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Women In Politics- A Distant Reality?

World over, the struggle for women’s equality and political participation goes back several decades. Though minimally documented, women's political contribution globally has been immense. They have fought against all odds and stood against society despite being discriminated against, ostracized and silenced. With gender discrimination coming to light in all sectors over the last few years, change is happening. Unfortunately, progress is painfully slow in the field of politics. Women account for half the world’s population, yet, they make up less than a quarter of the membership in national legislatures globally.

Politics and Women

Gender discrimination has been a widespread issue since time immemorial. This gender discrimination has impacted women negatively in every existing profession, politics being no exception. There are several myths surrounding women's participation in the political sphere. These have created a strong bias that has passed down from generation to generation, creating a major hindrance in the path of progress. Gender norms and expectations have contributed to the drastic reduction in the pool of women contesting as candidates and potential members of Parliaments.

A few assumptions are along the lines of women not being confident or ambitious, women cannot handle business and politics, politics is not for women, they must remain homemakers, and so on. These baseless myths, which are a result of gender discrimination, have a direct impact on the low numbers expressing political involvement of women. Attitudes towards women candidates are guided by deeply ingrained stereotypes. Political opponents often use these stereotypes to question women’s capabilities.

Need for change

These assumptions hold no value as they have been refuted in various real life situations across the world. A survey conducted in Maharashtra in 2008 (Sathe et al. 2013) revealed that the availability of basic public services is better in female-headed villages. Another common assumption is that women are less effective in promoting economic growth, at least in the short to medium term. An IGC study, Bhalotra et al. (2018), provides evidence to the contrary. Data from 4,265 assembly constituencies in India between the period 1992-2012 was researched and they found that women legislators raise economic performance in their constituencies by about 1.8 percentage points per year more than male legislators. The researchers attribute this positive result to the fact that female leaders are less corrupt, more efficient, and more motivated than their males in similar positions.

The positive contribution women have to the field of politics is undeniable. Women's political participation generates substantial benefits, such as greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation and more sustainable peace. Women’s political participation has proven to deliver positive democratic results with regard to parliaments, political outfits and community enhancement. Women help democracy deliver effectively. Women tend to work in a more participatory and more cooperative manner than male colleagues as there is a psychological tendency within women to be more empathetic. Research has proven that women’s engagement in the transitional processes and post-conflict governments can “increase the legitimacy of nascent institutions, decrease government corruption, broaden the political agenda, promote consultative policymaking and encourage collaboration across ideological lines and social sectors.” An example to depict the same would be that the women’s peace groups in Uganda made use of conflict resolution training to reduce the prevalent violence in their communities.

USA- The land of opportunity for women?

The United States of America is often referred to as the land of opportunity. However, this statement does not hold true for the involvement of women in its political sphere. Stark comparisons are drawn between India and USA on various bases, but when it comes to women in politics, India has been in a better position. India has always supported women in politics even in times where the most developed nations shied away from the same.

Where every Indian citizen was given the right to vote, American women had to fight a long, drawn battle to receive that same right. The suffragette movement, aimed at the right of women to vote in national or local elections, triggered change. Female citizens of the USA were allowed to participate in elections only after the 19th Amendment passed in 1919 was ratified in 1920. The USA elected their first female Vice President Kamala Harris in 2020. They garnered global praise for the same. India elected their first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1966. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2021 ranks India 20th in terms of political empowerment whereas the United States of America is ranked way below at 66. While the USA has only recently begun to focus on political empowerment of women, Indian women have been involved in politics since much earlier. In 1992, the 73rd Constitutional Amendment dictated that one-third of village government head positions in the country should be reserved for women. The policy was introduced to increase the political representation of women at the grassroot level.

Where we stand

It is imperative to acknowledge progress and how various nations have taken positive steps to improve inclusivity at a political level. Women are being appointed at higher political levels. Their appointment has a positive impact as many of these women are bringing unique and fresh perspectives on the challenges that their countries face and are showing innovative and effective leadership. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern’s approach towards the outbreak of the pandemic is credited to be one of the most effective responses in the world. New Zealand, under the leadership of Jacinda Arden, became the first country to reopen safely when the majority of the world was still in the midst of the crisis. Iceland was the first country to elect a female head of state in 1980. Katrin Jakobsdottir, their current prime minister, is acclaimed as she revamped the country’s economy following the fallout of the 2008 economic collapse.

However, progress is slow paced and uneven. Women are still under-represented and excluded from decision-making processes involved in politics, businesses, and community work. The glass ceiling in politics is real and brutal. Data reveals that women are struggling to reach higher political positions worldwide. This is due to the long standing bias and stereotypes attached to women.

This leads us to one question, “Can the glass ceiling be broken?”

Globally, due to increased activism and awareness, countries have begun to recognise the important role women play in the political sphere. Women raising their voices, calling out the injustices meted out to them and standing up for what they want has proven to be a game changer in all fields of work. Despite the increased recognition of the problem, much is yet to be done to improve the situation.

Capacity-building and institutional support are required to improve the effectiveness of women's political participation policies. Nations must see political candidates as people based on their merit and experience and not their gender. Political empowerment is at some level both the highest hurdle and the most important one to overcome. In order to achieve global development goals and build strong democracies, women must be uplifted, assisted and empowered to become strong political and community leaders.

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