IPSA RC 19 - Gender Politics and Policy

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History and Origins of RC19


Marian Sawer

The 1970s were a time when feminists started bringing ideas from the 'second wave' of the women's movement into political science. They reframed the study of politics, using the new perspective ‘the personal is political’ and challenged the traditional division between the public and the private on which political science had been based. They created new bodies in political science associations to challenge assumptions that the domination by men of both politics and political science was part of the natural order rather than a problem of the gender order. IPSA was the second political science association in the world, following the American Political Science Association, to establish such a body. Initially it had what now seems the very old-fashioned name of 'Study Group on Sex Roles and Politics'. This reflected theoretical perspectives of the time, but was later criticised for a focus on socialisation rather than power. The Study Group, established in 1976, became a fully-fledged research committee – RC19 – in 1979.

The first chair of RC19 was Margerita Rendel of the University of London.[1] She organised a meeting of the Sex Roles and Politics Study Group at the University of Essex in 1979 and then at the IPSA Congress in Moscow in the same year, where for the first time, full research committee status was granted. She published a collection entitled Women, Power and Political Systems (1981) based on the papers given to these meetings. In true IPSA style contributors came from all regions of the world and included Fanny Tabak from Brazil, Judith Stiehm and Beverly Cook from the USA, Sirkka Sinkkonen and Elina Haavio-Mannila from Finland, as well as contributors from Africa, Turkey and WHO. The book problematized the absence of women from public life and argued that democratic theory had overlooked the family as an operational political unit that placed constraints on women’s political activity.

The first RC19 book, 1981


A subsequent RC19 collection, with papers prepared for the 1982 IPSA Congress in Rio de Janeiro, was edited by Judith Stiehm and published as Women’s Views of the Political World of Men (Transaction Publishers, 1984). Contributors of the cutting-edge papers included Jane Jacquette, Drude Dahlerup, Carole Pateman (on the ‘shame of the marriage contract’), Fanny Tabak, Nancy Hartsock, Anna Yeatman and Judith Stiehm herself on the ‘man question’. The following year, RC19 office bearer Renata Siemienska, published a special issue of international Political Science Review 6 (3) entitled ‘Women in Politics’. It contained articles on factors affecting women’s political participation in countries including Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Poland, Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

Over its history RC19 has continued to engage in research activities such as roundtables, congress panels and publications. By the end of the 1980s it had around 300 members who attended its events and received its newsletter. Roundtables were held in India in 1986, Germany 1987, Poland 1988 and the USA 1990, the latter on the topic ‘Women in Organizations: Strategies for Empowerment’.

From 2000, RC19 has also organised one-day Pre-Congress Workshops (also called Roundtables) before each IPSA Congress. Until 2012 the IPSA Congresses were held every three years, subsequently every two years. A list of these workshops is provided below under RC19 Events. Some became books, such as the 2006 workshop convened by Marian Sawer, entitled ‘Comparing the Trajectories of Women’s Movements’ (published in 2008 by Routledge under the title Women’s Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance).

RC19 has also supported new gender initiatives within IPSA as a whole. For example, a Study Group on Women, Politics and Developing Nations was established in 1988 chaired by Najma Chowdhury of the University of Dhaka. It was given research committee status in 1992, becoming RC07 and a partner with RC19 in many activities.

One of the RC19 members who has played an inspirational and tireless role over its history has been Jane Bayes from the USA (RC19 Chair 1988–94). In 1995 Jane represented IPSA at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Jane and six other members of RC19 and RC7 attended the NGO Forum in Huairou and most also attended the official conference in Beijing. IPSA has had a relationship with UN agencies since its beginnings and is on the ECOSOC Roster.  At the NGO Forum in Huairou RC7 held a Roundtable on ‘Transformational Politics – Grassroots Mobilisation and Empowerment’, written up by Jane in a ‘Report from Beijing’ in Participation, Winter 1995. Subsequently Jane organised Roundtables in Seoul in 1997 and Ankara in 1998 on the challenges of implementing the Beijing commitments, especially in Catholic and Muslim countries.

