By Coryn Grange
It’s easy for women to feel powerless when up against their country’s political institutions. Challenging government policy and fighting for one’s beliefs seem especially hard without sufficient resources to do so. Therefore, political voice and empowerment have become contingent to one’s economic status. Observing American political institution reveals disparities in political voice that are reflective of the socioeconomic disparities that define the country, however, through the diversifying of modes of political participation, such as virtual activism, protesting, voting, and interest group organization, women are offered new venues to voice their opinions and the inequalities can be lessened.
Unfortunately, the link between economic independence and political empowerment is strong; as such the elite enjoy a well heard voice in comparison to others. Resources are necessary to gaining access to the decision making process and achieving individual or group aims. And the reality is that these resources are overwhelmingly controlled by a small male dominated political elite. Politics is plagued by the enduring disparities in engagement and participation in a way that is usually reflective of the socioeconomic disparities within the country. Likewise, unprivileged political organizations, that must face high participatory transaction costs, receive less representation than smaller groups of elite individuals that have leverage claims on the institutional system. This creates a vicious circle where the political elite are able to voice and pursue their interests and subsequently further the existing inequality.
Consequently, the question arises of how can women with limited financial resources increase their political influence? One answer is internet usage. The internet lowers economic barriers to participation and possesses the ability to lower opportunity costs and reshape institutions. The internet may not be a panacea for disparities in political voice, but it can definitely alleviate some of the resource based problems that previously only allowed the socioeconomic elite to dominate political voice.
Another answer lies within protest movements, as the political voice of those without many resources can be used collectively to exert more power. Mass protest movements acquire a powerful political voice through their numbers without institutional involvement unlike the small elite groups that often use their resources to affect policy through government channels.
A third method of political empowerment that doesn’t rely upon economic resources is voting. It is a form of participation that connects public opinion to the political system, while producing a more egalitarian platform for political voice. An informed voter can have an impact on elections and they are more likely to vote on policy measures that affect women and hold political parties accountable for their decisions. Yes, voting in a representative democracy like America’s can seem fruitless at times, yet everyone’s vote, no matter how rich or poor, on the most basic level provides an equal voice in which individuals can take a broad stance on government policy and party during elections. Therefore, voting is another method of overcoming inequality, in which every citizen can exert individual influence.
The final solution that enables women to overcome stubborn disparities in political representation is by connecting with elite groups and organizations. Women without many resources, that rather make an immediate or large impact upon the political system, can do so by sacrificing some power to obtain patron-sponsored resources. The interest groups that choose to provide resources to those that are not able to afford any are definitely helpful, yet the power still is largely held by the elite.
Though most political systems are dominated by economic elites, women can still use their voice through various participatory means to challenge such norms and reform the national political agenda according to their interests. Political empowerment is a right of all, and those of a lower economic status should never be silenced.