Women in Politics. Equity Issues.

Introduction

“Prevailing cultural, social and economic conditions continue to act as a barrier to the great political participation of women, moreover there is a passive attitude by the electorate, and women lack the necessary financial resources to election campaign”

Ms Syada Greiss, Member of Parliament Egypt

Women have struggled for political rights for many years although there is no established legal barrier to voting and standing for election but it is fact that there are barriers and challenges as women persist in participation in politics.

The number of women all over the world in parliament is at the figure of 50% of the pool of those eligible to stand for election and hold political office but the proposition is not reflected in the composition of decision making bodies.

This year {2008}, less than 18% of all the legislators are the world are women. In the year 1997 women held less than 12% of parliamentary seats around the world. Thus at this rate it is obvious that the rate of party between man and women in parliament remains along way off.

Women’s Access to Parliament

In 1975, by the time the first conference on women was held in México City, women counted for nearly 7% of representative in unicameral or lower house of parliament world wide. By 1995 he proportion of women parliamentarians had actually decreased.

In three countries Finland, Grenada, and Norway, women held more than 50% of the parliamentary sits. In Europe and America there are 22 countries which women held 30% or more of the ministerial posts. The Nordic region and in the American progress has been mirroring the pattern of increased access by women to parliament in the past decade.

At the bottom of the scale, eight countries have less than 5% women representative in parliament and 13 countries have no woman at all in the cabinet positions. The numbers highlighted are as a result of decades of struggle for increase access by women to politics.

Although there has been some noticeable progresses politics has managed to remain in the hands of men and it is apparent that women still face barriers when it comes to the acquisition of sits in parliament. Thus increasing the number of women in decision making bodies is just the first step in ensuring that the political agenda is decided jointly by both men and women.

It is thus necessary to consider the barrier that parliamentarians consider to be in place for those attempting to gain a place in parliament and parliamentarian perspectives on how this might be overcome. Identifying the channel through which respondents enter parliaments and their motivation for going into politics provides a useful back drop.

Why Equity in Politics

Equality is not only in politics but all domains of social and political aspect. It can be about many different valued goods {health, education, income e.t.c.} it could be across individual or groups; it can be calculated in different measures, form and versions.

Below is a discussion of the importance of equity;

  • Political equality is a valued good; the ability to express one’s view is constructive is constructive of membership in the polity. It gives sense of selfhood, of agency, and belonging, thus there are some who denigrate the importance of voting, since voting rights and voting participation, when achieved does not bring with it the solution to all or even most problems.
  • Political equality builds community; a society is bound together by cooperative activities towards shared goals. This thus is how social capital is formed. Since this includes horizon connection, it implies the engagement of equals.
  • Political participation creates legitimacy; democracy depends on voluntary acquisition of government/ loyalty to law without constant police control, acceptance by the election outcome by the loosing party e.t.c.
  • Educative; people learn about democracy and their own needs and preferences through participation for all. Equality in political activities is valuable just as it is in the education sector.
  • Equality protection of interest; those who express political voices by voting, by speaking up or by many other ways are more likely to have government policies that pay attention to their needs and preferences. Thus political voices represent a general capacity to achieve many goals. Equality in such general capability is a basic form of equality.

Democracy calls for equal consideration of the needs and preferences of all citizens.

Why Not Equity

A political equality where all ordinary citizens have equal influence would be impossible to attain and probably very bad. In brief here are some of the reasons why that would be that case;

  • Achieving actual voice could be very difficult; this involves severe governmental intervention and require limitation of freedom. It is innocuous, perhaps but would go against the grand’s of many countries and not add much to political equality.
  • Citizen incapacity; the concern may relate to the incapacity of the citizenry to make an informed and wise judgement needed to guide policy. One consequence of an equal activity is that the better educated tend to be more active when there are unequal activities. If al were active they would be governed by the less well informed and the less well reasonable.
  • Equal political voice is inevitable equal weal voice; if each citizen was to have an equal voice, one vote, one small contribution it would give great power to governing officials who can dominate. An equal polity is a mass polity and not a democratic one.
  • Surrogates can speak for you; equal voice is not necessary because others can speak for you. It is never necessary for someone to be active so as to have their interests represented. Example children, the mentally ill are represented by others in the political arena.

What Is Participation

Political participation may be defined in many ways; this can involve a variety of acts, pursued more or less intensely and effectively, directed at arrange of government officials. Voting is the most common act and the most studied, but participation can also include working for a political candidate or cause, writing letters to officials, participating in community activity or giving time or giving money. These acts have income that they are meant in influencing the actions of governmental officials that the participation seek to influence may range from influencing who gets into office, to the creation of public policies, to the provision of special selected favours. If representatives of constituencies are to form their jobs i.e. representing the preferences of those constituencies they need information about.

