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Globally, women have been dismally represented in political movements. While developed countries have made more progressive steps than developed countries in including women in political activities, they also grapple with the challenge of female underrepresentation in political systems. For example, in the US, women only occupy 18.3% of all seats in the House of Representatives. Similarly, only 20% of senators in Congress are women. The situation is the same in the legislature because women only occupy about 23% of the seats. The Obama administration has not improved the levels of female representation in government appointments either. Indeed, although his record is better than Bush’s 19%, Obama has not reached Bill Clinton’s 41%.
In Europe, female representation in politics is also low. For example, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Malta, Romania, Cyprus and Ireland have less than 20% female representation in politics. Finland, Spain, Belgium, and Sweden are the only countries that have more than 40% of the same representation in politics. Nonetheless, over the decades, women have made significant steps in increasing female participation in political movements.
Most of these steps have either been supported or inhibited by political recruitment systems. Based on a global outlook of gender representation in political systems, this paper shows that voter perceptions (of women), quota systems, domestic political factors, and political party sponsorships are the main recruitment systems that explain the varying levels of female representation in political movements. However, these factors are contextual because they explain the same phenomenon in different parts of the world.
Around the world, quota systems have contributed to increased participation of women in political systems. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the quota system has increased female representation in parliament. For instance, Senegal adopted the parity law, which led to increased female representation in parliament. In fact, today, women occupy almost half of the country’s parliamentary seats. The same law has helped a woman to ascend to the highest political office in the country – the prime minister’s office. Different political parties in Africa have also increased female participation in political activities through the quota system.
For example, the ruling South African party, African National Congress (ANC), increased the number of female parliamentarians through the quota system. Today, women occupy about 42% of all parliamentary seats in the country. The ANC party sponsored the women to parliament through the voluntary party quota system which allocated about 30% of its leadership positions to women. From this system, women now sit at the helm of some prestigious ministries in the country, such as defense and foreign affairs ministries (a woman also heads the country’s central bank). Comparatively, on Latin America, the quota system has also contributed to the growing number of female representation in political systems. For example, 11 countries from this region practice the quota system.
Although many countries have adopted the above system to increase female participation on political systems, Paxton and Hughes (2014) say this system is symbolic because many women still do not have a lot of influence in party politics. For example, although the quota system guarantees female inclusion in party structures, few women sit on the executive boards of such political units. Fewer women take part in drafting party candidate lists, or prepare party or government strategic actions. Therefore, many parties have a pyramidal institutional structure which has many women at the lower governance levels and few, or no, women at the top governance levels. Therefore, as political power increases, parties accommodate fewer women.
Similarly, globally, few parties allocate their funds to support female empowerment efforts within their political units. Consequently, few parties have the resources to formulate and support gender equality activities. For example, few countries in Latin America require political parties to allocate their resources to gender equality activities. In fact, only Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama have such legislative provisions (consequently, they are among the greatest champions of women’s rights in the continent). Nonetheless, quotas have increased the level of female participation in political systems. However, this result can only suffice if such quotas are designed well and people understand the penalties of non-compliance (Paxton & Hughes, 2014).
Political Party Sponsorship
As shown above, political parties are often important in shaping the political landscape of any democratic country. Sponsors play a big role in influencing party policies. For example, political parties often serve the interests of their sponsors by supporting political candidates that may serve such interests. Globally, men have dominated political party sponsorship programs. Consequently, many political parties serve the interests of men. However, in some countries, women also sponsor political parties, but their efforts are dismal, compared to the contribution that many men make to political parties. Therefore, this gender sponsorship disparity has always undermined women’s political participation in political movements.
Male domination in the economic space has partly contributed to this situation because, predominantly, men control instruments of capital (even in developed nations). Although the trend is slowly changing, women remain disadvantaged by this fact. Traditional patterns of education have also contributed to this situation because many societies preferred to educate men, as women assumed traditional “homemaking” duties. Many societies in developing nations still subscribe to this ideology and consequently deny their women the knowledge and instruments needed to take part in political processes.
