More Women at Roundtables: Women in Politics

We all know that women have historically suffered social and political discrimination and have been underrepresented in government positions. African leaders mostly male who mismanaged, abused, and continue to abuse their power since the end of colonization equally share the blame for disempowering African women whose contribution is unequivocally needed to build a more prosperous, stable, and peaceful Africa. We also know that discrimination continues to this day, less than 10% of countries have a female leader. The United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world, has yet to elect a female president. Given that the world’s population has a 50:50 male/female split, why can’t political parties be equal sex-wise?

It is time for women to step up into the political arena among many men leaders especially in these crucial times of controversies related to female sexual harassment and male egocentric views on politics. Women have been excluded from politics and government-positions for as long as history can remember. They were told to stay at home and care for the children and the home, and this was seen as the ‘traditional role’ of any woman. This was heavily influenced not only by religion and other patriarchal institutions but also by male bias including theories based on the fact that women have a smaller brain, a form of neurosexism that persists to this day. Neurosexism is a universal problem, as explored by Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, affecting all societies and cultures to some degree. Fine perceives neurosexism as damaging for men too, although women suffer the most from these myths and the social attitudes that result from them. Across the world, women in leadership positions are hampered by numerous obstacles, including pervasive and often subtle attitudes and beliefs that women are unequal to men at home, at work, and in government. Feminists argue that regardless of race, class, or ethnicity, women are consistently defined as political outsiders whose participation in public life is conditional upon their maternal roles.

Many cultures view the raising of children as primarily the job of women, with men not expected to have domestic roles. In countries where such beliefs are deep-seated, women who go against the grain are often required to perform double duty. Professional women, for instance, are obliged to manage the household and family while also performing their professional tasks. This often leaves women at a disadvantage concerning their male colleagues.

Despite the setbacks, roadblocks, and defeats they face, many women make significant changes in their own countries once in power. The following are some examples (although there are many more): Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel who, despite strong opposition from other ministers, opened Germany’s borders to immigrants from Syria during the Syrian refugee crisis. The president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was the first female president in Africa, received a Nobel peace prize for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt was the first female prince minister and leader of the social democrats in Denmark. She was responsible for loosening strict anti-immigration laws. She served as the Chief Executive for a non-governmental organization, Save the Children, which promoted the rights of children in developing countries. And last but not least the Chairperson of the State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, was the first woman to head the Bank. She changed the male-dominant culture of the bank to a female-friendly environment by allowing women to take two-year sabbaticals for going on maternity leave and caring for family members. These changes alleviated the fear for working women of India that they would lose their jobs if they needed or chose to care for their family. It is time to raise awareness of the fact that women have been largely neglected in politics and decision-making positions and to open eyes to the negative implications of shutting women out of politics.

Most countries worldwide have yet to elect a female representative but are willing to chance their arm on countless mediocre male politicians. At the same time, women are held to a much higher standard even to be deemed electable. Politics should represent our society and reflect its diversity. Rwanda now has the highest percentage of women in parliamentary positions in the world, along with South Africa, Senegal, Namibia, and Mozambique in the top 20, according to 2020 data from the IPU-UN Women Map of Women in Politics. Despite this relative success, Africa still needs to double representation rates to achieve gender equality. Rising female leadership in Africa reflects an encouraging global trend. The proportion of women ministers worldwide is at an all-time high at 21.3 percent, which is up 7.1 percentage points from 2005. However, only 14 countries in the world have 50 percent or more women in their cabinet, and Rwanda is one of them at 53.6 percent. Rwanda also has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world with 61.3 percent. Other African countries with high percentages of women are South Africa (46.3), Senegal (43.0), Namibia (42.7), and Mozambique (41.2). The regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa is 24.4 percent, which closely follows the world average of 24.9 percent. However, this number masks wide disparities: some African countries rank at the bottom of the list, for instance, Nigeria (3.4 percent), Benin (7.2 percent), and Gambia (8.6 percent).

Further progress is necessary for expanding the range of portfolios held by women. Fifty percent of African female cabinet members hold social welfare portfolios while only 30 percent oversee finance, infrastructure, defense, and foreign affairs – departments that have more political influence and more often lead to higher senior positions, such as head of state. Expanding women’s presence in these areas would ensure that women’s voices are heard at the highest level of decision-making and governance. The African Women Leaders Network, the premier advocacy group with the mission of elevating the status of women’s leadership in Africa, outlines key priorities in their fight: eradicate violence against women and girls; increase access to education; promote a women-driven care economy, and encourage young female leadership. In the words of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “Now is the time to recognize that developmental transformation and true peace cannot come without a fundamental change in who is leading and the ways of leading.”

Despite the challenges, a growing proportion of women are breaking through the glass ceiling. Women who have accessed leadership positions attribute their success to factors such as access to education and work opportunities, good mentoring by both men and women, support from family, employers, supervisors, teachers, and colleagues, and successful lobbying by gender activists. But the advancement of women into positions of power does not, by itself, resolve the need to create an environment that allows them to make a real difference, notes Ms. Pumla Mncayi, director of the Gender Advocacy Program, a South African lobby group. “It is a reality that traditionally women have always been given positions as deputies to men, without any real power or significance.” Because historically women have had fewer opportunities and exposure to leadership positions than men do, women often feel intimidated by the political system and are hesitant to participate, says Ms. Mncayi. Deliberate programs to train and equip women when they enter the corridors of power are therefore needed.

Finally, activists are also working towards the day when politicians of both sexes push for policies that empower men and women. At the end of the day, positions of leadership need to be filled by “both men and women who are gender-sensitive,” says Ms. Lewanika. “We are striving for a positive partnership between men and women.” for young girls, this is a critical time to be learning about what kinds of people get to be in charge, the visibility of women leaders will shape such views. “We can’t just imagine it; we have to see it.”


About the author:

Yosser Tarchi, born and raised in Tunisia, is a young woman who aspires to be a human rights advocate. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Language, Literature, and Civilization and a master’s degree in International relations. A former member of GirlUp Tunisia, her interest in gender studies expanded which is why she’s currently volunteering for Politics4Her. Her motto? GRL PWR!

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