Acts of political participation are crucial to this process since they convey information about the public and convey inducement that might motivate the recipient of the massage to response to those preferences and interest.

  • Equal rights to participate; this is the main democratic requirement. As far as the United States are concerned there are pretty much in place since the 19th amendment and the civil rights act.
  • Equal capacity; if an equal ability to influence governmental out put through one’s political activity is what we desire, then having the legal right to vote or to speak up or take pert in political campaigns or organisation need to be supplemented by the capacity to do so. This capacity involves the skills and the resources to do what one has to do. The extend of political equality means a deeply dependant upon equality in other domains that foster that capacity.
  • Equal voice; although one may have the rights and the resources to be active but for various reasons due to absence of opportunities and ignorance he may choose not to participate thus equal rights and equal capacity do not necessarily mean equal voice.
  • Equal output; the ultimate purpose or the main purpose to get the government to do something in one’s favour, whether that be a favourable policy, or a political favour
  • Equal outcome; the outputs do not always accomplish what they were intended to do. Thus full equality of treatment might be a set of policies, the result of which is to treat all citizens equal.

Deterence to Entering Politics

The decision to enter politics is influenced by arrange of factors and a number of deterrents are perceived by potential candidates. The deterrence may include;

  • Lack of support from the electorate
  • Lack of financial resources
  • Lack of support from political parties and a lack of experience of representative functions e.g. public speaking and constituency relations.

Domestic responsibilities are the most deterrence among women who find it hard to balance their family lives with political responsibilities and thus embark on a political career at a later stage in their lives.

A female politician in Greece stated;

Women are obliged to start their activities from a different point than men; they arrive at a starting point exhausted, because of other activities such as family responsibility”

Another deterrence was lack of support from the family and lack of support from the society, an overwhelming challenge is the prominence of patriarchal and hierarchical norms that see women’s greatest social contribution being made within the domestic sphere. These norms infiltrate politics where women are not generally viewed as being legitimate political players and potential or capable leaders.

This in turn reinforces the idea that politics should remain in the hands of men. A woman parliamentary in Uganda stated;

Deeply rooted cultural attitudes regarding the role of women leave them totally underpowered socially and economically and thus politically.”

Facilitating Women’s Access to Parliament

Socio cultural context are among the main causes of the under representation of women in political decisions making. These are demonstrated in the argument that women are ‘ not suited’ to decision making and gender roles that define what men and women can do, thus excluding women from decision making. Men have often had a dominant role in society and therefore in politics, and women banished to the domestic sphere which limits them to their reproductive role.

A female politician from Burkina Faso explained this as;

The fact of being a woman is already an impediment in itself in addition the lack of self esteem and socio cultural pressure, especially the patriarchal system. In their home their calling is to get married someday and to leave their home in their husband’s home they are considered to be from somewhere else. Women are not viewed as leaders”

In order to begin to address the cultural bias against women, we must promote sensitization, education and public awareness raising programmes. There is need to change the public perception about the role of women in society and this can only happen if sensitization campaigns and civic education are required. The general population need to be convinced that women make effective legislators just like men.

Constrain On Acting for Women

The fact that women tend to priorities different area from men does not automatically mean that women are able to transform the content of politics. Different constrain come into play on the one hand, it may be that no all women act on behalf of women or feel that they have the responsibility to act for the rights of women. On the other hand it may also be that there are not enough women in parliament the assumption being that the more women they are the more likely that the interest of women will be addressed. Additional impediment may relate to the question of ideology and party loyalty or institutional constrain and the gender norms that operate in parliament. Thus the role of women parliamentarians need to be considered alongside other actors such as the national gender machinery, the women movement and the women group in civil society and allies in government.

Financial Constraints

The high cost of election campaigns is one of the other constrains of women in politics. This can be done away by limiting or capping campaign expenditure and implementing funding mechanism to support women candidacies. Grants and loans can also be provided to assist women with prohibitive campaign costs, and a portion of funding allocated to political parties could be earmarked for capacity building programme for women.

Electoral System and Political Parties

Institutional factors have been noted to be an inhabitant to women’s access to politics such as electoral and party systems have an important influence on women’s chances of election. Women have been elected in greater numbers in systems of proportional representation than in constituency based systems.

