By Aswath Komath
The lack of representation for women in politics is an evident truth all over the world. It is only a variation of degree in which this fact changes all across the world. So some countries may have relatively more women involved in politics as opposed to some other countries, but the basic fact that women are underrepresented in politics, remains unchanged. So even if a state is democratic, this only helps to a certain extent. The situation is probably better than in countries which are autocratic and undemocratic, where women may not get much access to political franchise at all, as either voters or candidates.
The problems facing women in politics have common roots with the problems that prevent the emancipation of women in any other sphere. So female politicians, businesswomen, executives, scientists, or any other positions that involve certain power, will always come with common forces opposing growth in their fields. At the end, it can all be traced back to the patriarchal values imbibed within society that deem women to be incapable of handling power and responsibility. Patriarchal values reinforced in societies will continuously refuse to believe that a woman can take charge of affairs and is capable of making decisions that are binding to everyone.
So how do patriarchal societies portray women?
Women are portrayed as weak and incapable of making smart decisions. They have been depicted across generations to be only capable of trivial matters, constantly engaged in gossip and hearsay, utterly incompetent and less intelligent. This was projected and reinforced through the years through male-dominated institutions and patriarchal societies which internalized the idea that the woman was inferior. With the constant reinforcement of the notion that women are inferior in every aspect, it became hard for women to pursue their political rights as an active participant.
For a woman to enter politics, such patriarchal attitudes make it even harder. The truth is that such attitudes are not a thing of the past. Such attitudes towards women still exist in societies all over the world today – in both developed and developing countries.
So why is it harder for women to engage in politics as an active participant?
Firstly, the woman needs to secure support from her constituency as a politician. Even in non-democratic societies, in order for a woman to pursue a career in politics, she has to secure the support of community leaders. If the immediate connotations of being a woman are indecisiveness, incompetentness and inferior intelligence, then how is she going to secure votes or support? When judging the personality of a candidate, stereotypes cloud the judgment of voters and this is apparent in their political culture as well as their voting trends. So most voters, under the influence of patriarchal stereotypes and generalizations, assume that a woman is not capable of making big decisions which concern the lives of others, that she is not capable of understanding and conducting policy and is not strong enough to accomplish much.
Women in politics are also subject to more stringent scrutiny of their personal lives unlike their male counterparts. If a woman is unmarried and has an active sex life, society deems her promiscuous and that promiscuity becomes her identity and repels her voters. And if the same woman is married, then the voters are concerned about how she would manage both work and family at the same time. These trivial details of her personal life then define her in politics rather than her stand on various issues which really matter.
Without being able to secure a constituency, the woman is unable to capitalize on her capabilities because she is not given a chance to prove herself as a politician. So this in effect, creates a vicious cycle where a woman cannot project her capabilities because she has no support and she has no support because she cannot project her capabilities.
As opposed to what may be commonly believed, women have a hard time not only convincing male voters to vote for them, but also in rallying the support of female voters. Women don't have a guaranteed vote bank through other women. Women have to lobby as hard – and even harder sometimes - to garner female votes. This is again, because patriarchy has reinforced a sense of inferiority within women, who have internalized it over the years.It is much easier to be a male in politics to influence women’s vote, because if a male candidate were to project himself as pro-women, he will secure support from female voters.
However, female politicians are expected to be more than just pro-women to secure the female vote. For a male politician, being pro-women is a bonus or a privilege, while for a female politician, this is taken for granted. So a combination of factors namely, the vestiges of patriarchal attitudes in society towards women, women being subjected to different standards and the refusal to take women seriously fosters the general lack of participation of women as career politicians all over the world.
Trends however, are changing. With increased awareness around the world about women's rights and the attack on patriarchal attitudes all over the world, we may one day see women being subject to the same standards as men are in politics. We cannot ascertain when that can happen, but increased awareness is the key.