Sciences Po has been a long and impactful journey

Sciences Po has been a long and impactful journey

EAP student tells us about her master's thesis
  • Estela is a student in the Master in Public Policy © Sciences PoEstela is a student in the Master in Public Policy © Sciences Po

Estela is a Master’s student in Public Policy at the School of Public Affairs. During her last semester, she chose to write a Master’s Thesis on how gender affects the behaviour of Federal deputies in Brazil when initiating bills and spending the public budget for the parliamentary activities. She tells us about this thesis she recently defended.

YOU ARE GRADUATING THIS YEAR FROM THE SCIENCES PO SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I arrived at Sciences Po in 2017 and during the past three years, I cannot tell how many times colleagues and teachers — sometimes younger than me — have asked me why I was still a student at the age of 29. Sometimes I would ask myself the same: would it not have been easier to continue working as a lawyer in Brazil, where I left "a promising career"? I suppose it would. But coming from a country where only 0.8% of a 210 million-population has a master’s degree, I must recognise how privileged I am to be able to complete a degree at this age.
Privileged, but also grateful, especially for having maturity to recognise that there is so much that I still need to learn, experience, practice, read, discuss… And the maturity to understand that I must apply such privileges to work towards a fairer world.

In this context, Sciences Po has been a long and impactful journey. During my Master’s, I could develop and gain academic and analytical tools to keep engaging in the endless efforts towards a better society. And at Sciences Po, through courses organised within the scope of PRESAGE - Sciences Po’s Gender Studies Programme, I had the opportunity to learn about gender studies, feminist scholars and I could understand gender issues through the academic perspective.

WHAT LED YOU TO WRITE A THESIS ON GENDER AND LEGISLATIVE BEHAVIOUR IN BRAZIL?

The world is now facing a pandemic and an unprecedented crisis that this is putting under stress and scrutiny every act and decision made by world leaders. Not all countries are acting and handling the crisis equally. News outlets all over the world have been announcing that, compared to the average, some countries are doing a disproportionately better job. Countries such as Germany, New Zealand and Finland are leading the way, and they have one thing in common: women leaders. But can we really believe that the better acts and results are due to the gender of these leaders? These reflections pose the general question of whether gender has an impact on how world leaders and policymakers behave and conduct their decision-making processes.

Being born in a country in which men historically represent more than 85% of the total seats of elected Parliament, my thesis project originated from my attempt to imagine what differences one could expect if, instead of 15%, women composed 100% of the seats. I searched for answers to questions about whether the gender balance in the legislature could result in more initiation of bills and policies towards women’s rights, and in a fairer use of public budget and expenditure. Ultimately, I wanted to empirically test the opinions, literature, and analysis on the relationship between gender and political behaviour.

WHAT DID YOU FIND IN YOUR RESEARCH?

After analysing large datasets on the bills initiated during five Legislatures in Brazil, and on the use of the quota for the exercise of the parliamentary activity (Cota para o Exercício da Atividade Parlamentar), I found results that reveal that gender does affect certain behaviours of the Federal deputies.
Regarding the themes of initiated bills, females prioritise social sciences and humanities, human rights and minorities, legislative procedures, health and education more than male deputies. By contrast, men prioritise bills in law and justice, international relations and trade, land protection, and agriculture, livestock, fishing and extraction more than female deputies.

Women also proportionally initiate and prioritise more bills on gender interests than men. When comparing the different bills on gender interests, females give highest priority on "domestic violence". Regarding the spending behaviours, the research revealed that women prioritise the spending in "courses, conferences and events" and "disclosure and advertisement of parliamentary activity" more than men. By contrast, men prioritise the spending in "boat rent" and "aircraft rent" more than women do. I conclude that these differences might be attributed to gender-role socialisation and sex-based selection during electoral process.

WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO NEXT?

On one hand, my research presented interesting findings on gendered behaviour and might contribute to closing certain research gaps in Brazil. On the other hand, the results raise several new questions and research reflections that I intend to continue addressing. For example, I intend to address what the outcomes of the factors that I have identified — different priorities in out-of-pocket expenses and in bills initiation — are. Simply put, I would like to assess whether these different behaviours are translated into more ability for women to undertake substantive representation. For example, I could assess whether the different behaviours lead to more policies towards women’s rights, or to more efficiency in the public budget allocation for policies. I could also study the relationship between women’s representation and women-friendly policy, in order to examine whether policies themselves influence women’s levels of representation. In this sense, a look at the electoral process and the sex-based selection could be particularly interesting in order to complement my research’s findings.
So, I hope I’ll keep answering why I am still a student at the age of 30+!

Interview initially published on the PRESAGE Programme website.

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