But first, why is representation in politics so crucial? "There are several good arguments for it," says Runderkamp. "Firstly, the visibility of politics. Representation of all layers of the population provides role models, encouraging a more diverse range of people to see politics as a possible career path." Perhaps even more important is the expectation that politicians who resemble us will make decisions similar to what we would decide ourselves. For minorities, political representation is therefore especially significant.
Compared to other European countries, the representation of women in Dutch politics is not doing very well. "There is progress, but sometimes we also see setbacks," says Runderkamp. Female politicians, for example, are more likely to drop out than their male counterparts, especially in local politics. A role in local politics is often not only combined with private life, but also with a job. "And it is still the case that women in The Netherlands have more caregiving responsibilities. We need to consider who can afford to be politically active. This is a problem when it comes to representation. What does it mean if these women are not in politics? Who makes the decisions?"
The barrier for women to become politically active, increases with the rise of online hate, particularly targeting female politicians, Runderkamp explains. "How do women respond to this increase? Do they withdraw? Do they approach politics differently? That is a significant problem." Runderkamp is currently researching whether young women with political ambitions are deterred when they see what female politicians have to deal with. "Observing this also has negative consequences for democracy. It is actually the number one concern we should have about women in politics."
Representation of people with a migration background is slightly better, Runderkamp notes. "Especially at the national level, they are relatively well represented, but there is still work to be done at other levels." The inclusion of different population groups in national politics raises historical questions about the traditional makeup of politics. "In recent years, we have seen significant milestones, such as the first transgender member of parliament and the election of Sylvana Simons. But most politicians are predominantly male and white." On the bright side, the Dutch system is quite effective in representing the voice of minorities, Runderkamp explains. "We do not have a massive electoral threshold to enter the House of Representatives, making it possible to represent specific interests and make an impact, even with just one seat."
Zahra Runderkamp is a PhD researcher in political science at the University of Amsterdam. Her work focuses on the representation of women and ethnic minorities in politics and their representation in Dutch media. As part of her dissertation, Zahra is currently working on the project "Barriers and opportunities: towards equal representation of people with a migration background in The Netherlands." The dissertation is supervised by Dr. Liza Mügge, Prof. Dr. Tom van der Meer, and Dr. Daphne van der Pas.