Creating a work-life balance for women in politics



Creating a work-life balance for women in politics

Over the last decade, iKNOW Politics has spoken with many women leaders around the world about the challenges they face in political life. Women interviewed often speak openly about the difficulties of combining a political career with family responsibilities, and in particular, the frequent travel required to meet with constituents or attend parliamentary sessions and committee meetings, usually held away from the family home, in the capital. This travel necessarily involves leaving family members – young or old – in the care of others, such as partners, parents and professional carers (e.g. nannies, child care workers, nurses, respite careers).

Some women politicians also expressed concern for their family members who become endangered when as  MPs they are seen to be “too outspoken” on sensitive issues. 

In this discussion, we want to hear about good practices in improving work/life balance for women and men MPs, and parliamentary staff who can also work the same long hours as MPs and who frequently travel with MPs in support of committee meetings.

Measures to encourage work/life balance

• What measures have MPs personally put in place to balance work and family responsibilities?

• What measures have been put in place by the political workplace (be it the parliament, the local council, the government department/ministry) to ensure work/life balance? 

Transforming social norms and gender stereotypes

• What attitudinal barriers do women face in trying to balance work and family?

• Do men face the same attitudinal barriers?

• What good practices are evident in transforming social norms and gender stereotypes about women’s role in public life?

The impact of work/life balance on the political career

• What are the research findings on the impact of work/life balance on political careers of women?

• Is work/life balance a consideration for both men and women when deciding to embark on a political career? Why or why not?

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iKNOW Politics's picture

Nicolas Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland  is childless - as is the leader of the British Green Party, Natalie Bennett: as is the Conservative Party leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, a gay woman. As is the woman most likely to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader in the UK, Theresa May. 

So is not having children the price women pay for political success? The following article focuses on the above question. What do you think? How as a female politician do you find a work life balance?

Amina Alrasheed Nayel A Professor's picture

Dear all

This is a very important as well as a complex topic, that requires a long process of adjustment, changes and transformation, that may allow for considerable numbres of women to be present in politics. 


An intrinsic part of our patriarchal structure is its nature that demeans women and confine them to the house, patriarchal structure build the ways and the regulation through which women were subjugated, and assigned marginal roles in the society and at the same time women’s cognitive style has often been considered inferior and less worthy of that of men. That is why tasks of taking care of the household, children husband and houses are entirely left to women, the very strict and unfair division of labour caged women to the house domain and did not allow them appropriate chances at the public sphere. The public sphere and political space in self has been designed to fit the cognitive structure of men and to contradict with that of women hence it fosters for more marginal positions for women, as they fail in meeting the requirement of being consistently present in the public sphere.


The most significant issue that concerns the nations and the states that seek an appropriate share for the burden of development and progress to their nations, is to facilitate and provide all possible rules regulations  and conditions that allow women to contribute in such an important political process in nation building .


Women need the society and the state recognition to their structure and support to their work in the private and the public sphere equality.

Challenging the so-called natural division of labour as constructed and providing appropriate support for women to be in politics, by the provision and facilitation of nurseries schooling system that are reliable, paternity leaves with pay, and maternity leaves as well to make it possible for both men and women to share the household burden and to effectively manage to take their places in the political space


Sharing responsibilities of the private sphere between men women and the society at large, is a long process towards constructing the private space politically, and building a society that recognize the important role that women play and contribute to its development. The process by which we can boost women’s presence in politics has different angels into it

§    Politically: securing full support from the state and the society, establishing regulations and rules that help women to conquer the public sphere and to enter into politics

§    Socially, were old traditional roles and marginalization process need to be challenged, and addressed through awareness campaigns education etc

Family support is not enough the society should take a leading role helping women balancing their responsibilities in the private sphere and the public/ political one. Societal structure need to be challenged through a along process that can help women in challenging the rigid and natural roles assigned to them/ 


There are many approaches that are historically specific being followed by women in politics in different places around the globe we can still benefit from these experiences and lessons learned to work further towards finding strategies that balance women’s contrition to the society inside and outside the house

