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Political representation of women: Gender gap

Shivam Pathak

Globally, terms like Democratic provisions and Human rights, are trended everyday without thoroughly noticing or knowing the current inequalities at their core. When these talks are going on, somewhere a female is restricted- to step out of home, to receive education, to get a desirable job, adequate health care facilities and the list goes on. This disallowment of resources and basic amenity is referred to as sexual discrimination and leads to gender-gap which is clearly replicated by the low level of political representation of women, i.e. their participation in decision-making, government planning, programming and policy development.

A report by ‘UN Women’ in February 2019 states that- out of total parliamentarians, women comprise of only 24.3 per cent. And as of June 2019, only 11 women are serving as Head of State and 12 are serving as Head of Government. This gives a ground check on how much really is the democratic development going on. The poor representation of women does not begin at political stage, but it is the effect of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low levels of education and marginalization of women at various phases of their life.

The report continues further that- as of January 2019, only 20.7 per cent of government ministers were women. The notable thing is, that, there is a further discrimination in allocation of the ministries, i.e. Social affairs is the most commonly held portfolios by women-followed by- Family/Children/Youth/Elderly/Disabled; Environment/Natural resources/Energy; Employment/Labour/Vocational training; and Trade/industry. In addition, data for 103 countries shows that women’s representation in elected local deliberative bodies varied from less than 1 per cent to close parity, at 50 per cent, with a median of 26 per cent. To understand this gap, it could be noted that only 3 countries have 50 per cent or more women in parliament in single or lower houses: Rwanda with 61.3 per cent, Cuba with 53.2 per cent and Bolivia with 53.1 per cent.

The most easy solution adopted by any government to tackle this problem is to come up with reservation quotas for women. But, by doing so, they are working on the effect and not the problem itself. It should be understood that poor representation is the effect of social stereotypes and not the problem fundamentally. This has been continued since ancient times, where women were always kept behind the curtains, having no authority to speak in matters of state and just allowed to act as per man’s will.

There is also an assumption that women can’t handle authority as good as men can. But research says the other way around. It has been observed that women are much more sensitive in raising and understanding public affairs which include-drinking water and road improvements, childcare and maternal health, awareness about domestic violence, gender equality and electoral reforms. These claims are supported by a UN report which states that- a Research on Panchayats (local councils) in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with men-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found. These really are some inspiring facts and numbers.

To reduce the gender-gap, a change has to be brought on the very ground level when a girl child’s development phase starts. It is here when she gets introduced to the patriarch society and there outdated traditions. These traditions still emphasize women’s primary roles as mothers and housewives. It is these duties which complicate their involvement and participation in public sphere. Governments across globe are trying to cut-down these gaps by either awarding school going girls, working women with certain incentives or by reserving seats at government offices and political posts.

Source: IPU, world and regional averages of women in parliament

It is due to the ongoing efforts that some encouraging news has started to come. As per UN data- there is a substantial increase in the number of countries where women’s representation is more than 30 per cent, with Nordic countries having a percentage of 42.5. Talking about India, the gap between men and women voters has narrowed over time with a difference of 16.7 per cent in 1962 to 4.4 per cent in 2019. According to World Economic Forum’s annual global gender gap index studies, India has ranked in top 20 countries worldwide for many years, with 9th best in 2013- a score reflecting greater women’s participation in India’s political process. It is also worth noting that, Africa regional average of 23.4 per cent women parliamentarians is quite close to the Global average of 24.3 per cent.

But, these continued efforts and supportive government plans would not have a prominent and long-lasting effect unless there is a change in the mentality. In response to the existing cultural barrier, a discourse change needs to be achieved in order for the concept of “female politician” to become as commonplace as “male politician”. It is not enough for them to just hold public office. Female politicians need to uniformly strive in ensuring gender-sensitive legislation to put women’s issues on the political agenda. If no one, then women will themselves have to stand for the cause.


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