‘Pouting puppies’? Feminisation strategies and party leadership. A case study of Northern Ireland

Sophie Whiting, Neil Matthews

Research output: Working paper


Why and when do women become leaders of political parties? In answering this question much of the existing research focuses on the greater likelihood of women becoming party leaders due to the nature of party (minor party in opposition), context (high risk of failure) and timing (change and renewal). This paper explores these explanations in the context of post conflict Northern Ireland.

As an institution with a poor historical record of female political representation, Northern Ireland provides an important context in which to explore the incentives for female leadership. Despite the gender gap in terms of elected representatives, the trend is quite different when it comes to party leadership. This is particularly striking in the past few years where the two largest parties of the DUP and Sinn Fein have seen women take up the reins of party leadership. Using electoral and survey data this paper explores the following key questions; having been dominated by men across multiple level of the party, why have women risen to party leadership?; what are the interparty and intraparty incentives?; to what extent have these female party leaders challenged traditional gender roles?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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