Nommy's picture

I personally found that juggling a political career,family and a separate profession can be a very daunting task that can result in a woman neglecting one aspect between needs to be a full time parent to her kids to ensure  healthy development for children but inorder to excel politically to strike a balance of these two is quite near impossible.either your children suffer or you give partially careerwise.l believe for men it is easier as the care burden does not rest primarily on them,so the advantage they have is mobility where women might face challenges in terms of who will look after her kids if career demands require her to travel constantly. It is difficult more so when there are more people that she is responsible of looking especially at the African woman politicians who have elderly relatives that they look after in an extended family setting. Sick relatives are also the responsibility of the woman who must ensure their wellbeing on a daily basis and care for them till they are back on their feet.Women politicians have to rely on a good support system toblook after their children when they must attend rallies or meetings out of town.This is however not easy since when there are children still in need of motherly nursing then it hinders her to participate in too many out of town political activities since at times provisions to travel with small children are never there and she cannot go for long lengths of time leaving her children with others.As much as there can be willing helpers to look after her family while she is away this is mainly not considered as an arrangement that is suitable except in extenuating then puts them in a situation where they have fleging political careers generally.Husbands also tend to not appreciate a wife who is always away from home constantly.The Zimbabwean government has taken an initiative to support women empowerment through gender mainstreaming policies and regulations thatcher mandatory for every sector of the economy and in all spheres of influence.The new constitution has also included laws that are pro women but the implementation of such laws has generally been slow to date.with the current economic challenges Zimbabwean women are in danger of losing some of the benefits that assist them to balance care responsibilities and political careers in that maternity benefits are being mooted to be scrapped off due to financial woes faced by the government. I for one would advise other political women with families to try as much as possible to strike a balance according to priorities.the needs of the family are important just as much as the needs of the people that one stands to represent and building a reliable,trustworthy support system when one needs to go to work is the next best thing.secondly creating an awareness about the challenges that we face as women In juggling these two important responsibilites might bring about even more structured solutions that will pave way for these considerations to be tackled systematically.

iKNOW Politics's picture

It is not easy for a woman to find a work life balance as a mother and a politician. Indeed, we often hear women say that it is not yet time for them to start a family as they still need work on their career. Women think of political career only late in life, when children are much older.

In politics, one has to convince voters, gain electoral support and remain in power. This requires a quiet and serene environment, one where one can think and reflect. If we want to have children, there must be someone to take care of them, either the husband who does not have a stressful job, a family member or a nanny. But also the ultimate solution is to have children much later – i.e - after reaching your career goals.

When a mother does look after her children, she is called a bad mother and is said to be “wearing the pants” in the relationship. In most societies, men and women have different roles and when does not confirm, he/she is judged by society. In societies where having a large family is encouraged, it is possible for a woman to start a political career or any other career because the family can take care of the children.

Original comment sent in French by Bisumbula - Lutha

Amina Alrasheed Nayel A Professor's picture


I agree with Nommy and Bisumbula in their points that juggling a political career, a family and a separate profession can be a very daunting task, and it is not easy for a woman to find a work life balance as a mother and a politician.


Balancing career and family is a task that the societies need to do more about, if are genuine in bringing women cognitive structure up to the public. Such task is really difficult with the current economic crisis that we all face, however, in principle challenging the very status quo of the normalized naturalized division of labour could take us somewhere.


If we manage to introduce flexible working hours to accommodate family needs, we could do so in terms of our political work as well. The state support is fundamental in paving the way for more women to join, and as mentioned before, with the provision of appropriate health care, schooling system, nurseries and transportation we can at least build the ground for appropriate inclusion for women in politics.


For some time there was a traditions at the government level in Sudan that each ministry or government entity should provide attached nurseries and kindergarten for the working mothers and fathers, I benefited a lot from such provision while working at an academic institution and with government body in Sudan. Such measures allows for many women to be able to work, and to closely take care of their families.


In fact as we may notice that the prerequisite for women’s inclusion in politics is dependent on such provisions, and the support of the state, this includes and not limited to, provision of health care, transportation, child care, flexible working hours. Etc.


It is a difficult task under the current circumstances as you mentioned in Zimbabwe, however under a better economic circumstances things might differ, but we need first and foremost to establish the essential role of the state in making that possible.  


ozeldedektif's picture

There are many approaches that are historically specific being followed by women in politics in different places around the globe we can still benefit from these experiences and lessons learned to work further towards finding strategies that balance women’s contrition to the society inside and outside the house özel dedektif