The office is not enough: women’s political representation in Portuguese ministerial private offices

Prof. Sara Diogo
Ms. Edna Costa
Dr. Patrícia Silva

Studies on women’s political representation (WPR) have traditionally privileged descriptive representation, that is, the number of women present, especially in elected legislatures. As this number progressed, other venues of representation came into the fore, namely political parties and executive office. Studies concerning the latter have been mainly focused on the prestige of the ministries women are assigned to and whether they are relegated to «feminine» policy areas. However, there are other venues for representation which play an extremely relevant part in political decision making outside elected legislatures. Ministerial private offices are one of such venues and, specifically, who is and is not part of their politically appointed staff has grown in relevance in recent years.
Research on WPR in the Portuguese case has shown that the presence of women both in parliament and in executive office has grown significantly during the last two decades, but their inclusion, role and level of influence among political appointees is still to be explored. Likewise, the extent to which they are able to take advantage of partisan experience (as is a rule for men) is also an issue of interest.
This article examines WPR in executive office by focusing on the gender composition, functions and backgrounds of political appointees. The analysis considers three different dimensions: firstly, it assesses the presence of women within this category and its evolution, it then focuses on hierarchies in office and among ministries, that is, the functions and policy areas women are mainly appointed to. Finally, it will address political appointees’ backgrounds namely in what concerns their experience in party office or in other specific party organizations (e.g. youth or women sections).
The empirical analysis is based on data on politically appointed staff in ministerial private offices, publicly available since 2011. It therefore encompasses three general elections which have resulted in the formation of three constitutional governments between 2011 and 2020. The study finds theoretical ground on the feminist institutional perspective.