Mind the (gender) gap: is online political participation democratic?

With women making up roughly half the population, a democracy failing to represent their interests in an equitable way cannot be considered a full democracy writes Sabrina Schöttle in ‘The Gender-Gap in Online Political Participation –New Chances and New Challenges for Social Equality’. 

Building on her previous project at NRW Fortschrittskolleg Online Participation, Schöttle focuses on the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. Locating differences between women and men taking part online, she aims to identify how these relate to existing social inequalities. For political decisions to be legitimate and representative, she writes, they need to address the interests of all those affected by them. When people are left out of decision-making processes, their interests are too, she argues. She notes that while classical democracy and political theory fails to secure the equal participation of women as citizens, participatory democracy theory addresses this deficit.

Schöttle’s research asks can existing knowledge on offline political participation help understand gender inequalities in the digital sphere? She also questions whether existing knowledge addresses access, privilege, and trends in participation. It further highlights that while offline political participation has been investigated by political science and sociology, online political participation is an area of civic activity that demands to be studied – especially given increasingly digital political engagement.

Sabrina Schöttle is Research Assistant at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, and sociological researcher in DIID Monitor Online Participation NRW, a project at the Dusseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy which maps online citizen participation in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.  

Photo: Georgie Pauwels/Flickr/cc

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