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How gender affects global political participation

March 12, 2020

ASU Professor Miki Kittilson shares how different countries stack up

Women have had the right to vote in the United States since the 19th Amendment was ratified in August 1920. But the U.S. was far from one of the first countries (some lists put it at 27th) to grant women’s suffrage. Though levels of suffrage varied — often depending on such factors as a woman’s social status — several countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada, beat the U.S to the equality punch.

Miki Kittilson, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies, researches gender equality in legal systems and politics around the world. Her book “The Gendered Effects of Electoral Institutions: Political Engagement and Participation” looks at the reasons why women in most countries around the world have tended to lag behind men in various forms of political participation.

As part of a yearlong seriesFollow along on Twitter — @asunews — all year as we share quotes, characters and historical tidbits from the long road to the vote. that kicked off last August in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of Amendment XIX, ASU Now spoke with Kittilson to examine the factors that contribute to differences in policies and political participation and to see how countries around the world stack up.

headshot of ASU Professor Miki Kittilson

Miki Kittilson 

Question: What are some universal factors that contribute to women’s participation in the political process?

Answer: There are still persistent gaps around the world, not necessarily in women’s voting participation, but in other forms of political behavior and women’s belief that they can make a difference. A lot of older theories about why that is will put the onus on women: If only women were more educated, if only women would step forward. They put the burden on women to change. But I think what’s really behind it is that the way the rules are structured can either draw women into the political process or they can send signals that are exclusionary. There are different ways elections can be structured, and those that are more inclusive and are based on principles of power-sharing tend to have higher levels of engagement among women. So I believe it’s more about the structure of political processes, not women’s attitudes or resources.

Q: How does women’s participation compare to men’s?

A: There’s incredible variation around the world in terms of gender inequity and participation in the political process. Some countries are far more equal than others. But gaps do tend to persist for a variety of different forms of participation. Not necessarily voter turnout — if anything, voter participation is more equal around the world today than at any time in the past. But other forms of participation that are more time intensive, such as protest activities, tend to be unequal in terms of gender representation. And gender differences in attitudes about politics also persist. For instance, more women report a lack of interest in discussing politics socially.

Q: Was the international Women’s March in January 2017 an anomaly?

A: No, I don’t think it was an anomaly. There’s definitely a rich history of women organizing and staging protests and demonstrations, such as the suffrage movement, various labor movements and women’s role in the civil rights movement. But some movements have tried to sideline women.

Q: While researching your book, were there any countries whose policies or institutions stood out to you, for better or worse?

A: We make the argument in the book that countries that have proportional representation or other forms of power sharing are more inclusionary. For example, the Netherlands has quite equal proportional representation.

Q: How does the U.S. compare to other countries as far as when women were given the right to vote?

A: The first country that gave women the right to vote was New Zealand, in 1893. Over the next 20 years, a few more countries followed suit. The early 1900s were really a turning point for women’s suffrage. In 1917, Canada gave women the right to vote, followed by maybe 10 or 12 other countries. It really picked up after World War I. Then the U.S. ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Q: Was there something about WWI that made it a turning point for women’s suffrage?

A: Not necessarily the war itself, but war certainly disrupts a lot of things in the economy and society in general. Around that time, you had the first wave of women’s movements. Among other things, women were protesting for access to higher education, and as literacy rates for women started to pick up, so did opportunities in the workforce. As women entered the paid workforce, they began advocating for the right to vote because they recognized that voting was an important step toward being able to secure their demands and improve their status in society.

Q: The U.S. was pretty late to the game on granting women’s suffrage, globally speaking. Why do you think that is?

A: I’d say the women’s suffrage movement started roughly around the same time in the U.S. as it did elsewhere, but reasons for opposition varied from country to country, which did a lot to determine where the movement was successful. In the U.S. at that time, people thought it would disrupt the family and that women didn’t have the qualities or characteristics that were necessary to participate as a citizen in a democratic election.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

 
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Earth Day’s roots tied to 1969 oil spill

March 12, 2020

ASU marine ecologist says oil spills have ripple effect on humans, wildlife, ecology and economy

Millions worldwide will gather on April 22 to celebrate Earth Day’s 50th anniversary with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

But how many know Earth Day's origin story?

