Abstract: While women have increasingly gained access to the position of opposition leader, we still know very little about their pathways to that office. Therefore, this article seeks to uncover the dynamics and patterns that distinguish the ascendency of women politicians to the office of opposition leader from a comparative perspective. In this article, opposition leaders are understood as the parliamentary party group leaders of the largest non-governing party in a given legislative assembly, which marks the closest equivalent to the Westminster understanding of leaders of the opposition that continues to dominate international notions of opposition leaders and oppositional leadership in parliamentary democracies. We draw on data from opposition leaders in 28 parliamentary democracies between 1996–2020 to identify opportunity structures that allow women opposition leaders to emerge across countries. In addition, we test how factors on the individual level (e.g., previous experience in party and parliament as well as in government) and at the party level (e.g., ideology) affect the likelihood that a parliamentary opposition leader is a woman. Our analyses demonstrate that the share of women in parliament significantly increases the likelihood that at least one of the parliamentary opposition leaders of the past 25 years was a woman. Moreover, opposition leaders in leftist parties are more likely to be women than their more rightist counterparts. Surprisingly, and contrary to our expectations, previous political experience does not shape the probability of women becoming opposition leaders. Thus, overall, the institutional and ideological contexts of selecting parliamentary opposition leaders seem to matter more than the experience and qualifications of individual candidates.
Keywords: career paths; gender; opposition leaders; parliaments; parties; women leaders