To reflect on developments in the field, Jane published a collection Gender and Politics: The State of the Discipline (Barbara Budrich 2012) in the IPSA book series, The World of Political Science. It included contributions from long-standing members of the IPSA gender committees such as Amanda Gouws, Monique Leyenaar and Mary Hawkesworth. A particular theme of the collection was Jane’s concern over the geopolitics of knowledge production and transfer, even within an organisation such as IPSA with its mandate to provide support for political science across East–West and North-South divides.

RC 19 has taken up a broad array of issues over the three decades of its history. Major themes have included: political participation of women; affirmative action, quotas and parity; women and public policy in comparative perspective; women in public administration; women and politics in third world countries; women, religion and politics; the role of legislation and the status of women; women and the transition to democracy; strategies for the empowerment of women; feminist theory; women and nationalism; eco-feminism; the global women's movement; and gender and international institutions. New theoretical frameworks have been brought to bear on gender and politics, including an increased  emphasis on the inner life of institutions and on discursive framing.

RC19 panel on electoral gender quotas, 2006 IPSA World Congress


L to R, Drude Dahlerup, Lenita Freidenvall, Mona Lena Krook and Pippa Norris.



Some of the over 60 participants in the electoral gender quotas panel convened by Marian Sawer. They included Emanuela Lombardo, Mieke Verloo, Jane Bayes, Jill Vickers, Fiona Mackay, Jackie Steele, Mary Hawkesworth and Gunnel Gustafsson. Monique Leyenaar and Sylvia Bashevkin were also there.

In 1986, IPSA RC 19 was joined by another transnational research group on politics and gender. The ECPR Standing Group on Politics and Gender was established following a meeting called by Diane Sainsbury at the ECPR Joint Sessions in Gothenburg. From 2009 its biennial conferences became the showcase for gender and politics research. IPSA RC19, however retained its distinctive mandate for promoting gender and politics research in both the Global North and Global South and across East/West boundaries. Like equivalent bodies in national political science associations, RC19 also sought greater recognition for feminist and gender research within the discipline, both through specialist prizes and through the award of mainstream prizes. For example, it supported the creation of what became the Wilma Rule Award for best IPSA Congress paper on gender and politics, first awarded at the Québec City IPSA Congress in 2000.

From its origins until 2003 RC19 retained its title of 'Sex Roles and Politics'. The name of the Committee was changed in 2003, with the approval of the IPSA Executive, after an electronic ballot of members showed overwhelming support for a shift to 'Gender, Politics and Policy'. The new title reflected theoretical developments such as the growth of masculinity studies and an increased focus of intersectionality and diversity. In other words, ‘gender’ was not simply a synonym for women, as sometimes believed.

A third gender committee, RC52 on Gender, Globalization and Democratization came into being in 2003. RC19 has helped co-ordinate a number of joint activities by the three gender research committees including a very successful two-day workshop before the 2009 IPSA Congress in Santiago. Unfortunately, RC52 was abolished in 2014 following a void in its leadership. However, RC19 has continued to thrive, with some 240 members in 2018.

RC19 Events

2018. Pre-Congress Workshop ‘What Happens to feminist claims in politically turbulent times?’, University of Queensland, 21 July. Sponsored by the two IPSA gender RCs (RC07, RC19). Convenor, Jennifer Curtin.


Participants at the 2018 Workshop, including Carol Johnson, Jim Jose, Sarah Childs, Jennifer Piscopo, Amanda Gouws, Jane Bayes, Jennifer Curtin, Sonia Palmieri, Blair Williams, Linda Trimble, Jackie Steele

2017. Joint RC07 and RC19 Conference. ‘Gender, Politics and the State’, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, 8–10 August. Convenor Amanda Gouws.

2016. Pre-Congress Workshop ‘Gender Mainstreaming: Theory and Practice – Research and Teaching’, University of Adam Mickiewicz Morasko Campus, Poznan, 23 July. Convenor, Anne Maria Holli.

2014. Pre-Congress Workshop ‘Gender and Nationalism’, Palais des Congrès de Montréal, 19 July. Convenors Sarah Maddison and Jill Vickers.

