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More women in politics linked to significant health improvements

Caucus-group
Women in Politics: International Congress of Parliamentary Women’s Caucuses 2018. Photo: oireachtas.ie

A new study has found that greater numbers of women elected to political office is associated with an increase in the life expectancies of women and children.

The research led by Ross Macmillan, Chair in Sociology, University of Limerick and published in the journal Demography found that countries where women comprise at least 30% of the legislature see a significant reduction in their mortality rates.

The authors, from UL, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Bocconi University, suggest that women’s parliamentary presence could improve efforts to advance social and political development.

“Countries where women comprise at least 30% of the legislature see a significant reduction in their mortality rates.”

The study assessed changes in the share of national political representatives who were women, and mortality rates in 155 countries between 1990 and 2014, using World Bank data. The authors showed that when the presence of women in national legislatures reached the UN advocated ‘critical mass’ of 30%, the mortality rates for mothers and children fell faster. The largest improvements in mortality were observed in countries with lower democracy and development.

The authors write that gains in political equality may help achieve multiple social and economic goals:

“The value in encouraging efforts to increase the role of women in political leadership is clear, and such efforts could play a vital role in improving population health.”

They add that “further increases in women’s political status — although an end in itself — may have important synergistic effects that improve life chances across the globe.”

According to Ross Macmillan, Chair in Sociology at UL:

“Greater gender equality in national legislatures may influence politics and polices in ways that promote human development, particularly in fledgling or fragile political-economic contexts, especially when historical traditions and conditions mean that trust and communication between the populace and their political representatives were poor or non-existent.”

Wendy Sigle, Professor of Gender and Family Studies at the Department of Gender Studies at LSE, said: “Although we might expect that a critical mass of women in parliament would be better able to effect change in wealthy countries with strong democratic institutions, we saw the largest improvements in contexts where democratic institutions are not long-established or consolidated, and where economic and social development is low.”

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