Defending the Realm: The Appointment of Female Defense Ministers Worldwide

Tiffany D. Barnes, Diana Z. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Though the defense ministry has been a bastion of male power, a growing number of states have appointed women to this portfolio. What explains men's dominance over these positions? Which factors predict women's appointments? With comprehensive cross-national data from the post–Cold War era, we develop and test three sets of hypotheses concerning women's access to the defense ministry. We show that women remain excluded when the portfolio's remit reinforces traditional beliefs about the masculinity of the position, particularly in states that are engaged in fatal disputes, governed by military dictators, and large military spenders. By contrast, female defense ministers emerge when expectations about women's role in politics have changed—that is, in states with female chief executives and parliamentarians. Women are also first appointed to the post when its meaning diverges from traditional conceptions of the portfolio, particularly in countries concerned with peacekeeping and in former military states with left-wing governments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-368
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2018, Midwest Political Science Association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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