Gender within the realm of politics is a leading topic of discussion, as the need for female political participation has not only been identified but is being stressed upon at a global scale. Traditional beliefs excluding female participation are being globally contested and opposed with the emergence of various strong female voices. The political sector, formerly associated with male leadership and domination, has grown to become an open platform for the entire public – including women. In the past, women were never “allowed” or “needed” in politics. With a newfound emphasis on accurately representing the concerns of women, society is trudging towards revolutionising the political sphere to be inclusive regardless of gender.
The polarisation of gender roles restricting female participation in a state to domestic duties, not only fuels inequality, but greatly hinders the overall development of the country, pushing women further away from gaining equal status. Additionally, women’s rights becomes a topic left on the back burner, with no female perspective being provided. As feminist movements calling for change continue to gain momentum across the world, the preconceived notions that suggest limited knowledge and time among women have been contested, on the path to being proven false.
Striking a balance between domestic duties and political participation is considered key in redefining the participation of women. Although it is imperative to note the need for a woman to prove herself in all aspects of life before being publicly accepted, female leaders across the world have left no stone unturned in making their voices heard. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, is known as one of the most citizen-oriented leaders in the modern world. She has broken numerous stereotypes, previously pushing her to the sidelines of mainstream politics on an international level. Not only has the economy in New Zealand seen a significant rise but the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has also set a benchmark for other countries as New Zealanders are seen returning to normalcy.
The “balance” however came when Ardern became the third female prime minister of the country, and second to give birth during her time in office, while attending to not just her new motherly duties, but to the people of an entire nation. Although unfortunate because every individual, regardless of gender, must strive to achieve this balance, the same is never expected of men to ‘prove’. Like women around the world, the Prime Minister had to prove that she could strike an effective balance between her work and personal life. Ardern is rightfully given credit for her skills, compassion and leadership, making New Zealand one of the leading economies and most progressive societies in the world, serving as a role model for young girls and women internationally.
Superstitious religious beliefs have also proven to be a leading cause, hindering the involvement and participation of women in politics. It is not uncommon for theocratic states dominated by religion, to integrate traditional and religious beliefs into policies of female participation. By assuming a hierarchical approach and imposing a domestic role onto women, not only has there been a significant hindrance in the number of women able to participate in politics, but any attempts to overcome such policies have further been dismissed.
States such as Turkey, having recently withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention. This not only highlights the state’s willingness to compromise female security but further overlook the perspective of the protesting women, claiming it to be a violation of traditional practices and beliefs. Though this remains the choice of the Head of State, it showcases the extent to which religion and traditional beliefs continue to play an integral role in deciphering the political involvement of women.
There is no doubt that women have repeatedly proven their capabilities by gracefully balancing their time and entire governments, however, the question behind this necessity to prove themselves remains unanswered. It is a commonly seen stereotype that women are expected to prove their capabilities in leading “two lives” while male politicians automatically assume a singular role when questioned about familial or domestic responsibilities. Seeing that women have been limited to domestic roles throughout history, the cultural shift in mindset poses a great challenge all the way to the current day. Overcoming this barrier of limited time, an influx of women in the political sector has further proven to be an inspiration to many. With leaders such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becoming one of the youngest congressional lawmakers of colour in the United States, not only has the amount of representation of different ethnicities been enhanced, but a path towards a more accepting society has been created.
Although considered a loud and powerful voice in the US, Ocasio-Cortez has become a leading icon for young women and people of colour, highlighting the importance of political participation regardless of the amount of political experience one possesses. Often found advocating for the rights and fair treatment of the middle and lower classes, AOC has brought to light the increasing wealth gap in American society, designed to solely benefit the rich. Her contributions to bring all forms of equality to the United States have become a trademark approach as she gains support and a following at a global scale.
Her introduction of the Green New Deal clearly highlighted her approach to ensuring the provision of affordable and good quality housing and employment for all citizens and developing an ambitious and progressive resolution to climate change. Keeping in mind the inequality in wages and socio-economic classes, this measure ensured stability for the public, putting aside all forms of bias or prejudice. It further serves as a counter to the worsening effects of climate change, aiming to drastically reduce greenhouse emissions, introduce environmentally and economically sustainable jobs, and shift to a more human and environment centric approach to development.
