What is it about?

We study the gender gap in political representation in the 17 Spanish regional parliaments from 1980 to 2011. This allows us to study a high number of cases (several thousands of MPs in more than 130 parliaments) with much less variation in contextual charachteristics than in cross-country studies. We arrive at several interesting findings: 1) Spain experiences a process of increasing and intense feminization; 2) it arrives at a more gender-balanced distribution than the one of sub-national legislatures in established democracies such as the United States, Canada, and Germany; 3) the equalization has been liderated by three forerunner regions, which followed a stable upward pattern; 4) six regions, on the other hand, can be identified as laggards, and all of them (but Catalonia) have experienced instability in their evolution; 5) the existence of the Socialist-led legislative quota should prevent potential drops in the future among this group; and 6) the most obvious contextual socio-economic and cultural variables (GNP and religion, respectively) do not correlate with cross-regional differences in women’s access to the legislatures.

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Why is it important?

Our study shows, among other things, that the 2007 Spanish Law on Equality was enacted when women’s presence in regional parliaments was still increasing but their growth rate was already in decline. Thus, it would be tempting to conclude that the law had no relevant impact or that it merely rubberstamped an ongoing social trend. However, this view only suits the forerunners, but not the laggard and mixed regions. The classification of the regions according to their leadership in the incorporation of female representatives brings to the fore important effects of the law that might have been blurred by the temporal coincidence between the enactment of this piece of legislation and the overall fall in the growth rates of women MPs.


The economic, social and political realms show strong and persistent differences among genders. This is important because it means that opportunities are strongly shaped by a trait that is beyond individuals' control. 50% of the population faces worse prospects than the other half. One of the most salient gender gaps takes place in the political arena.

Andrés Santana
Universidad Autonoma de Madrid

It is interesting to check that each and every regional parliament has a life of its own, even though the parties participating in them are nearly always the same across the 17 chambers.

Susana Aguilar
Universidad Complutense de Madrid

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Who leads and who lags behind? Women MPs in the Spanish regional parliaments, Revista Internacional de Sociología, May 2016, Departmento de Publicaciones del CSIC,
DOI: 10.3989/ris.2016.74.2.033.
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