6: What does it take?
Researchers have tried to find out what contributes to women’s participation in formal politics. They have found that various socio-economic, cultural and political factors come into play. These vary with time and place. These must play together – or at least not pull too much in different directions – to give results. To get women politicians at the national level, there must be women with relevant qualifications. At the same time, attitudes must be such that women are motivated to participate in politics and are accepted as actors. In addition, the political system must give women the opportunity to escape.
Western industrialized countries stand out when it comes to women’s political participation. They have a higher proportion of women among politicians than other countries. They also have a high level of socio-economic development with extensive education and professional activity for women. Modernization and the second wave of women’s issues gave people more secular (secular) values, gender roles were radically changed and attitudes to women’s political activity more positive. The countries had liberal democracies with political rights for women, and representation in governing bodies increased.
But not all countries reached the same level. While the Nordic countries were at the top, others lagged behind, among them the United States and Japan. Among other things, the United States has an electoral system that is unfavorable to women. There was extensive socio-economic development also in eastern industrialized countries, where women often received education and participated in working life. But at the same time, traditional perceptions of men’s superiority and women’s responsibility for home and family were emphasized, and women were often double-employed.
The authoritarian communist parties also did not give women much stimulus to political activity. Attitudes towards gender equality and women in politics affect both women’s motivation to get involved and whether commitment is met with support or resistance. Religious doctrines often emphasize traditional female roles. The representation of women in governing bodies is generally greater in Christian (Catholic / Protestant) countries than in Muslim and countries with other religions. In addition, left-wing political parties help to strengthen representation.
7: Arab countries lag behind
Over the years, women have gained political rights in almost all countries, but the Arab countries are lagging behind. In two countries (the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia) women still lacked the right to vote in 2006, and in Kuwait they did not get it until 2005. In addition, the region is characterized by authoritarian regimes with weak democratic institutions. Illiteracy is widespread, especially among women, and there is limited freedom of expression. Religious family laws emphasize the man’s superior position, and women are exposed to numerous forms of discrimination. The Arab countries also have a record low in terms of the proportion of women in parliament and government, with 6 and 7 per cent respectively in 2005.
Democratization does not automatically lead to an increase in the number of women in governing bodies. The attitude towards women leaders is important, and women’s chances of getting positions increase the longer they have had political rights. It is crucial for being elected to parliament that a country has women-friendly electoral systems (for example, proportional representation as opposed to majority voting). When it comes to the government, the number of women in parliament matters and the government’s political color.
8: More women on top
From 1945 to 2006 (as of 1 May), a total of 72 women have been in a top political position at the national level. A total of 51 countries, or about a quarter of the world’s countries, have had one or more female heads of state, and we find these countries scattered all over the globe. The number of female heads of state has increased in particular in the last fifteen years. The reasons for this are several, but the political changes are particularly important: Some female heads of state and government have been appointed under authoritarian (military or communist) regimes, but the vast majority have come to power in democratic regimes.
Democratization processes in the last 10-15 years have taken place not only in former communist countries, but also in developing countries. There have been far fewer authoritarian regimes. Democratic forms of government have spread from about half to three quarters of the world. About the same number of countries gained liberal and nascent democracies , and the number of women leaders increased in both.
One reason for the increase is that several countries have used gender quotas to increase the representation of women in politics. Some developing countries have thus made dramatic leaps forward and are challenging the leadership position the Nordic countries have had. The importance of heads of state varies according to whether a country is parliamentary-controlled or president-controlled. With parliamentary government, it is the prime minister who exercises political power, in the second case it is the president.
According to PLUS-SIZE-TIPS, a number of the female heads of state were given positions of considerable power which they exercised over a longer period of time, but many functioned only for shorter periods and in less important positions. The latest was the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, among other places. It was therefore a breakthrough when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of an African country with a presidential government. Michelle Bachelet is remarkable in that in a Latin American country she was chosen based on her own qualifications, not family ties.
9: The way forward
In order to increase gender equality in politics, there must be an active international women’s movement that continuously promotes demands for change. In addition, the UN and governments have an important role to play. Especially in developing countries, a continued strengthening of women’s education and occupational participation is significant. In addition, the political system should become more women-friendly in most countries. Gender equality and women’s participation must be central to the development of democracy and good governance. The political parties must be less influenced by traditional male attitudes and closed forms of work, and the electoral systems must be open to women’s elections.