POLI 550 : Courses : Athabasca University


Political Science (POLI) 550

Women, Equality and Representation (Revision 2)

Delivery Mode:Grouped study.


Precluded Course:POLI 550 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for Athabasca University's POLI 350.

Centre:Master of Arts Integrated Studies

Program: Master of Arts Integrated Studies

**Note:Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


Political Science 550: Women, Equality, Representation is designed to introduce you to key concepts in feminist thought and central currents in feminist history and examine representation of women in mass media and electoral politics.

Women were once excluded from formal institutions of political power because of their sex and now, decades after winning the right to vote and stand for political office, women remain significantly under-represented in elected parliaments and legislatures. Representation in electoral politics provides a rough measure of women's political equality. On the surface, demands for "gender parity", "equality" or "fair representation" are straightforward and their achievement easily measured - - for instance, political equality will be realized when women win 50 per cent of the seats in the institutions of democratic government, constitute roughly half of the management ranks of the civil service and are appointed on par with men to the bench, the Senate, and so on. But beyond simple measures of gender parity in electoral representation lie complex questions, questions which reflect the organizing concepts and the key themes of the course, equality and representation.

What does equality for women mean in theory and practice? For example, even if women constitute half of the elected officials, some women, including racialized minorities, lesbian, immigrant, poor women and women living with disabilities, may not see themselves reflected among the office holders. Can we say women are "equal" when some are adequately represented, but not others? Furthermore, what does equality for women require; being treated the same way as men, or recognition of women's different experiences and needs? The concept of representation is similarly multi-faceted. Does electing women to half of the seats in legislatures mean that women's interests will be put forward, their political claims carefully considered, and their policy needs met? What are women's interests? When women's interests are diverse, as they invariably are, how can this diversity be appropriately represented? Can women's ideas and goals be advanced by men, or is equality only achieved when women represent themselves?

The course begins with a discussion of key concepts in feminist thought and central currents in feminist theory, with the first section introducing the concept of gender and offering feminist explanations for women's historic and on-going inequality. The second part of the course features feminist theorizing about gender, women's diversity, political equality and representation. This theoretical material serves as the framework for the third part of the course, which examines representation of women in mass media and electoral politics and covers the following themes/topics:

  • explanations for women's under-representation in political life and reasons for women's recent increased success in electoral politics
  • the nature and impact of women's political representation
  • the role of mass media in advancing or obstructing women's equality and political representation
  • the question of whether or not women make a difference for women once in elected office
  • strategies for promoting gender equality and fair political representation

Course Objectives

This course invites you to explore the meaning and practice of women's equality and representation. It begins with the concepts that explain women's historic and continued inequality and political under-representation; gender, patriarchy and the public-private divide. The second part of the course offers feminist theoretical insights into equality and representation. The third section allows students to apply theory to practice by examining the representation of women in electoral politics and representations of women by mass media. POLI 550 is interdisciplinary in content and approach, employing feminist theory and political theory, and introducing aspects of women's studies, cultural studies and political science.

By the end of the course students will be able to

  • summarize and apply feminist theories exploring the concepts of gender, political equality and representation.
  • demonstrate critical thinking about what political equality and representation for women mean both in theory and practice.
  • explain the reasons for women's historic and on-going inequality in social and political life.
  • assess empirical and qualitative measures of gender equality and gender-based political representation.
  • apply relevant conceptual frameworks to observations of media portrayals of women politicians.
  • evaluate, on the basis of their understandings of gender equality and effective representation, strategies for action and change.

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Integrated Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Course Activity Weighting
Conference Participation 20%
Reflective Paper 15%
Analytical Paper 15%
Applied Assignment 15%
Final Integrative Paper 35%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The course materials for POLI 550: Women, Equality, Representation include the items listed below. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll-free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the Learning Centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send e-mail to cmat@athabascau.ca, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


  • Squires, Judith. The New Politics of Gender Equality. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007


  • Henderson, Anne, and Bonnie Sherr Klein, dir. The Right Candidate for Rosedale. Produced by Margaret Pettigrew and Bonnie Sherr Klein. Toronto: National Film Board of Canada, 1979. http://www.onf-nfb.gc.ca/eng/collection/film/?id=12815#nav-generique
  • Ralston, Meredith, dir. Why Women Run. Produced by Kent Martin and Michael Mahoney. Montreal: National Film Board of Canada, 1999.
  • Mahoney, Michael, and Meredith Ralston, dir. Wendy Lill: Playwright in Parliament. Produced by Michael Mahoney and Meredith Ralston (Ralston Productions), Kent Martin (NFB). Montreal: Ralston Productions and the National Film Board of Canada, 1999.
  • Jones, Micheal, dir. Kim Campbell Through the Looking Glass. Produced by Silva Basmajian, written by Bill Cameron. Montreal: National Film Board of Canada, 2000.

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page: You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.

Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools: http://library.athabascau.ca.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, January 1, 2011.

Last updated by MAIS; 09/06/2013 14:11:22