2013. Joint RC 19, RC 33, Nordic Political Science Association and Finnish Political Science Association Conference ‘Perspectives on Political Science and Gender’, Helsinki, 12-14 December.  Convenor Anne Maria Holli.

2012. Pre-Congress Workshop ‘The Women’s Movement and the Politics of Intersectionality’, Hotel Tryp Ambassador, Madrid, 7 July. Sponsored by the three IPSA gender RCs (RC07, RC19, RC52). Convenor Sarah Maddison.  Parallel roundtables on teaching gender and feminist theory, Convenor Mary Hawkesworth.

2009. Pre-Congress Workshop ‘Political Challenges, Opportunities and Constraints for Women in Latin America and the World’, University ARCIS, Santiago, 10,11 July. Convenors Caroline Andrew, Carmen Torres and Jane Bayes. Sponsored by the three IPSA gender RCs (RC07, RC19, RC52) plus the Fundacion Instituto de la Mujer, Chile, the International Social Science Council's Research Programme on Gender, Globalization and Democratization, California State University, Northridge, and the Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa.

2006. Pre-Congress Workshop ‘Comparing the Trajectories of Women’s Movements’, Fukuoka, 9 July. Convenor Marian Sawer. Papers later published in Sandra Grey and Marian Sawer eds, Women’s Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance? London: Routledge, 2008.

2000. Pre-Congress Workshop on ‘Women and Politics at the Millennium’, Québec City, 31 July, 1 August. Convenor Jane Bayes.

1998. Roundtable at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, on ‘Implementing Women's Rights in Muslim Contexts’, 14-16 January. Convenor Jane Bayes.


Chairs of RC 19

1979-82           Margherita Rendel (University of London)

1982-85           Drude Dahlerup (University of Aarhus) and Fanny Tabak
                        (Pontifícia Universidada Católica, Rio de Janeiro)

1985-88           Hem Lata Swarup (New Delhi) and Eileen Wormald
                        (Worcester College of Higher Education, UK)

1988-91           Jane Bayes (California State University Northridge) and
                        Monique Leyenaar (Leiden University)

1991-94           Jane Bayes (California State University Northridge)

1994-97           Socorro Reyes (University of the Philippines)

1997-2000       Janine Mossau-Lavau (Paris)

2000-03           Laura Guzman (University of Costa Rica)

2003-06           Marian Sawer (Australian National University)

2006-09           Caroline Andrew (University of Ottawa)

2009-12           Melissa Haussman (Carleton University)

2012-14           Sarah Maddison (UNSW)

2014-16           Anne Maria Holli (University of Helsinki)

2016-18           Jennifer Curtin (University of Auckland)

2018–20          Lenita Freidenvall (Stockholm University)


Winners Wilma Rule Award


Karen Bird, McMaster University, ‘Gender Parity and the Political Representation of Women in France’

Marian Sawer, Australian National University, ‘Representation of Women: Questions of Accountability’


Manon Tremblay, University of Ottawa, ‘Democracy, Representation and Women: A Worldwide Comparative Analysis’


Anne Marie Holli and Milja Saari, University of Helsinki, ‘The Representation of Women in the Parliamentary Standing Committee Hearings in Finland’


Amanda Gouws, Stellenbosch University, ‘Multiculturalism in South Africa: Dislodging the Binary Between Universal Human Rights and Culture/Tradition’


Jennifer Piscopo, Occidental College, ‘Committees and Caucuses: How Legislative Institutions Shape Substantive Representation in Latin America’


Mona Lena Krook, Rutgers University, ‘Violence against Women in Politics: A Rising Threat to Democracy Worldwide’


Mari Miura, Kiyoung Shin, Jackie F. Steele, ‘Does “constituency facetime” reproduce male dominance? Insights from Japan’s mixed-member majoritarian electoral system’



[1]My thanks to Mathieu St Laurent at the IPSA Secretariat for his help in searching the IPSA archives for documentation concerning RC19 and its chairs.


Published on Friday, December 14 2018 by Jennifer Curtin