Amy Heley explores the inexplicable lack of women in politics
This article was originally published in Issue 10, December 2015. To read the full print magazine, visit: http://issuu.com/uobfemsoc/docs/twss_issue_10_winter_2015
ELLE Magazine recently photoshopped all men out of political photographs, highlighting more than ever the sobering realisation that men dominate the political world. The fact that women are underrepresented in politics is not news to anyone, but the shocking extent of this absence of female participation is still widely avoided. We need to ask ourselves, how can we catalyse the push for equality in government in a political world so hostile to women?
As of August 2015, there are only 13 women serving as heads of government and still 6 government chambers that have no women serving in them at all. And in all this, the UK is ranked 57th globally for gender equality in government, which frankly makes me question our country’s status as one of the most advanced in the world. The EHRC claims that it will take another 14 general elections to see gender parity in parliament, which is a claim we must not accept.
The absence of women is hardly surprising when you consider that powerful figures such as Hillary Clinton get screamed at to ‘iron my shirt’ during speeches and Julia Gillard’s choice to not have children leaves her labeled as ‘barren.’ Or the fact that David Cameron told Angela Eagle to ‘calm down, dear’ when debating in the House of Commons and in the US, Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina faced abuse from Donald Trump who asked, ‘Look at that face, would anyone vote for that?’
Well, would any sane person vote for that attitude? I certainly hope not.
It is hardly surprising therefore that so few women want a career in which they are so susceptible to such gross sexism on an everyday basis. But what is the country that has overcome all this and achieved the best gender parity in government? According to UN Women, it is not one of those ‘more developed’ countries you may be thinking of, but in fact the Rwandan government.
When most people think of Rwanda, images of poverty and horrific genocide come to mind, yet in the area of female political representation, the country has excelled. Their impressive statistic of 64 per cent of parliamentary seats being held by women didn’t happen by itself however, and is in fact due to positive discrimination: by law, one third of parliamentary seats in Rwanda must be held by women.
It’s had a dramatic effect and is perhaps the answer for everyone. Now in Rwanda, as many girls as boys get a primary and secondary education, maternal mortality has dramatically reduced and women have more rights to land and equality in marriage.
However controversial, positive discrimination in other countries will make sure a 50/50 quota is put in place and as a result, women’s issues are more likely to be acted upon. Most importantly, an equal representation in government will also inspire women, proving to them that there is space for them in the world of politics.
Yet what’s interesting is that Rwanda is not the only part of the world considered underdeveloped, but with a high female participation in politics; in Latin America we can see a similar theme. Despite the cultural idea of ‘machismo,’ the region boasts the most women leaders of any continent in the world. Rousseff of Brazil, Bachelet of Chile and Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina are all proving that the patriarchal dictatorships of past centuries have no space in the 21st.
Now, the new Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has set an example in naming the country’s first equal parliament. With 15 men and 15 women in the new Cabinet, the only justification he needed to give for this level of equality was: ‘it’s 2015.’ It’s as simple as that.
Perhaps, it’s time to implement positive discrimination around the world, as it seems the only way to ensure a balanced representation. One day, the hairstyle or outfit choice of a female politician will be deemed as simply not worth writing articles about. Instead, society will be engaged and interested in manifestos and debate from all politicians.
I look forward to the day when the United Nations elect a female Secretary General, when every continent of the world has female heads of government and when all cabinets have an accurate gender representation. Most of all, I cannot wait for the day when young girls and women are not scared of politics and for the beginning of an all inclusive political world in which no one is told to ‘calm down,’ but is instead told to ‘speak up.’
Illustration by Leyla Reynolds