How Full Representation Helps WomenThe bottom line is that full representation represents women better. It is not perfect; there is still no country where women’s representation has reached 50%. Nonetheless, countries that use PR full representation have twice the representation as countries that use winner-take-all. Why is this so?
When parties nominate candidates for multi-seat districts, they are more likely to nominate women. If a party ran a slate of all male candidates, it would look alarmingly sexist. In single seat districts a male candidate is less likely to raise suspicion.
People are more likely to vote for a female candidate under full representation systems because they know that if their candidate looses, their second choice will still count, and/or that their candidate can win even without a majority. In winner-take-all systems, a person may want to vote for a female candidate, but feel that if they do, their vote will be wasted. They may worry that voting for a women will take votes away from a more competitive male candidate in a party with which they sympathize.
Certain full representation systems like choice voting encourage coalition-building between like-minded candidates of different genders and between candidates and their female constituencies. When male candidates know that their female competitors can be elected with a minority of the vote or as second choice candidates, they will be more likely to encourage and support like-minded women candidates. Likewise, when the female constituency is empowered under full representation, all candidates will have to listen to and take seriously the women in their districts. Former president of N.O.W. Patricia Ireland endorses full representation as part of the feminist agenda: "As political pundits again discuss the depressing voter turn-out in the U.S., a system that can empower people must be seriously considered, and as feminists analyze our meager gains in the House and Senate, we believe that proportional representation may be the best way to build a government that is responsive to our issues."
Forms of full representation have been used in city council and school board elections in the U.S. since the 1920s. Full representation elections have been held in Cambridge MA, Peoria IL, Amarillo TX, Cincinnati and Cleveland OH, New York NY, and various corporate boards. When used in the U.S. full representation has consistently resulted in higher representation of women, as well as racial and political minorities, gays and lesbians. Though in most localities, these reforms were ultimately defeated by powerful political interests, parties, and incumbents, who found that full representation threatened their security, feminists and progressives are increasingly recognizing the benefits of full representation once again.
Full representation has the support of the United Nations. The 1996 U.N. Beijing Conference on Women urged all governments to “review the differential impact of electoral systems on the political representation of women in elected bodies and consider, where appropriate, the adjustment or reform of those systems.” The United States has agreed that full representation is an effective way to increase women’s representation in many countries around the world, using it to guarantee women a voice in government in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for itself, the U.S. still uses the archaic and dysfunctional system of winner-take-all. It is 84 years after the ratification of the19th Amendment and women’s representation in the U.S. still lags behind countries where women have had a far shorter period of freedom and opportunity. It is time to start closing the gap between representative bodies and the people they represent. It is time for full representation.