Politics, at times, is too technical and foreign a word for the layman to comprehend. Aside all the intricacy and layers in politics, it simply means the art of leadership. Politicians are leaders of the country aka the government. Therefore, these leaders must of course represent the people (at least in our modern world) to meet their needs effectively.
Where We Stand Today
Let's first look at some statistics of the developed countries to have a better idea of the sex ratio in the single or lower chambers of parliaments in 2007.
|Male (%)||Female (%)|
|United States of America||84||16|
Note: Figures are taken from United Nations Statistics Division.
The highest female representation ratio we have is a 47% female representation in Sweden. However, most of the developed countries have low representations of women; with Japan having the lowest figure of 9% women representation for a developed country. Even though some of the countries such as United Kingdom have women representation rising, the severe under-representation in developed countries still fall short for a government to have a well-balanced representation of the people. These figures only include the single or lower chambers of parliaments. Women filling up high cabinet or senior positions are much less in numbers. Interestingly, a developing country - Rwanda has the most balanced men and women ratio with 51% men and 49% women representation for the last three consecutive years.
Half the human race is made up of females. But in today's politics, we still see a weak representation of women in the political arena and legislative boards. Having more women in the country's decision-making process provides women's perspectives, optimising policy-makings and implementations. It certainly ensures that the interests of both sexes are better taken care of as well. Having just one more Margaret Thatcher, Aung San Suu Kyi or a new German chancellor is not enough. The struggle here is definitely to increase the overall number of female participants in politics to have a good representation of both sexes in the country's decision-making process.
Many international organisations and local organisations have called for a good balance in political participation of both men and women. These organisations range from the United Nations to the Council of Europe, The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) to women activist groups such as Socialist International Women. In fact, many governments set quotas for the percentage of men and women representatives in their parliaments. Even though a substantial amount of international and national efforts have been pumped in to lessen the disparity, a lot more can be done to increase the 18% figure of female representation in politics at national level globally to a healthy level. Certainly, the quality of female representation is as important as the numbers.
Also, participation in politics should not only come from the politicians, policy-makers and academics themselves. Voters and the average citizens should all participate actively in politics to exercise their democratic rights. The voter turnout is more balanced as compared to the gender ratio in the political arena. Here are the statistics for voter turnout by both men and women:
|Year||Men (%)||Women (%)|
Note: Figures are taken from The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).
From the above statistics, we can conclude that we have a good representation of both men and women voters. Even for developing countries like India, the figures are still acceptable as the difference between the both sexes is less than 10%.
Therefore, the problem which we are facing now is a reluctance of women to enter politics. So, what are the factors holding women back?
Obstacles Which Female Politicians Face Today
The unwillingness can probably stem from a few reasons.
Firstly, one reason could boil down to the women's traditional duty of motherhood. Most are unwilling to balance motherhood and their political careers. Even though we see growing numbers of working mothers, most women still prioritise motherhood before their work. When women are considering between their families and demanding political careers, most would pick the former. Men do not have this extra priority of tending to the children. Even though we see more men are becoming family-oriented and increasingly, expected to share this family burden, taking care of the family is still a "woman's thing" .
Also, another obstacle which female politicians face is the judgment of their appearances. Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln once mentioned, "If you've got a run in your panty hose, you know, no one's gonna take you seriously about the answers that you have to these questions. Well does a man have that problem -- no…Now as a woman you realize that if you don't have on lipstick, there's gonna be a big issue".
Politics is still viewed as a masculine field by the average person. Many are not confident enough for women to handle bigger issues such as national security and foreign policies. This is not to blame on the men for being sexist because even the women are not confident of their fellow sisters. The fact is that voters view men as politicians but still perceive women as women. Let's look at our running political candidate, Hillary Clinton as an example.
In July 2007, CBS News/New York Times polled Americans on Hillary Clinton. Among registered voters, 35% women and 30% men felt that they would less likely to vote for Hillary because she is a woman. 56% women and 43% men felt that society has not changed enought to allow women to compete with men on an even basis.
Certainly, these figures are not representative of all developed countries; however they do give us a picture of why females are still so under-represented in our modern societies.
If women themselves are not supportive and confident of their female leaders, why should society be? Perhaps, in the midst of being caught up with Feminism to demand for more rights and equality, we should ask ourselves truthfully if the patriarchal order is still deeply ingrained in all of us. And if so, is it truly the natural order or have we not attuned ourselves to struggle for a better order?