Feminization of Politics: Claiming a Seat at the Table

Feminization of politics inculcates three basic paradigms to make political realms more inclusive; First, gender equality in public participation and institutional representation. Secondly, commitment to overhaul the public policies to reconstruct rigid gender roles to subdue patriarchy. Lastly, to remodel ways of doing politics based on values that emphasize everyday life, relationships, the role of communities and the common good.

The phenomenon of the Feminization of politics goes beyond the domains of merely increasing the numbers of women in political representation, rather it seeks to overall challenge and restructure the strategies and mechanisms of a patriarchal institution, long believed to be only a masculine prerogative to lead. Feminization of politics focuses on changing the formal and informal rules of the political discourse by prioritizing gender balance, and the increased presence of women vis inclusion and participation of women in the policy-making processes and representative institutions. It’s about addressing privileges sustained by a patriarchal framework and changing structures, practices, and discourses for equitable representation of women.

Since the inception of the Westphalian modern state system, the political arena and participation have belonged to men. Even after securing the right to vote via the women’s suffrage movements in the 19th century, women were sidelined, ignored and excluded from representation in politics and electoral participation. Women’s demand for fair and equitable treatment in the political realm to date forms one of the cornerstones of modern feminism.

From a feminist perspective, it emphasizes a political strategy that builds political power through a bottom-up approach instead of conceding to the patriarchal state institutions as well as the political parties to offer opportunities to bring elements of the feminist agenda into mainstream political practices. This would catalyze feminist mobilizations by providing them with a concrete pathway to an all-inclusive, participatory and non-discriminatory political discourse.

Political participation of women contributes to stronger and more focused attention to women-centric issues. It is not only a prerequisite for sustainable gender equality but also the means to achieving high-functioning democracy. It facilitates women’s direct engagement in public policy-making, quintessential to implementing gender-sensitive governance reforms.

According to UN Women data, just 17 countries have a woman Head of State and 19 have a woman Head of Government. Women represent a mere 22.8 percent of Cabinet members heading Ministries, leading a policy area. Globally there are 22 states in which women account for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including one lower chamber with no women at all.

At the current rate of progress, gender parity in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years, as estimated by UN Women data.

The aforesaid context of feminization of politics begs the question, why should women have equality of political representation and how would it change the way politics is done? There are at least three grounds for the equal political participation of women; justice, pragmatism and difference.

The justice argument turns on the view that it is inherently unfair that men dominate and monopolize the political realms and concurrent representation.

The pragmatism perspective argues that women have their share of experiences, skills and proficiencies that would help in making political processes more efficacious, as well as better expertise to deal with and understand women-centric interests and issues.

The difference argument runs along the line of equality which states that women are deserving of the same opportunities for participation and representation as men in public spaces and that women should not be marginalized in politics based on gender differentiation.

To explain the patterns of under-representation, women politicians and candidates experience a plethora of social, political and cultural challenges.

The social factor relates to first, women’s lack of resources to enter politics. Women are poorer than men and are less likely to be employed in occupations that support political activism. Second, various lifestyle constraints mean women have less time to devote to politics and engage in it meaningfully. Family and children are responsibilities typically undertaken by women, reducing time for other productive activities.

Third, politics in general tends to be particularly adversarial with misogynistic undertones, reflecting the patterns of traditional masculinity. Such obstacles inhibit the potential of women politicians to be adequately utilized and further dampen their chances to run for public office.

Political obstacles indicate the ingrained political and electoral infrastructure in place. The electoral system combined with party government greatly reduces the options available to seek political office. The only channel of entry is through one of the political parties that can secure seats in the Parliament. The political parties decide between the parties rather than choosing individual candidates therefore in this political system, it is the parties and not the voters who decide who the political representatives are. Even though studies of voting behaviour show that voters do not tend to penalize women candidates, the political parties have failed to nominate women for winnable seats in the Parliament.

Cultural factors point towards the lamentable socio-economic conditions and structures of the societies women reside in, particularly in developing countries. Being unable to fulfill the requirements of candidacy, lack of proper education, age, and similar stereotypical factors further impede women’s chances towards a promising political career.

Generally speaking, Parliamentarians are part of the socio-economic elite circles recruited from occupations with a low female ratio. They are additionally distinguished by their high levels of education and often come from influential political families. Women have been discriminated against due to the gender-based approach to job occupations, where women are concentrated in workplaces that are considered ‘traditionally feminine’. They rarely occupy high-level positions within the economic structure that happen to be dominated by men, where men acquire the necessary skill sets and leadership propitious in the political arena.

Given the paucity of female leadership in the political realms and discourse, things need to change in a positive and promising direction. Political parties around the world have introduced three main strategies to enhance female political participation;

Positive action strategies in which measures are undertaken to increase women’s chances of selection through specialized training, and mentorship programs for candidates. Rhetorical strategies whereby mainstream political party leaders frequently refer to the importance of inducting more women into politics. Positive Discrimination strategies that work as a quota system where places are reserved for women in decision-making bodies, panels etc.

Feminization of the political arena may seem too ambitious and daunting at first, however with concrete meaningful efforts implemented in letter and spirit, it would soon become a reality. First and foremost, the mainstream political parties need to mobilize funds for women candidates to educate them and support their campaigns. The government should also allocate grants to women running for public office to help carry out their operating and party activity expenses smoothly.

Secondly, at least a 30 percent quota must be reserved for female candidates, to be followed by all the political parties. This would help break down the institutional and capacity barriers obstructing the path of women’s leadership in politics.

Third, it would be efficient to mobilize women’s groups to constitute a pool of female politicians consisting of former and current lawmakers, heads of state and so forth, to prepare for future elections. Once the pool is established, various training sessions should be provided to potential candidates to equip them with the requisite proficiency and power to tackle difficult situations that they may face, including the necessary knowledge and skills for political activities

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Last but not the least, there is a dire need to boost up activities of female lawmakers within the political parties. Since women are less likely to occupy senior-level positions of power within the parties, consequently less able to exercise their influence over priority and decision-making matters. By boosting their activities and nominating more women to high-ranking posts, women lawmakers would be in a better position to lead and guide policy-making discourses through a gendered lens and eventually nominate more women to senior positions within the political system.

Feminizing politics is a political and technical task, one that cannot be achieved overnight. It’s a long process that needs to be ingrained in the socioeconomic fabric of society. Gender mainstreaming methodologies are among the various tools available to ensure that public initiatives are free from gender bias. What’s less common is the commitment and political will of decision-makers who are responsible for actualizing it into policy development.

Given that change is brought through by everyday practices, municipal politics would be a better sphere of action to start with when implementing increased female participation. Women’s equal participation in political life plays an indispensable role in the general process of uplifting and empowering women.

Hence, affirmative action should be undertaken with the aim of equalizing opportunities for disadvantaged groups of women with a focus on compensatory justice.

Rameen Siddiqui
Rameen Siddiqui
I am a young leader and activist and my main focus areas are Sustainable Development, Political Economy and Advocacy. Also a Youth Member of United Nations Association of Pakistan (UNAP), Currently pursuing BS Economics and Finance from Greenwich University.