FPESA Research Paper Assessment: More Women in Parliaments Linked to Environmental Treaties

Kari Norgaard and Richard York, “Gender Equality and State Environmentalism,” Gender & Society, vol. 19, no. 4 (August 2005), pp. 506–22, https://doi. org/10.1177/0891243204273612. This paper was collaboratively assessed.

National parliaments with higher proportions of women members are significantly more likely than others to ratify environmental agreements, this paper concludes. Controlling for factors such as gross domestic product (GDP), development, population size, political rights, and urbanization across 130 nations, the authors constructed a model that succeeded in explaining more than two thirds of the variation across countries in the ratifications of 16 environmental treaties occurring through April 1999. The model results led the authors to conclude that “gender variation has a stronger association with state environmentalism [defined here as ratification of the treaties] than any other factors except per capita GDP and population….”

Budapest parliament
“Higher status of women may lead to more environmentally progressive policies as women put their views and values into action.”

As case examples illustrating the importance of gender in parliament, the authors compare Norway and Singapore, at similar levels of development but with widely varying records on both gender balance in parliaments and in ratification of environmental agreements. (Norway performs much better on both indicators.) The authors review ecofeminist and related theories for why gender equality might favor environmental protection, but acknowledge that their results do not offer evidence for any specific theories.

Key quotes: “If women tend to be more environmentally progressive, the inclusion of women as equal members of society— as voters, citizens, policy makers, and social movement participants—should positively influence state behavior…. [G]ender equality may affect behavior of both women and men, creating an atmosphere in which environmentally progressive state behavior is viewed as positive…. If women both perceive environmental risks as greater and are less willing to impose these risks on others, higher status of women may lead to more environmentally progressive policies as women put their views and values into action.”

FPESA network assessments (two totalwere neutral-to-uncertain about the value of this paper. One assessment noted that the authors established a correlation between female representation in parliaments and ratification of environmental treaties but did not contribute evidence or suggest mechanisms by which that representation helped drive the ratifications. More useful than this kind of crosscutting study (i.e., comparing widely varying countries and governments to each other), this assessor suggested, would be longitudinal studies that examined the relationship between women’s representation in parliaments and environmental agreements over time.

Overall assessment: We identified few papers that shed light on our subhypothesis that empowered women are more likely than men on average to promote environmental sustainability. This paper provides valuable evidence of an intriguing correlation that lends support to that thesis. Moreover, it includes a valuable summation of some past literature related to ecofeminist theory on why gender equality might support environmental protection.

The following annotation and assessment is excerpted from the forthcoming report of the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (FPESA) project. The report will contain selected annotations from more than 930 peer-reviewed articles reviewed for potential relevance to the hypothesis that family planning supports environmental sustainability. The annotations are written by project director Robert Engelman with input from members of the project team and, where indicated, members of the project’s international network of research assessors.