For example, gender differences in educational attainment have empowered men with the civic skills needed to take part in political movements. Furthermore, workplace segregation has contributed to the failure of women to take part in political activities because men have traditionally cultivated the skills for civic engagement through their economic and professional dominance (Paxton & Hughes, 2014). For example, a recent UK research showed that many women were more ignorant than men; in terms of political knowledge and current affairs (the study sampled Canadian women). Collectively, these factors explain why men dominate political party activities through sponsorship.
Domestic Political Factors
Domestic political factors influence female participation in political movements. Their effects are particularly true in Africa, where conflict and civil wars have contributed to increased participation of women in politics. For example, the Liberian civil war contributed to the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Africa’s first female president). Since her election, other women in Africa have also risen to high political office. For example, Joyce Banda recently became Malawi’s first woman president, after the incumbent president died. However, her election to this post was mainly fuelled by democratic movements in the African nation, as opposed to civil war, or conflict.
In other parts of the developing world, democratization has also contributed to the growing number of female representation in politics. For example, gender gains in Latin America’s political movements stem from pro-democracy gains in South America. However, contextual factors in Latin America show that the society has linked women’s activism to maternal identities. By extension, maternal roles have produced human right movements that created a greater push for equal gender representation in political movements. Similarly, maternal roles created community organizations that championed the same cause. These movements contributed to the growing number of female representation in the region’s political systems because they challenged gender norms and put the same gender concerns on the Democratic agenda.
Pro-democracy and gender movements in America are comparable to liberal feminism movements in Latin America. Similarly, to their South American counterparts, such movements have realized several successes in female empowerment, including the gender gains made from the Equal Pay Act, Title IX of Education Amendments, Title VII of Civil Rights Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act. These legislative pieces have improved female participation in political and economic activities in America. However, many feminist movements in America and South America have experienced some challenges in advancing their goals.
For example, feminist movements in America have pushed for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Act, but only a few jurisdictions have done so. Indeed, although the Act passed Congress in 1972, it has failed to get adequate state ratifications to cement equality in America’s constitutional law. In fact, some states rescinded their moves after ratifying the Act. Other states have not ratified it at all. If ratified by all states, the ERA Act would improve the level of female representation in America’s political movement.
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Voter Perceptions of Women
Voter perceptions of women in politics help to understand why there is dismal female representation in political movements. Ironically, such perceptions are often at odds with what voters want from a “good” leader. Globally, many societies perceive female candidates as more liberal than their male counterparts (Henderson & Jeydel, 2014). They also consider them as more compassionate than men are. Therefore, many voters are more comfortable with female candidates working in political offices that manage “feminine-related” issues, such as education and health. However, a small number of voters consider female candidates as “appropriate” heads of political offices that manage “masculine” issues, such as military and defense. This analogy shows that many voters have different perceptions and expectations of male and female political candidates. Some of these perceptions benefit female candidates. For example, many voters believe women are agents of change.
Based on this observation, Henderson and Jeydel (2014) say female political candidates can often benefit from gender stereotypes, depending on the type of political office they vie for. Therefore, gender stereotypes are context-dependent. Nonetheless, Paxton and Hughes (2014) say, there is no evidence suggesting that gender stereotypes influence electoral outcomes, but studies have shown that the stereotypes affect how voters rate female candidates in elections (Henderson & Jeydel, 2014). Particularly, voters are mainly influenced by the beliefs and traits of female candidates. In Canada, societal perceptions of women explain (partly) the low levels of female underrepresentation in political movements. Many Canadians see women as less competitive than men are. They also perceive female candidates as more caring than men are. These factors explain how voter perceptions affect the political recruitment of women to elective positions.
This paper sought to explore how political recruitment affects gender representations. Based on a global outlook of female representation in political systems, this paper shows that voter perceptions of women, quota systems, domestic political factors, and political party sponsorships explain why different countries have varying female representation in political systems. Mainly, these factors explain why women are underrepresented in many political systems. However, it is important to acknowledge the contextual factors that legitimize the above-mentioned factors.
Henderson, S., & Jeydel, A. (2014). Women and Politics in a Global World (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Web.
Paxton, P., & Hughes, M. (2014). Women, Politics and Power: A Global Perspective (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Web.