Gender Equality In Politics
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Sociology|
|✅ Wordcount: 3158 words||✅ Published: 8th May 2017|
The initiation of women into influential politics has the potential to greatly benefit society. There are a number of theoretical reasons women would be doing the world a favour by entering into politics. Basic statistics demonstrate that equality would benefit the economy. In the West, the perception towards women is positive: they are mostly on equal ground with men regarding capabilities (Pew Research Center [PRC, 2008]. Moreover, because most female politicians have to juggle professional, private, and sometimes family lives, their resulting ability to multi-task should allow them better management skills and more sensible political priorities. Now, these theories regarding women's abilities and inclinations do have some factual basis. There are already successful females in high positions of power within government (e.g. Angela Merkel; Scandinavian Parliament). A survey carried out in India had results illustrating that where women were in charge, villagers were much better off (Beaman, 2007). Surprisingly, Southeast Asia is where the most women have reached the highest governmental positions (Fleschenberg, 2008). One can argue that, whether there is a positive or ineffectual upshot to women's involvement in politics, merely achieving equality and effectively rendering most prejudices null would be a tremendous benefit to society. However, while the women of the West have far more opportunity and are reluctant to take advantage of it, there are still the women of developing countries, where bias against women is still quite distinct (Beaman, 2007). In the meantime, there is the Middle East, where progress in gender equality is practically nonexistent (Akande, 2007). But "despite the emphasis given to creating equality for women, there are still very few females in high-level decision making positions." (McDermott, 2009). If gender inequality can be overcome, it can open the doorway to alleviating a significant amount of the dilemmas the world faces.
Opening the Doorway: Gender Equality in Politics
"If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost." Whether or not Aristotle meant to include females in his definition of persons, this quote of his basically supports the idea that there is no real equality until individuals of every possible variance are not only involved in government, but have the same say in proceedings.
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Equality is an abstract term; it has evaded human beings since the time we came into existence, and remains indomitably out of reach due to our own inherent prejudices. It is only very recently that real attempts have been successful in overcoming these imbalances in social order; but naturally, those at the top want to stay that way-and with their power comes the ability to maintain their position. Therefore, we still have a long way to go before humans can declare themselves a race of egalitarianism.
Gender inequality is probably the most prevalent form of discrimination, due to the fact that it exists, unfailingly-not only in all societies-but within the classes and castes within those societies (Jamal, 2009/2010). The 'superiority' of men has been a given through the ages, both through formal laws and unwritten, shared understandings (Jamal, 2009/2010). These days, women have come far along the road to equality, but-as modern feminists complain-women still have to work twice as hard to get half as far as men in their careers. There is no argument that, thanks to or despite this, women are underrepresented in many areas, most notably those of power. But politics, which has the most potential to influence culture and civilization, is the most notable area of all.
Whether or not women are better than men is not the question here-the question is, would gender equality in politics have a substantial effect on global affairs? And would this effect be favourable or detrimental? Because "gender is the key to the organization of product and reproduction, women are at the crossroads between economic growth and human development." (Jamal, 2009/2010, p. 5) The initiation of women into influential politics has the potential to greatly benefit society.
There are a number of theoretical reasons women would be doing the world a favour by entering into politics. According to Akande, women "are the world's most under-utilised resource; getting more of them into work is part of the solution to many economic woes, including shrinking populations and poverty." (2007, p. 10) Basic statistics even demonstrate that equality would benefit the economy- women put in 67% of the hours of work done on Earth, yet they earn 10% of salaries and possess 1% of all goods (Career Women's Forum, 2006). So women have already proven themselves diligent, and take up around 50% of a population-on this note, Akande reasons that their "lack of active participation" (2007) in all influential fields, including "the workforce, intellectual or academic spheres, or politics," basically deprives a country of valuable human resources. This applies more directly to developing countries where gender discrimination completely obstructs women's chances to achieve anything, let alone politics; however, it bolsters equality in general.
Perception is the basis of social context, and negative social context is woman's biggest obstacle towards achieving anything, let alone a career in politics. In the West, the universal perception towards female leaders is changing for the better. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals the proletarian opinion on why women are still underrepresented in politics: "gender discrimination, resistance to change, and a self-serving 'old boy's club'" (PRC, 2008). The public also believes that women are held back by the pressure of juggling family (which, as women, they are still meant to take care of) or personal life, and professional life; lack of the necessary skill is cited by few as a potential cause (PRC, 2008).
