The aim of political life is the betterment of our society and at the crux of this aim lies the process of decision making. Our current society is plagued with several imperfections and inequalities of various kinds. Gender inequality is something that may hinder India’s annual economic growth by almost 4 percent over the past 10 years. The way to move past inequalities through political means require representation from the affected subsect of people, however, policy-making and legislation about women’s issues have been largely left up to men. Not just for women’s issues, equitable representation is important for a more democratic functioning of government where multiple perspectives need to be taken into account. Underrepresentation of women in politics is part of a larger issue of underrepresentation of subjugated groups in politics.
According to the World Bank, women make up 49.5 percent of the world’s population, however, there are only 3 countries (Rwanda, Bolivia and Cuba) in the world that have 50 percent or more women in Parliament in single or lower houses. It is important to identify why women don’t get into politics to combat these reasons and lead to the betterment of the whole society.
Firstly, the underrepresentation of women is caused by social barriers before their entry into politics. The general populace’s ideas of traditionally feminine characteristics are incompatible with the characteristics that people in positions of powers need to have. This does two things – from their childhood, girls are not encouraged to be leaders as much as boys are. They are instead taught to be docile and homely and puts them at a disadvantage from the very beginning. Parents, even today, bring up their daughters and sons in different ways. Since women are never made to believe that they can suit leadership roles, as well as men, can, they become less likely to enter politics. Moreover, this gender stereotyping leads to another phenomenon – when we eventually do see women in power, it causes people “discomfort” due to the mixture of two supposedly incompatible set of characteristics. This sentiment can be summed up by Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’s quote – “The idea that a woman can be as powerful as a man is something that our society can’t deal with.”
Unequal Starting Points
The traditional differences in the way that men and women are brought up also leads to a difference in their professions. Men are much more likely to have better careers and be in more positions of power. For example, there are less than 5 percent of women who head Fortune 500 companies. This inequality can be a huge hindrance to entry in politics. Resources and money are important to become potential candidates for parties. There is not just a disparity in material resources, but also immaterial resources, such as time (women have to take on the burden of household responsibilities more), self-confidence (due to the earlier mentioned different upbringing for women which doesn’t help build their image as a leader) and networks.
Often times political parties recruit their candidates from the corporate world. However, this is a field dominated by men which means that they have the upper hand in forming the right networks. This obviously makes it more likely that more men, rather than women enter politics. Moreover, political gatekeepers tend to be most often men who tend to recruit political candidates via their male-dominated networks. Therefore, the fact that people who are into politics are mostly men kind of creates a cycle that prohibits women from getting into politics.
Removal of men from political photographs shows the dire need for more women in politics.
Continuation in the Political Field
The gender stereotyping and the way we differently bring up men and women means that even if, despite these hindrances, a woman does get into politics, continuation is difficult. The discomfort that the voter base has with women in power means that they are held to a different standard to those of men. Female leaders are held more accountable than their male counterparts and the media is much harsher on them.
This uneven punishment is because the media and the people involved subconsciously do not think that women are cut out for politics, which makes them tougher on women in case they fail. The media especially can continue to treat female politicians poorly. The way the media presents female politicians shows us that they are not as worthy to be in power as men are, or that their priorities are supposed to be different – they are asked more questions about their families and personal relationships than male politicians are, and have their personal lives invaded. Their appearances are also given more importance than their substance. Despite all of these, some women still rise to enter politics.
Therefore, it is important for us to promote the representation of women in politics. But simply doing this is not enough – it is also important to promote it in the correct way. When we do commend women in politics, we tend to do it through a narrow scope – we view these achievements as individual efforts of exceptional women, whereas the truth is that there are also numerous parties at play here – women in political party backrooms, riding associations and women’s organizations. Recognizing the efforts of everyone in promoting women’s participation is the first step to make sure we have more women and a better democracy.
Moreover, the discussion of female representation cannot end here. Caste, economic status, sexual orientation are all factors that affect the experiences of women in politics. Women from lower castes or lower economic strata will have a much harder time becoming politically successful. Similarly, the experience of a trans woman or a non-heterosexual woman is bound to be tougher due to ingrained biases. Representation of women in politics does not only help better women’s issues but leads to a betterment of society as a whole – in areas where Indian panchayats are headed by women, the number of drinking water projects was 62 percent higher than in areas with men-led panchayats. This is why it’s crucial to encourage women in politics and facilitate discourse related to this.