Why women’s political representation matters

Tanzania's President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, addressing the COP-26 deleates in Glasgow, UK in November 2021. The world should offer more spaces for women leadership for an inclusive realization of its goals. PHOTO/Africa Press.

Data on politics and governance has continued to paint the image of women being underrepresented at all levels of decision-making around the globe.

Women’s political representation has been dismissed for centuries, even as the debate on inclusion and equality continues to take root.

Consequently, achieving gender equality has remained an apple too lofty to pluck.

What research points out

UN Women has estimated that globally, men represent 77% of parliamentarians, 82% of government ministers, 93% of heads of government, and 94% of heads of state.

Evidently, this governance scenario has left women with an almost insignificant portion of the pie.

This has been the case, even at a time when it is clear that representation is the heart of democracy.

According to Silvana Koch-Mehrin, President of the Women Political Leaders Global Forum as of 2018, “… every time a woman reaches the top of an organization or political party, it makes global headlines.

This trend extends across the private sector and in academia – the greater the seniority, the fewer (the) women.”

Unending struggle, centuries on

It has remained clear that though women have tried to break the glass ceiling for centuries, their voice has remained unheard and their contributions receive no significant appreciation.

This paints an image of empty seats around decision-making tables.

Political and social consensus has proved that women are known as given to defending the rights and privileges of girls and their fellow women, a reason why we need more of their voice.

Therefore, it remains a dark path toward equality and significant development until women, who represent over 50% of the global position, are considered for governance positions.

This may easily trigger you to ask why this is still the case, many decades after revolutions and movements fighting for women have done their work excellently.

Writing for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), RazanMasad, the Regional Electoral Consultant at UNDP Regional Bureau for the Arab States, says: “Attitudes towards women candidates are still largely characterized by deeply ingrained stereotypes, and political opponents will often use those stereotypes to question women’s capabilities.”

UNDP’s obligation is to end poverty and build democratic governance, the rule of law, and inclusive institutions.

It has helped many countries reduce inequality and exclusion, especially in the spheres of governance and policymaking.

In my country Kenya, out of the 47 counties, we have only two governors and three senators elected into office.

Even after including the few nominated senators and the Women Representative position, achieving the required one-third gender rule in the typical political arena has remained a challenge.

In Kenya, we are only five months away from the general elections and the drumbeat is getting louder as the day nears.

Pragmatically speaking, it would be a big lie to expect a significantly larger political representation of women, at least for now.

A better electoral system and a more receptive society are still required for such a political turnaround.

To some extent, women are seen as unable to lead with the required dexterity and make the political, sometimes hard, ruthless decisions commonplace in the political arena.

In a typical setting, many would deny it, but in the real sense, a more significant portion of the electorate wonders loudly and has normalized the “Who will elect her?” question and the “She can’t lead” perspective.

It sounds like women have to prove their ability first before rising to the top seats, yet, they aren’t given a chance to prove it.

It’s all mixed up.

Struggling women

Studies have proved that women struggle to get the very few leadership positions and sustain them.

Barriers from socio-political, economic, and academic spheres, coupled with a profound debasement of women by society, have continued to push women’s ambitions backward.

For instance, women receive very little financial support from donors compared to men. They heavily depend on the political party’s support, which often fails them.

The chasm widens day in and day out.

By far, the composition of women in the legislature affects the kind of laws installed to govern and regulate the public.

Most of the sensitive issues bedeviling women’s life can only be understood and solved by those facing them—women.

Therefore, women’s political representation is so fundamental for girls and women’s issues in our families, societies, and countries to be effectively handled by those occupying public office.

This shows us the gap and the possible lack of practical guidelines in tackling issues affecting over half the world’s population.

According to the IPU Plan of Action for Gender-sensitive Parliaments 2013, “The principles of gender-sensitive parliaments can be advanced if women occupy leadership positions as parliamentarians and as key members of parliamentary staff, as they are in a position to influence policy directions, change parliamentary procedure and practices, serve as role models to other women and provide a different perspective in debates.”

Sadly, three M’s have been the thick smoke stifling efforts towards women’s political representation: Money, Media and Men.

Many women have been unable to become financially stable and raising finances to suffice the political demands has proved uncomfortable.

The media has not played its part in painting the actual image of women as abled, visionary leaders who our nations have lacked.

Sadly, men have been so inconsiderate and unfeeling, always predisposing themselves to the electorate as the only abled humans to occupy top political seats.

The few scenarios of women becoming heads of state are viewed as abnormal and some of those countries are predicted to fail economically and politically.

But, it has never been the case! They have successfully led and in some spheres of governance where, as the public, we have felt like they have failed, do we expect them to be perfect?

There lingers all the required proof, from every side of the story, that the place of women is in politics.

Women’s political representation should not be an option but a priority.

For any country to effectively execute its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) towards achieving its vision, women must be part of the game.

They must occupy the empty seats and contribute to the basket of decisions.

Leaving them out is not the solution.

Women’s political representation for equal participation and contribution in leadership affairs can only make the world more inclusive and roll it towards better laws, policies and actual development.

The young people and everyone else have got to rally behind women who have boldly taken the step of getting into politics and national governance.

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Mr. Makau holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, Media & Communication from Moi University, Kenya. He is a Columnist and Editor with Scholar Media Africa, with a keen interest in Education, Health, Climate Change, and Literature. His contact: b.makau@scholarmedia.africa.

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