In the same survey, women were rated higher than men on the majority of traits considered important to leadership (e.g. honesty, intelligence, compassion) (PRC, 2008). Women are believed by the populace to be more inclined towards dealing with civic issues such as health care and education (PRC, 2008); men, however, are more disposed towards eradicating crime, public safety, defence, and national security (PRC, 2008). This has been backed up by actual studies, though they put men's priorities in a less favourable light: "Studies show that women are more likely to spend money on improving health, education, infrastructure and poverty and less likely to waste it on tanks and bombs." (Akande, 2007)
The results of the survey continued by rating women higher than men in other areas believed to be important for a leader: holding firm to their principles even in the face of political strain; in negotiation and compromise; in instilling honesty in the government; and relating to the general public (PRC, 2008). Despite all this, only 6% actually claim women make better political leaders than men, which would be the natural progression (PRC, 2008). However, 69% rate men and women as equal, so this is probably, essentially, an even bigger step towards equality than if the reverse imbalance was presented (PRC, 2008).
Even more theoretical reasoning can back up this claim: because most female politicians have to juggle professional, private, and sometimes family lives, their ability to multi-task is forcibly but finely honed (Career Women's Forum [CWF], 2006). This in turn allows them better management skills and more sensible political priorities.
Now, these theories regarding women's abilities and inclinations do have factual basis.
There are already successful females in high positions of power within government, such as Angela Merkel, Germany's first female Chancellor. Scandinavian countries, according to Career Women's Forum, are of the better-managed countries of the world, the "most imaginative and prosperous" (2008); the article goes on to correlate this fact with one stating their Parliaments are made up of 40% women, the highest percentage in the world.
A Millenial Survey was carried out by a non-governmental organization in India in the year 2000 (Beaman, Duflo, Pande & Topalova, 2007). It focused on subjective and objective measures of both the quantity and quality of five basic public services: drinking water and sanitation, health, education and child care, road transport and the public distribution system (Beaman, 2007). Though the survey was not undertaken for the express purpose of comparing male and female leadership performances, this-in accordance with the simultaneously subjective and objective nature of the survey-afforded the surveyors a lack of predetermined bias towards the results (Beaman, 2007).
The results illustrated that where women were in charge, there was a higher investment in clean drinking water, leading to the avoidance of water-borne diseases and overall improvement of health (Beaman, 2007). Also, children were more likely to be immunized, and where women were in charge the gender gap in schooling was less by almost 13%; women were also less likely to accept bribes (Beaman, 2007). Despite all this, villagers reported dissatisfaction with their female leaders; Beaman found this rational, though, due to the inherent bias of the society (2007).
Though the Nordic area can claim the highest percentage of women in Parliament, it is, surprisingly, Asia where the most women have reached the highest governmental positions (Fleschenberg, 2008). The first female Prime Minister in history was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, of Sri Lanka; she had power three times, beginning in 1960, and when she died in office in the year 2000, she was succeeded by her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga (Fleschenberg, 2008). Indira Gandhi, India, is possibly the most famous female politician, with the most influence and positive impact thanks to her campaign for progress in India-a recent BBC poll named her the greatest woman of the last 1,000 years (Fleschenberg, 2008). Aung San Suu Kyi is the accepted leader of democratic Burma despite her continuing house arrest (Fleschenberg, 2008). In Malaysia, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail freed her husband, Anwar Ibrahim, and has headed the parliamentary opposition party in Malaysia since the late 1990s (Fleschenberg, 2008). There are more notable names, from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines; though all of these cultures are undoubtedly "patriarchal" and "paternalistic" in political and ideological terms, women have achieved the position of prime minister or president in all of them (Fleschenberg, 2008).
These countries have little in common in terms of economic development, culture, religion, and political systems (Fleschenberg, 2008). The one defining commonality between these women involves their education: no different from influential politicians in general, but exceptional for their own locale, where often education cannot proceed past the secondary or tertiary level (Fleschenberg, 2008). In addition, many of them gained reputations and political experience against backdrops of "political turmoil and/or transition" (Fleschenberg, 2008, p. 33) as leaders of opposition movements, effectively classifying them as "transformational leaders," (Fleschenberg, 2008, p. 33) valuable to their country from day one.
As for their terms in office, analysis proves that none of these countries "deteriorated [. . .] as a direct consequence of female governance" (Fleschenberg, 2008, p. 5). In fact, any declines were caused by male-led interventions (Fleschenberg, 2008).
These leaderships are made even more interesting by the fact that these women came into power by proving themselves worthy, rather than just to promote equality, are recognized as capable, self-reliant leaders with no limits on their power due to their gender (Fleschenberg, 2008). On the other hand, their governments are still not gender balanced; Fleschenberg admits that they are the exception, and their rise to power should not be confused with increased women's participation in politics (2008).
One can argue that, whether there is a positive or ineffectual upshot to women's involvement in politics, merely achieving equality and effectively rendering most prejudices null would be a tremendous benefit to society. Women are generally fighting an uphill battle in this respect-or, at least, some of them are.
