The Woman Leader: Barriers Within And Outside

“For me a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected.”  ~ Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Arundhati Rai Chaudhuri

Even constituting half of the world’s population has not given women equal share in legislation and decision-making processes. The gender gap in the political hemisphere is not uniform across countries and its presence is felt in developed, developing and under-developed countries. As of 1st January 2021, 5.9 percent of elected Heads of State (9 out of 152) and 6.7 percent of Heads of Government (13 out of 193) are women. Although there has been significant improvement in terms of the number of women being involved at national, state and local governments, gender inequality continues to be a persistent issue across states. The Gender Gap Report 2021, published by the World Economic Forum finds dangerous political empowerment figures which further highlights the disparity between the two genders. Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats and just 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. 81 countries have never had a woman head of state, as of 15th January 2021. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics. But, when we talk about women in politics, I do not think we have to take the help of gender statistics to interpret something that is happening around us.

Gender- stereotyping employment roles and opportunities are not new phenomena that we are facing today. It has been an age long practice that has hindered the process of political emancipation of women. Politics and administration in most cases are associated with masculinity, machismo and ruggedness instead of efficiency, decisiveness and potency. Every attempt at entering the political process has resulted in women being subjected to hurdles in both their personal and professional lives. This male dominated profession is not only unaccepting of women in their place of work but also condescending towards those who make it, thereby creating a more difficult circumstance for women to work. Women are not believed to be “tough” enough to handle matters of politics. Women are discouraged both as voters and candidates thereby, significantly decreasing their due representation in the Government.

The lack of education among women adds to the gender gap in politics. In most countries, the male child is provided with education while the female child is expected to learn how to run a household and look after their families. In various underdeveloped countries women are not allowed to even leave their homes, limiting their knowledge and lives within the four walls of their house. The absence of awareness about their basic fundamental and political rights prevents them from challenging the system or even getting a chance to change it. Women across the world are termed as “care-givers” and are expected to only take care of children. The excessive burden from their homes and lack of support from their male counterparts often discourages them from taking on additional responsibilities. The crisis of juggling between professional obligations and personal life creates a conflicting situation for aspiring female politicians to choose. Families become far less supportive when it comes to women joining politics.

Countries with multiparty and biparty systems both show less support for women candidates. Politics is mainly considered as the “men’s club”, with a very small number of political parties promoting and financing women. The position of women in politics has always been limited to mere vote-bank politics and being used as baits to form political alliances. Women are only seen as potential voter targets by political parties, but when it comes to their actual empowerment, very few have been successfully elected as leaders in different countries. An established barrier to the wider representation of women and other minority groups is the lack of support from the political systems in the form of “contacts and connections”. Women are almost always considered as “outsiders” and are obstructed from entering the system in every possible way.

Media coverage is another aspect which is significantly unused when it comes to proper projection of women candidates in elections. The sexist portrayals of women in the media withholds other women who may have wanted to enter politics. The projection of women is done in such a way, that people become more interested in what she wears and details of her personal life. Educational qualifications, achievements and their leadership qualities take a back seat and women are rarely judged on the same. At the same time, the constant use of abusive language, degrading and sexist comments and eve-teasing done by the male candidates make it more difficult to survive in the already gender-biased political environment. Gender based stereotypes also prevent the development of a sense of confidence among women. This reduces the scope of women’s participation in any form of politics.

The 21st century has been the dawn of many new beginnings, women empowerment being one of them. However, when it comes to women in politics, the difference is strong and present. With women taking up roles and responsibilities in every walk of life, we can only hope that more and more women are included in the process of law-making. This is essential for a diverse, representative and a more equal global environment. Representation is essential from the grassroot level through to the highest level. It is only then that a constructive change can be brought about. A more sensitive socialization process has to be inculcated to make both young boys and girls aware of their fundamental rights and the necessity of having an equal society in every aspect. The full and active participation of women in legislatures is central to building and sustaining democracies. At a time when the world is fighting a pandemic and equitable distribution of resources is more important than ever, we can start by giving women the equal chance that they deserve.

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