Greatly supported by the people and many Congressional leaders and politicians, Ocasio-Cortez is credited for devising what is termed as a “revolutionary” plan, to not only combat the global challenge of climate change but support and sustain the growth and development of the United States. Applauded for her efforts, AOC serves as an inspiration for women to continue to make strides in the political sector and make their voices heard.
The experience and knowledge of male representatives are never questioned, allowing for their seamless rise to power. The same process, although open for all citizens in most democratic nations, is far more lengthy and taxing should a woman choose to lead. It was evident during the 2016 US presidential elections. The Trump campaign was not even half as scrutinized as the Clinton campaign, as the public continued to question her capabilities, basing assumptions off of her education, experience and worse, on her husband. While discussing the success and great strides made in bringing gender equality to politics, one must not overlook the systemic, patriarchal mindset which often leads even the most progressive of citizens to overlook and undermine the participation of women in government.
In Germany, Angela Merkel has been a role model for female leaders across the world by maintaining peace and sustaining economic growth. Credited for her empathetic approach to governance, she is often found to be the first to step up in a crisis and offer aid and support to whoever needs it. One of the only leaders to not restrict the entry of refugees during the 2015 migration crisis, she provided millions with shelter, asylum and ensured access to a basic standard of living.
Despite the successes of a leader of this kind, the upcoming election for Chancellorship has caused a stir among the people as the only female candidate, Annalena Baerbock, has not only been questioned and criticised but repeatedly been compared to her male counterparts, either for lack of experience or simply, her gender. Despite her degree in public and international law, the focus remains on her lack of political experience, resulting in even her opponents dismissing and undermining her ability.
The intent behind highlighting these challenges is not to undermine the progress made, but to emphasise the amount of work still to be done. The increase in the political participation of women has certainly been record breaking as women continue to rise and come to the forefront of world politics. Women have proven to bring a multifaceted skill set to the political sector; aiding development, propagating inclusion and working to build a more interconnected and cooperative world.
Germany, New Zealand and the US are a few examples of countries that proactively work toward female participation and gender equality, providing women with equal opportunity to change the world. This alone however, is not enough. With half the world’s population being female, current statistics from studies conducted by UN Women, highlight that only 23% of seats in parliaments and senates around the world are held by women. The Protocol for Gender and Development from 2008, highlighted a goal for at least 50% participation, which is yet to be met.
Female political participation is a discussion that has been ongoing for years. Throughout history, the political participation of women has been limited, with no access to basic democratic rights such as voting, albeit their involvement was limited to more than just voting. Running for office was never an accepted position for a woman to take on. Not only were women discouraged from getting an education in various parts of the world, they were unable to have, let alone voice their opinion. Movements such as the Suffragettes in the early 20th century, ignited fires of change through advocating for policies uplifting women. A women’s social and political union was the first significant wave of female political participation. Campaigns that began in London took on various different forms around the world, bringing female political participation to the forefront of governments across the world, fighting for their right to vote.
International organisations have further aided this participation growth by ensuring the development of various different campaigns and policies for countries to implement. The UN Women in Action was a campaign aimed at bringing rural women to the forefront of politics. Often sidelined because of cultural and economic barriers, women in Timor-Leste, a country in Southeast Asia, brought groundbreaking changes in leadership by building a foundation for women to not only enhance their political knowledge but actively participate in nation-building. Initiating a pre-electoral training for over 1,200 women from 13 districts, enabled them to gain a better understanding of the concepts of leadership, politics and communities. This further pushed for more active and front line female participation in the 2007 Presidential election. Programmes such as the Women in Action campaign have propelled women to engage in political activities in their respective states, further proving to be a milestone for female participation in politics.
Our world functions on strong leadership giving hope to the people. Women have not only begun entering politics but have come to the forefront of global change-making and serve as role models for millions of girls around the world, truly changing the face of ‘traditional’ politics by adapting to the rapidly changing world with dignity and grace. By following a more progressive, peaceful and public oriented approach, women continue to change the face of politics to better support the rapidly changing world we live in.
Written by Veda Rodewald
Edited by Adi Roy and Eshal Zahur
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