Interestingly, a report comparing the victory rates of male and female candidates yielded the result that "when women run for office, they win just as often as men do." (Bowman, 2008) Since this included mostly small-time political positions in already developed countries, it is not as provocative as it may appear; it basically only reveals that, at least in the West, there is less interest in politics. The surveyed women were not enthusiastic about running for office, or the process required, such as raising campaign cash or balancing familial responsibilities (Bowman, 2008). Still, Akande says, "Women are more likely to organize in other politics, such as social movements, and in non-governmental organizations." (2007, p. 16)
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So, while the women of the West have far more opportunity and are reluctant to take advantage of it, there are still the women of developing countries, where bias against women is still quite distinct (Beaman, 2007). Because women are generally assumed, not to lack leadership skills so much as have less than men-even those with similar personality traits-if a woman is fulfilling a normally male role, she will be judged more ruthlessly (Beaman, 2007). For example, a bad decision, or merely an unpopular one despite advantageous ends, would gain them a harsher level of criticism than if they were male (Beaman, 2007). This social backlash for "violating stereotypes" dissuades all but the most determined women; indeed, where the Western woman shuns politics for the stress it promises, or mere lack of interest (Bowman, 2008), a woman in a developing country shuns it to avoid the extra controversy that would top that stress (Beaman, 2007).
In the meantime, there is the Middle East, where progress in gender equality is practically nonexistent (Akande, 2007). Akande attributes this to the ongoing political upheaval, citing "the near civil-war situation in Iraq, the murky future of the Palestinians, Iran's nuclear ambitions, or the future of democracy in the region." (2007, p. 10) The female in the Middle East is generally far worse off than those of other developing countries, due to being in a society that is either "indifferent" (Akande, 2007, p. 17) to them, or "downright hostile." (Akande, 2007, p. 17). The principles of the predominant religion of Islam cannot directly take the blame for this (Akande, 2007), as women have gained political prominence in every Islamic country of South-eastern Asia apart from Brunei (Fleschenberg, 2008). However, the combination of religion and culture do play a big part in the viewpoints that support this maltreatment of women (Akande, 2007).
This goes not just for the Muslim women of the Arab world, but for other religions that
undermine the 'weaker sex', such as Sikhs, Hindus, and Native Americans (Akande, 2007). He stresses the Middle East, however, because the predicament of the region's women essentially has a direct effect on world affairs; he believes that much of the strife in the Middle East (i.e. "underdevelopment, domestic and regional instability [. . .], ethnic frictions" (Akande, 2007, p. 9)) could be mitigated, if not outright halted, if women had more of a voice in government (2007). If the results of the studies referenced by Akande earlier on, as well as the beliefs presented by the Pew Research Center survey are any indication, even a gradual move towards gender equality-in politics and otherwise-would be a big step towards eventual stability.
At any rate, gender equality is a worldwide goal, and there are measures in place meant to
promote women's involvement in Parliaments, etc (McDermott, 2009). In India, one third
of parliamentary seats are reserved for women (Atkins, 2008). Though some see these enactments as a step backwards merely because they appear as a chauvinistic inability to allow women a true sense of accomplishment (Atkins, 2008), there is a much more considerable reason they can be seen as such.
"Despite the emphasis given to creating equality for women, there are still very few females in high-level decision making positions." (McDermott, 2009) This even goes for the previously-praised Nordic countries where there is an almost-balanced level of genders within the government (McDermott, 2009). Still, when it comes to decision-making, the women have limited say. Gwaze points out that in Zimbabwe, women appointed to seemingly important positions only have real significance at voting time; otherwise, they are little more than puppets for the males with real power (2007). What we see now is a façade of equality that prevents women from making the change that they are capable of.
With all the previously described obstacles that women have to overcome, only for women to be rendered utterly inconsequential by males who continue to wield more power, it is no wonder that gender inequality prevails in government.
Successful female politicians often take pride in not only their achievements in public service, but the fact that they are positive role models for younger girls (Campbell & Wolbrecht, 2005). Males do not bother to see themselves as role models, "reflecting the fact that men and boys need little additional evidence that the halls of power are open to them." (Campbell, 2005)
The only way to change points-of-view on female politicians is for them to continue in this vein-it's a snowball effect. Women already proven the positive impact they are capable of; as more gradually get into politics and gradually become more successful at it, the window of politics as a career is opened to more and more women. And as these women prove their value within government proceedings, attitudes towards them will change for the better, the way they already are (Beaman, 2007).
Gender equality is not the biggest problem face by society, and it is not the only discrimination human beings must cope with. However, if this most profound and prevailing prejudice can be overcome, it can open the doorway to alleviating a significant amount of the dilemmas faced by the world.
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