The proportionate system tends to elect more women because they allow parties to nominate a list of candidates rather than individual candidate as is the case in majority popularity systems. Moreover proportionate system provides greater opportunity for increasing women’s representation by introducing specific measures. Na example is that a political party can introduce a provision that a certain proportion of candidates on the party election list should be women. Thus there is a greater likelihood that women will be elected under proportionate system.

Political parties determine the ranking orders of candidates on the electoral ballots. Where candidates are positioned on party lists is therefore a key factor in gaining access to parliament.

Changing Face of Politics

Women in parliament are not only having an impact on legislation but the influence extends beyond their immediate action and in encouraging in the priorities of policies of national legislators, including their male colleagues. Women are likely to approach politics differently reason being;

  • Women’s motivation for entering politics is normally different from that of men. Most of them enter to their motivation to contribute towards social work as opposed to the more ‘conventional’ path of party politics often embraced by men. This reflects a well established tendency among women to engage in civic society as a way of promoting projects that support house hold survival and to focus their energies at the local level.
  • Women are often exposed to different patterns of socialisation and have a different life experience than men. They are likely to bring their experience and expertises to bear on their political decisions.
  • Women are more likely to see themselves as representatives of women, they feel a special responsibility to represent other women and consider themselves more able of echoing their interest.

Myths About Women in Politics

Myths about women in politics both negative and positive abound. such myth rely on an realistic assumptions about women and politics, they can easily perpetuate stereotype and discrimination. Example of such myths includes;

  1. Every woman will make a difference for women ad children; just because a legislator is a woman it does not necessarily mean that she will promote legislations that advance the interest of women and children. Women in politics are individuals just like men are who can fall anywhere on a wide perspective of personality and ideology. Women legislators are accountable to constituencies that represent a wide variety background and interest, and may often find themselves divided by ideologies. Further they are members of political parties and have to follow party disciplines at the expense at their own policies and preferences. It is undeniable that women politically are likely than their male counterparts to use their political leverages to effect changes in support of children, women and families.
  2. The second myth is that women do not qualify for the ‘hard’ positions or jobs; they have been seen as having the inability to take up such jobs which include the ministries of defence and those of finance. While almost a third of the ministries in the area of family, children, youth, and social affairs or women affairs and education fell on women, very few women were in the ministry of defence.

Rwanda Women Setting the Agenda

In 2003, Rwanda’s lower house of parliament elected 48.8% women to represent them in parliament, pushing it to the top of the world ranking in term of women in national building. Rwanda thus offered an opportunity to examine a parliament where women have not only reached but actually succeeded the standard definition of critical mass. This women’s subsequent success in shaping the parliamentary agenda is due to their large numbers as the presence of an activist women caucus, and the highly conceptive model of policy making that they have developed.

The women’s agenda in Rwanda parliament is coordinated by a cross party caucus, which has worked to revise existing discriminatory laws and pushed for the inclusion of agenda perspective in new laws as they acme into force.

In 2005, the forum for women parliamentarians’ strategic plan was adopted which outlined 5 years strategic plan to guide its activities and achieve its goal to developing laws, policies and practises that ensure equality between men and women.

The most example of women parliamentarians’ legislative leadership Is the development of a bill to combat gender based violence introduced in parliament in 2006. for the first time it defines rape in Rwandan law and it is the only piece of legislation introduces in parliament since the 2003 elections. In all other cases the executive branch has drafted bills and set the legislative agenda. The process introduced by the women parliamentarians to draft and introduce this piece of legislation was purely participatory. It involved extensive public consultation and collaboration with the civic society over a period of two years.

The leadership style adopted by the Rwanda women is distinguished by the close relationship they have with the civic society organisations. Before entering into parliament a number of women parliamentarians were themselves prominent members of the civic societies.

Women Parlimentary in Cambodia

In Cambodia because of the number of women in leadership position has not reached a certain level, women have in turn failed to make an impact on the society from the political perspective. Although economically and socially they have their roles merged and their influences felt. For example their role on the economy has resulted to the economic growth for the last ten years. Unfortunately it has not been reflected in the political arena.

Women have different priorities because they are different hence they see things differently and they imagine solutions that are different. The problem is that women represent such a minority in parliament that it is difficult for them to express an opinion which they know is not going to get enough supported to be adopted or acted upon. In terms of legislation they have worked to domestic violence. They look up to parliament six to seven years to have the draft law on domestic violence finally adopted.

Because of the practise of party disciplines, and off course the party leadership is male dominated it is difficult for women to go back to their respective parties and try to get encouragement or support for their male leadership. Most of the time they do not get that support.

