Women In Politics – What Is Their Role?
United States of America
For those of us born in the last 50 or 60 years, it now seems incredible that there was ever any debate about the right of women to vote in a democratic society. The exclusion of 50% of the population from even the most basic involvement in government – the selection of elected representatives – now seems incomprehensible.
So how far back do we need to look to find women’s right to vote in Western democracies? New Zealand granted adult women the right to vote in 1893, Australia in 1902, Finland in 1907, Norway in 1913, Germany in 1918, the United States in 1920 and the United Kingdom in 1934. France reached a similar conclusion in 1944.
Today, the right of women to vote exists in almost every country. More importantly, women are occupying positions of political leadership at local and national levels around the world. In her book, Fighting Global Tyranny: Where Are The Women?, Francesca de Bardin shows the progress women have made.
In 2016, The Interparliamentary Union compared the number of elected female politicians in 193 countries. in the United States and Europe, women made up between 19.4% (USA) and 43.6% (Sweden) of the lower houses of government. The remaining European lower houses averaged 35%. The country with the highest proportion of female politicians was Rwanda, with around 64% in the lower house – an example of how the value of women’s empowerment has been recognised, and has helped a country torn apart by civil strife move towards peaceful democratic processes.
Looking at the state of the world today, we see the US and European-backed wars of regime change, 50 million refugees, corruption at every level, global hunger and poverty, environmental disasters caused by major corporations, unemployment and tax avoidance schemes depriving nations of sorely needed funds for social programs. One does indeed, like Francesca de Bardin, wonder where the women are in all of this. What’s the point of “gender diversity” if women are not engaged in resolving the critical issues before us? Are they just like the men?
Politicians at every level, men and women, are selected for office by local leaders and oligarchies. They are frequently locked in step with the wishes of their patrons or otherwise they risk losing their positions, status and power. The end result is that many women in Western governments might be perceived as merely “men in dresses”. The system is designed that way. It’s up to women to change it.
It has long been (correctly) assumed that women’s feminine values would contribute positively in the masculine, hierarchical world of politics. Women are more likely to bring values of fairness, inclusion, flexibility, collaboration, persuasiveness and empathy into a patriarchal political world. This is a world where the positive ‘masculine’ values such as focus, competitive drive and assertiveness often devolve into corruption, domination and greed. Men are certainly aware of the potential negative consequences of their decisions, but they are more likely to be conditioned to ignore moral issues in pursuit of a predetermined goal. They focus solely on the result.
The elevation of masculine values over feminine values has caused an imbalance in almost every aspect of human life. Now that women have successfully proven their abilities, it is time for them to acknowledge, respect and honour their feminine attributes, ideals and values, and to bring them into the world with wisdom and passion. There must be an equilibrium and balance which is interdependent and complementary, not one value system elevated over another.
Women are as responsible as men for the injustice and inequities in the world today. As Francesca de Bardin argues, the inclusion of feminine ‘heart centered values’ benefits all society and has consequences that are more important than simple statistical equality.
Democratic governance can benefit from the increased involvement and influence of women, but it is not just the ratio of women in government that is important. A greater emphasis on peaceful solutions, care for the environment and humanitarian issues will benefit the whole world.
There is a very powerful argument that to ignore the intellectual capital resource of half the population is wasteful of itself, but a focus only on women holding leading government positions is not enough. To address global injustice and advocate for compassionate policies, both men and women must recognise the value of a balance in government. Women should not simply emulate the male role model – they should bring their own principles to every negotiating table.