Unveiling the ongoing debate surrounding women in politics

Women in Politics - strong woman
The active participation of women in politics continues to raise questions, not only in developing countries but also in developed nations around the world. Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

When discussing women’s involvement in the workforce, development projects, and policy-making, a common adage is often repeated: “The bottle is new, but the water remains the same.”

Despite efforts on various fronts, progress towards implementing a comprehensive reform plan to improve living conditions and enhance the participation of women at the grassroots or local level has been inconsistent. Constitutional provisions have, to some extent, facilitated increased participation in terms of local representation for women.

However, these advancements have not been fully supported by the social and economic realities required to effectively integrate women into mainstream politics. In other words, the active participation of women in politics continues to raise questions, not only in developing countries but also in developed nations around the world.

These are, however, not supplanted with social and economic realities to be felt to mould mainstreaming politics. That is, women’s willful participation in politics is still triggering questions, not only in developing countries but also in the developed countries of the world.

Even such participation is subject to scrutiny within the social and cultural context. Reports indicate that in Great Britain, women politicians and parliamentarians are facing challenging times, often enduring insults, threats, and abuse both over the phone and in public places.

The book Women of Westminster by Rachel Reeves presents stark facts about the risks women took to enter politics. Recent reports also highlight that approximately 50 per cent of women parliamentarians in England are hesitant to participate in the next election.

Social realities

Photo: Pixabay

Intriguing insights bring to light distressing data and situations concerning women’s roles in social and political endeavours. Evidently, a pervasive sense of scepticism prevails. One notable event worth mentioning in this context was when Hilary Clinton was running for the presidency in the United States of America.

During Clinton’s first primary when she was competing with Barack Obama, I had a conversation with an American professor who boldly stated that the American people were not prepared to embrace a woman as the President of the country.

I was shocked to get such a comment from an American academic. In response, I pointed out to her that even in Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka – countries in the developing world – women had been elected as presidents.

This brings forth the essential question: it is not merely about women attaining high-ranking positions, but rather, have women truly experienced full-fledged social and political participation?

Appointing women in the head post does not simply mean that women are equally viable in social, cultural, and political fronts in society as compared to men. While there may be a vertical representation of power held by a select few politically capable women, the broader social landscape is marked by a horizontal composition, often chaotically uneven in terms of women’s involvement in politics and policy-making.

Apparently, this means there is a sense of bigotry related to women’s participation in politics and policy involvement.

This struggle has persisted for a long time. Merely token participation by women is insufficient in combating the deeply ingrained mindset that suggests women cannot be on equal footing with men in social, cultural, and political endeavours.

We in Nepal have our bitter examples in this regard. Constitutionally, Nepal made a provision that local-level deputy posts be reserved for women. According to election reports, most of the women candidates fighting for deputy post lost the battle. Those who turned victorious were not accepted as local leaders and could not work independently but were taken as just shadows of their male counterparts.

The women often experienced humiliating situations due to a lack of recognition and the challenges of navigating within the male-dominated socio-political environment.

Ongoing prejudices

gender-neutral society
The genuine involvement of women in politics and other social endeavours should be a product of their own volition, devoid of societal or political biases. Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Why are societies turning such critical and insensible to the cause of women? The answer to this question is not simple. It demands a thorough exploration of various facets and a contemplation of numerous factors.

These issues encompass a wide range of concerns, spanning from political participation and gender capabilities to policy involvement by women and education, among others. Engaging in development and policy initiatives is a reciprocal process that involves both giving and receiving.

Part of it is cultural orientation as well. We ask women to be submissive, compliable, non-aggressive, modest, and delicate, whereas men are supposed to be daring, spirited, and violent to face risk and dangers.

These cultural orientations instil a profound psychological hesitancy, causing women to be reluctant to engage in similarly risky ventures in life. Social and cultural ties often obstruct the path of women’s advancement. As a result, many assertive women, after marriage, tend to become less assertive and active in advocating for themselves.

Objective participation

Women liberating (1)
Photo: Pexels/ Jill Wellington

Voluntary political participation holds significant weight. In numerous countries, political awareness has surged, leading to women attaining a participation rate of over 60 per cent in politics.

For instance, in South Africa, women constitute 40 per cent of assembly members. In Rwanda, 64 per cent of women get elected to the parliament.

Compared to these countries, the most developed world like the US has only 20 per cent of women in the parliament. Surprisingly, the British government elects only one-fifth of the women in the House of Commons.

The genuine involvement of women in politics and other social endeavours should be a product of their own volition, devoid of societal or political biases. While access to politics may be constitutionally guaranteed in certain societies, it should also be bolstered by robust social, cultural, and political support. Unfortunately, this backing is perceived to be deficient in some societies, such as Nepal. This essentially implies that if a woman elects any profession in life, she should be able to choose politics without any hesitation or reservation.

These data demonstrate that political participation alone is not the ultimate solution. What holds greater significance is the imperative need for social and cultural transformation, along with a shift in the global mindset.

However, the statistics reveal two facets of women’s liberation and freedom. It can be unequivocally stated that the developed world has largely succeeded in integrating women into politics in a free and equitable manner.

This case in the developing world is still in the rudimentary phase. Constitutional and token political provisions are not long-lasting solutions to this. This is the mere top-down approach. However, sustainable women’s participation requires a bottom-up approach.

It requires both political backing and social and cultural transformation in society, which has been an uphill task.   

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Sharma is an Assistant Professor at R R College.

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