Women and the Drafur Peace Agreement

In 2005, a gender expert support tram ,composed a group of 20 women member supported by the government of Canada, Norway, Sweden and the united nation development fund for women. The team gathered women from a variety of tribal and ethnical background if durfur to create a unified platform of women’s priorities and gender issues. The outcome was contained in a document called “women’s priority in the peace processes and reconstruction in darruf”, and it contained a number of key provisions related to women and children including;

  • Specific protection of children and women in conflict situations
  • Priority treatment of children and women in assessment related to compensation/ reparation for damages and destruction caused by the war.
  • An appeal to the government to pay particular attention to the education of women and children as a mean of ensuring security.
  • Provision of secondary education in camps of refugees and internally displaced persons
  • A call on the international community to focus on the education need of the refugee girls
  • The creation of an institution to provide legal support, psychological counselling and other relevant services to women and children.

Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is a policy that puts gender equality issues at the centre of broad policy decisions, institutional structure and resource allocation. It also views the priorities of women in the decision making structure. Committee work offer is an important opportunity for gender mainstreaming issues in the work of parliament, not only in developing legislations but also in but also in term of oversight of government action.

Many women parliamentarian walk through committees to voice issues and concerns thus raise the profit of gender issues. The low level of representation of women in the world’s parliament continues to hamper gender mainstreaming efforts. It makes it difficult for them to participate in all parliamentary and committees, and they tend to be concentrated in committees dealing with social issues, health, the family and education.

Mainstreaming Gender in the Australian Government

In politics several things have to be considered in developing gender and equality.

Example is consciousness rising with men as well as with women is very important. Very often women do not realise what constitutes discrimination. This is especially true of hidden discrimination which is not felt or at least not immediately, second is legislation and legal measures help to promote women and eliminate or punish discrimination. Lastly is the support of various organisations that support women’s needs.

One most important thing is to have a fair share in family work, for as long as mothers still have 80% family work load, managing the house hold they will never have enough time to engage in politics.

The best way to work for equality is to ensure gender mainstreaming throughout all structures, such as committees where the outcome of men and women of every law were debating should be examined.

Bucking is also important especially if a party is the governing party and you need the parliamentary group to reaffirm laws and good opinions. Forming process is needed together with the support of parliamentary groups. Party leaders also have responsibility to promote equality between men and women, especially in terms of numbers in their parliamentary groups. The Australian parliament has a lot of men who work as partners.

Gender Streaming In Swiden

When adopting a position on political proposal, the consequence of both men and women are taken into consideration. The aim of taking into consideration the condition for both man and women in connection with various proposals is to achieve a practical political out come that promotes women’s concern and men’s equal opportunities and put rights to both injustices. Although gender equality analysis sometimes makes it possible to see that certain measures are necessary to enable women to achieve the same objectives.

The Sweden parliamementary model where each committee is responsible for specific policies has a number of advantages and disadvantages in its self;

Disadvantages include;

  • The gender equality perspective is forgotten when a large number of proposal has to be considered
  • Gender equality is weighed against other priority areas such as immigration, elderly and children.

Advantages include;

  • Decisions are taken where the power and money are which means that it is easier to make and implement them.
  • Issues are not considered in any particular orders
  • All parliamentarian committee are obliged to take account of how their proposal will affect women as well as men.

Summary

The involvement of women in setting political priorities deliver a stronger and more representative democracy and result in better out come for citizens. Women parliamentarians have made great strides in shaping different legislative agendas in their countries. The effort of women has resulted to more policies that are of benefit to them and the communities in which they stand for. Women have raised concerns in debating chambers proposed and supported bills, prompting the parliaments to take great concerns of women into account in policy development and law enforcement.

Efforts to combat gender based violence are yielding results on the legislative front all over the world and in parliament and working towards to combat this scourge which is an epidemic in the society.

Women have been the key actors in placing these issues on the legislative agenda. The role has however not fallen exclusively to women since the men have also slowly begun to take up these issues too. Thus the effort of women with the help of the male counterparts in some issues has paid dividends.

In some instances women who want to act on behalf of other women face constraints in their work, sometimes they do not have the support of their female parliamentarians, while at other times the gender based policy they advocate for are at odds with the policies of the political parties with which they represent.

Numbers do matter; however as women increase presence in parliament can facilitate the articulation of women concerns and alter the gender dynamics. An increasing number however can result in women’s sponsoring the bills, working in committee or amending laws that transform and benefit communities and the society.

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