Women in Politics: The Quest for Equality

The great debate as regards the equality of men and women in politics has been in existence since time immemorial. Significant thoughts have also been advocated by political thinkers since Plato’s time, which could even be traced up to as early as Socrates’ time, considering Plato’s Republic as a product of Socrates ideas in the  writings of Plato. In Platos’ Republic, it was stated that men and women must be treated equal. The potential of men to be Philosopher Ruler is similar to that of a woman and can indeed produce a Philosopher Queen (Ebenstein, 2000). In practice however, as soon as the concept of statehood prospered, most governments have considered the male to be the dominant figure in the political stage. This is what has been referred to in the article, “Women in Politics” by Jane Gruenebaum. According to her, the political behaviour of women in the United States is best understood as an example of ascriptive politics.It is defined according to inherited characteristics that establish the limits of group rights and obligations (Gruenebaum, 1981).Through laws, regulations and tradition these rights and obligations are given legal and political expression. Even during the times of colonialism and the fight for independence, only a few women were noted as heroes of nationalism. Although this paper does not seek to explain fully the reasons behind the comparatively lesser number of women prominent in the political arena, it will however serve as a n exploratory essay dealing with the following: the issues that surround the feminization of politics, an account of the relative development of women participation in politics, the prospects for the quest for gender equality and several instances of problems faced by women leaders.To begin with, the definition of politics which is the process of decision-making for the authoritative allocation of values in the society would explain the existence of mechanisms for the purpose of consultation and interest aggregation. This will make governments more responsive to the needs of the people. The relationship between the state and society has been the measure of democracy where power emanates from the people making the government under a close scrutiny by the civil society. This dynamics of accountability opened up an avenue for political participation. A citizen therefore could participate in politics in two ways; direct participation by serving as state leaders or officials and participation through engagements in political organization or interest groups.It could also be said that, the more equal the ratio is between men and women in politics in these two aspects, the more democratic a country is, that is especially if the equality resulted from institutionalized structures and induced by political culture. What we are saying is that, the constitution, electoral and party politics of a nation must not be restrictive of women’s participation. Also, a certain country’s political orientation must not be guided by gender discrimination that could result to a patriarchal political culture. This issue of gender equality is truly a democratic concern because policies of the government are expected to be more democratic if they cover all concerns from all classes and gender as well. Although we would like to note that the ideology of feminism does not strictly seek adherence from women alone. There are in fact males who consider themselves feminists as they have earned sympathy for women issues.In most countries, the women sector is considered part of the vulnerable sector due to the lack of their representation in actual policy-making bodies. Most women have organized political organizations and even political parties at a certain extent to improve on this toil. In fact, these women organizations are known for their internationalization, drawing members from across the globe and with affiliation with other interest groups. Most of the time, these women groups are the ones active in environmental concerns, youth concerns, indigenous people’s rights, student activism and women’s rights.Yet why is there really a need for the feminization of politics? The need could be a derivative of the sense of urgency for the role of women in the society to be recognized not just in politics but within the family (the basic unit of government). Economically speaking, women too are working and are often subjected to discrimination in promotion and in benefit provision. Since women employees could be mothers too, employers usually prefer men over mothers to save them from physical limitations and maternity leaves. In some countries, female salaries are relatively lower than men as a result of perceived weakness and a biased calculation of diminishing returns. Also, a macho culture has prevented women from becoming more active in the social spectrum, whereas in reality, they could be doing the most difficult job in the world as lactating mothers, as cook, washer and housekeeper- all at the same time without compensation. Health-risks also have made the industry and capitalists unfriendly to women workers as they are now obliged to install mechanisms to ensure physical, mental and emotional safety of women subordinates. Due to these issues, women participation has been deemed essential.In the homepage of the website of women’s organization called International IDEA it is stated:“Throughout the world women face obstacles for their participation in politics. These barriers exist in prevailing social and economic systems, as well as in existing political structures. In 2007, the rate of female representation at national level stands at merely 18 per cent globally. Although this figure has increased in recent years, minimal progress has been made, meaning that the ideal of parity between men and women in national legislatures still remains distant”. (Cited in http://www.idea.int/gender/)Increasing political participation by women for the pursuit of goals implicit above may really be a difficult task. Feminist organizations and even feminism with its various strands could even lead to disunity instead of an alliance. They differ in their understanding of the difference gender makes, and how to stop this difference from counting against women.(Pettman, 2001). The prospect for the quest for women in politics is full of challenges. Now that globalization has stricken in its full blow, the problems on women’s rights have evolved and multiplied. China for instance since it opened up ha produced enormous gender problems. To quote an article in the Times magazine by Hannah Beech:“True, capitalism has benefited an elite group of educated, urban women who are enjoying unprecedented opportunities- from heading to America for M.B.A.s to launching their own companies. But in general, women are losing out. As discrimination against them increases, they are the first to be laid off from once ironclad state jobs. They are the first to drop out school as academic fees climb even higher…women make only 65 cents as private enterprises are free to pay as they please.”But it could be a mistake as well to say that women leaders are already committed to serve the interest promoted by feminist groups. Most women leaders were also challenged in terms of their leadership skills and commitment to serve the majority. A clear illustration is the case of the Philippine president now who has been charged by treason and corruption by their society.