The project "El impacto simbólico de la representación política de las mujeres/The symbolic impact of women's political representation" is funded by the Ministerio de Ciencia y Competitividad. Overall funding: 44.770,00€

Reference: FEM2013-45719-P

Duration of the project: 1/01/2014 - 31/12/2015 (extended until 30/09/2015)


The majority of studies in the field of women's political representation have focused on the descriptive dimension (which factors determine the volume of female deputies elected and which sociodemographic characteristics they have) and increasingly on the substantive dimension too (what legislative issues female deputies are mainly devoted to). To date, the third dimension of political representation, the symbolic dimension, has received little attention. This dimension captures the effects that women's political representation has on the electorate, particularly regarding feelings of closeness to and satisfaction with political institutions and their levels of political involvement. The very few existing studies face a number of conceptual and methodological challenges that have led them to reach at best mixed results or to identify merely modest causal relationships -which may well be spurious.

The Project presented here fully focuses on the symbolic dimension of political representation and seeks to answer the following question: What impact(s) does increased women's political presence have on the political attitudes and behavior of traditionally under-represented groups (women) as well as on over-represented groups (men )?. Increases in women's political presence occurred in recent decades have been mainly due to the use of affirmative action. Since gender quotas have been justified, among other reasons, by the positive effect on the quality of democracy and the representative process, it is necessary to examine whether this theoretical expectation has empirical correspondence.

We will analyse this anticipated impact both at the citizenship level and the political class level (national deputies). In the case of public opinion, experimental-design surveys will be used, a methodological innovation increasingly used by studies on political attitudes in order to isolate the causal effects in a more accurate fashion and to avoid social desirability problems. The Project also aims at identifing whether the observed effects have the same intensity on men and women. In the case of politicians, we seek to analyze the perceived impact of the increase in the number of female deputies on how political representation is understood and exercised. The Project adopts a comparative approach with a view to capturing the influence of context, concentrating on the following case studies: Spain and Portugal. Since their levels of women's political representation differ, this two-country comparison will allow us to disentangle whether the symbolic effects of women's representation depend on the extent to which political institutions have been feminized.

The Project fully conforms to current research strategies at the national and international level which have included both gender and gender mainstreaming as basic principles and aims of high-quality research and innovation. It should be noted though that the contribution of the Project expands beyond the field of gender and politics studies, aiming at improving more generally our knowledge about political representation and political behavior.

The Project SIMBOLREP is complementary to the project MULH(j)ER E PODER which focuses on women's descriptive and substantive representation in Spain and Portugal.


Political representation, symbolic representation, gender quotas, political attitudes, political behaviour, experimental design

Full project description

To access the project application (in Spanish) which was successfully funded, please click here.