Earth Day now encompasses anything from climate change to deforestation to species extinction to waste issues, but its roots lie in a January 1969 crude oil and gas eruption off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, that thrust pollution into the national conversation.

There was a lot to talk about by the time Union Oil contained the leak, which was months later. In addition to embarrassing news reports from around the world, the environmental damage was staggering: Approximately 3 million gallons of crude oil had been spewed into the Pacific Ocean, causing black sludge to spread across 35 miles of pristine California coastline. It also killed thousands of fish, birds, sea mammals and other marine life.

The spill did have one positive outcome: It was the impetus for Earth Day, which marks the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Oil spills still get a lot of headlines when they happen, but scientists are working to understand the true ecological impact of these incidents, even years later.

Arizona State University’s Steven Saul is an expert in fish and coral reef population dynamics. Using datasets from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, Saul, a marine ecologist in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, is evaluating the impact of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on commercially important fish populations and the fishing boats that catch them.

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Steven Saul 


Question: What kind of damage do oil spills such as Deepwater Horizon cause?

Answer: In addition to loss of human life — 11 people died (at Deepwater Horizon), with many injured — and wildlife — lots of birds, marine mammals and fish were affected, especially as the oil reached the coast — there are other damages. The fishing industry — the focus of my research — was greatly affected for two reasons: 1) Large areas of the Gulf of Mexico where people normally fished were off limits to fishing because those areas were polluted with oil, and 2) because the public assumed that all fish that came from the Gulf of Mexico were polluted with oil and therefore stopped purchasing Gulf of Mexico seafood for some time. Together, these two factors caused financial hardship to those who commercially fish in the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to professional fishing guides and party boat operators who take people out fishing recreationally. Finally, as oil started washing up on beaches, tourism stopped in many locations along the Gulf Coast, either because the beach was polluted with oil or, again, because of the public perception that all Gulf of Mexico beaches were polluted. This had a ripple effect on the economy of coastal communities, causing financial hardship. Even industries you might not think of right away — like the sale of gasoline, boat mechanics, etc. — were affected because the fishing boats remained at the dock and therefore didn’t purchase gas.

Q: What happened to all the oil in the Gulf of Mexico?

A: From what scientists understand:

  • Some of the oil that remained on the surface was broken down by the dispersant chemicals sprayed on it from aircraft. These chemicals break the oil into smaller droplets so that it can be more easily gotten rid of.
  • Oil on the surface of the water was broken down by the sun and microbes.
  • Some was absorbed into the ecosystem. Nature can handle some oil and naturally break it down — the Gulf of Mexico actually has some naturally occurring oil seeps, which are areas where oil naturally bubbles up from the ocean floor into the water.
  • A lot of the oil sank to the bottom of the deep part of the Gulf of Mexico around where the well leaked, about 5,000 feet down, and research with underwater submersibles show parts of the deep Gulf covered with a layer of oil. Despite being very deep and dark, there is an entire ecological community down there which was smothered with oil.
  • Some of the surface oil was moved around by the ocean currents and interacted with fish larvae and plankton in different locations.

Q: Do the companies responsible for spills pay for these damages?

A: From the Deepwater Horizon accident, both civil and criminal penalties were imposed. I don’t know all the details or full amounts, as there are many components to the settlement, however I do know that some of the funds were directed to pay for the actual clean-up itself — both on beaches and offshore, and the restoration of ecosystems — and some of the money was put into a trust to further Gulf of Mexico research so that we have a better understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and can better quantify damages and improve our response and restoration efforts in case this happens again. Funds for research are managed by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and a few other entities, and interested scientists with research ideas competed for grants from this pool of funds. Some of my Gulf of Mexico research is funded by lawsuit money I was awarded after applying for one of the grants.  

Top photo: Platform A at the Dos Cuadras offshore oil field, Santa Barbara, site of the famous Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Infographic by Alex Cabrera

Reporter , ASU Now

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