Women Defense Ministers as Leaders, Policy-Makers, and Symbols


Thursday, October 1, 2020, 12:00pm to 12:45pm


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Diana Z. O'Brien | Albert Thomas Associate Professor of Political Science, Rice University

Though the defense ministry has been a bastion of male power, a growing number of states have appointed women to this portfolio. In this talk, we begin by briefly showing that women first access the defense ministry when the portfolio's focus expands beyond traditionally masculine policy arenas (such as war) to emphasize issues like peacekeeping and human rights. We then show that men and women ministers' policy priorities are largely explained by the conditions that bring women into (or keep them out of) office, rather than innate gender differences. Women’s presence is, however, linked to gender-equality policy. Finally, we briefly discuss whether and how the appointment of women ministers affects citizens’ beliefs about the defense ministry. 

Diana Z. O'Brien studies the causes and consequences of women's political representation in established democracies and across the globe. Her research examines gender and political parties, executive branch politics, citizens' responses to women's presence in politics, and research methods. She has published articles on these topics in journals including the American Political Science ReviewAmerican Journal of Political ScienceJournal of PoliticsPolitics & Gender, and Comparative Politics. News coverage of her work has appeared in The Washington PostThe Los Angeles TimesThe GuardianNewsweekMSNBC, and multiple international outlets.