearly show the different positions and the idea shift on the matter. In 2001 and 2002 speeches, Minister Prestigiacomo is favourable to non specified “affirmative actions” in legislative contexts to support the election of women representatives; in the 2006 speech, Minister Pollastrini goes a step further, by openly supporting the introduction of gender quotas. This 'trend' stops in 2008, when in her speech, Minister Carfagna declares to be against these kind of measures, which she considers “humiliating and offensive for the women”. The quantity and degree of detail in the pledges exemplify this process: in 2001 and 2002 there are 9 pledges (of which 3 detailed) and in 2006 the pledges are 8 (of which 2 detailed); in 2008 there are no pledges and in 2009 only one (general).

Reconciliation between work and family life. These pledges follow a inverse trend than the pledges of women's representation. Measures on reconciliation become increasingly important especially in the 2008 and 2009 speeches. Even though in all the speeches some kind of pledges on reconciliation are made, especially regarding childcare services, it is in 2008 and 2009 that there is the greater number of detailed pledges made, 15 (of which 6 detailed). Pledges on women's employment and childcare follow a similar path, which signals their strong link with reconciliation policies.

Violence against women. Pledges concerning violence against women follow a parallel path to those about reconciliation. In 2008 and 2009 speeches, detailed pledges are made with regard to measures against sexual violence, harassment and stalking, and prostitution.

The dynamics here illustrated are important in understanding the link between CRG and SWR. In this case, even though the WPA speeches introduce innovative constitutive representations of women in respect to those of the manifestos, the substantive representation falls short. Pledges for increasing women's representation in elective and decisional offices nearly disappear, while the focus is readdressed to: 1) a more private dimension of the women's role with an increase in pledges on reconciliation and childcare, and 2) to violence against women.

3.3 The substantial representation in bills

The Ministry of Equal Opportunities proposed 10 bills during the XIV legislature, 5 bills in the XV and 8 bills in the XVI (until November 2011)[7]. For a complete overview of all the bills see Appendix 1.

In the XIV legislature, two bills were successfully passed concerning equal opportunities in accessing elective offices. The most significant one is the amendment to Article 51 of the Constitution: the amendment adds to the existing paragraph 'All citizens of either sex can have access to public offices and elective posts under equal conditions', the following part: 'For this purpose the Republic promotes, by means of special measures, equal opportunities for women and men' (Guadagnini 2005:145).

The amendment was adopted through an agreement across the political parties in parliament; however, as Guadagnini (2005) remarks, a broad-based party support was possible due to the generality of the principle, which does not establish any practical measures. However, it is relevant in the sense that introduces directly in the Constitution the principle of equality in the legislative setting (Guadagnini 2005).

In the XV legislature, none of the bills proposed were passed, yet it must be taken into account that the government resigned only after two years. Anyway, it is relevant to highlight that two out of five bills proposed are concerned with the crime against the person due to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There is thus a certain degree of congruency with the CRG exploration of the 2006 speech, as it is the only text in which homosexual couples are explicitly mentioned, and it is only in this legislature (among those analysed) that measures against discrimination for sexual orientations were proposed.

In the XVI legislature measures against harassment and stalking were approved, in accordance to one of the pledges made in the 2008. Measures against prostitution and sexual violence have been proposed too, but have been not yet approved.

There is therefore a certain a degree of congruency between the pledges made and the laws proposed. However there is,of course, not certainty that the bills once proposed will be approved, since, as already mentioned, constrains of various nature (political, cultural context, etc.) can impede the action of female legislators and WPAs.


This empirical case study has investigated the way in which gender relations and identities are constructed through representative claims and has offered an initial exploration of the relationship between constitutive and substantive representation applied to an Italy cased study.

This analysis responds to the new approaches theorised by Squires (2008), on the constitutive representation of gender, and by Mansbridge (2003) and Saward (2006, 2008) on a innovative way of thinking about political representation as a creative process.

This work brings two main contributions to the existing literature. Firstly, it is only the second empirical study to be made on CRG, after the one of Child, Webb and Marthaler (2010) on the UK Conservative party, and as such it contributes to the developing empirical research on the topic.

Secondly, it offers precious insights in the relationship between CRG and SWR, by expanding the analysis to other forms of representative settings, in this case a women's policy agency, the Ministry for Equal Opportunities.

The research shows that the constitutive claims of the party manifestos analysed tend to propose a more traditional representation of both women's and men's identities and gender relations. Conversely, the speeches of the Ministries for Equal Opportunities constructed female and male identities in more nuanced ways. These results bring support to the necessity advanced by Weldon (2002) and Mackay (2008) to consider a wider range of representative venues and actors in the exploration of women's representation.

Furthermore, the work brings additional evidence to how the study of CRG should be considered an integral part in the process of empirically investigating SRW, as it allow to move beyond a priori assumptions on what constitutes women's interests (Childs, Webb and Marthaler, 2010).

This analysis, on the basis of its research design, is configured as an initial step towards further research in the fresh field of CRG and cannot offer definitive answers to the reason why certain claims or pledges are made, but on the contrary opens the door to more questions.

In the exploration of link between CRG and SRW, a certain degree of congruency has been found between the claims made about women and the pledges representatives make for women. However, the relation is not straightforward, some claims do not always find a substantive representation in the legislative process, while in other cases claims shift and change over time.

Institutional constrains and the political, social and cultural contexts impact both what kind of claims are made and the capacity of advancing certain policies (Saward 2006; Squires 2008). Hence, future research, would benefit from taking into account these influences and interrogating a wider set of actors in order to obtain a richer perspective on the constitutive representation of gender and its link to the substantive representation of women.

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APPENDIX 1. Laws proposed by the Ministries for Equal Opportunities, 2001-2008.

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[1] Situation as of 30 June 2012, data availabe at the Inter-Parliamentary Union:

[2] Situation as of 2011, data available at The World Bank data section:

[3] Nordic European countries have an average female presence in parliament of 42% and Rwanda is currently the country with the highest percentage with a 56,3% (data available at the Inter-Parliamentary Union:

[4] Information on the duration of the legislatures and on the composition of the government during each legislature can be found at the Lower House website:

[5] The winning coalitions of 2001 and 2006 do not exist anymore. However the manifestos of The House of Freedom can be downloaded at: and The manifesto of The Union at: The People of Freedom manifesto is downloadable from the party website:

[6] The speeches can be downloaded from the data bank of the Lower House website at:

[7] Information and statistic on bills proposed and passed in each legislature can be found at the Upper House website:

a b The speeches of 2001, 2002 and 2008, 2009 have been paired together in the table for synthetic purposes. Each pair of speeches were given by the same Minister for Equal Opportunities (Prestigiacomo and Carfagna respectively) and shared common themes.

39 of 39 pages


The Representative Claim And The Construction Of Gender
An Exploratory Approach To Constitutive Political Representation Applied to an Italy Case Study
University College London  (School of Public Policy)
Msc International Public Policy
A - Distinction
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ISBN (Book)
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APPENDIX 1. Laws proposed by the Ministries for Equal Opportunities, 2001-2008.
political representation, constitutive representation of gender, women's interests, claim-making, substantive representation
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Chiara Mantovani (Author), 2012, The Representative Claim And The Construction Of Gender, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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