The Need for women in Politics

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Article Written By: Bonolo Mogotsi

Bonolo Mogotsi
Written By: Bonolo Mogotsi

It’s no exaggeration to state “Men Rule”; it’s a matter of fact. South Africa ranks 11th in the world when it comes to women’s political representation, yet the female participation figures have recently decreased subsequent to the 2014 elections. Without a doubt, we need more women in politics. But why, you may ask? Well, women make up 51.3% [1] of the country’s population and yet they continue to remain underrepresented, more so in a country that supposedly possesses the highest government rankings. The basic issue of the value of a representative democracy and pretending like we have one does a disservice to women as a group.

Many of our political parties are also in agreement that the need to include women in politics – which has become an accepted wisdom – is rife. This has been evidenced by means of the various strategies that have been put in place to increase women’s’ participation through the advancement of conventions, protocols and international agreements for gender mainstreaming, yet achieving gender parity is a separate issue. Female leadership at both national and local government levels has recently dropped. Women’s parliamentary representation in South Africa has dropped from 44% in 2009 to 40% after the recent 2014 elections. Representation in provincial legislatures dropped from 41% to 37%.  Following the announcement of the new cabinet, women leadership and participation remains at 41%. The proportion of women premiers dropped from 55 % in 2009 to 22% in 2014 [2]. It is difficult to uncover the cause behind this decline, despite a movement towards advocacy, mainstream policies, gender networks and quota systems in place. These startling percentages indicate that there is still a gross minority of women occupying leadership roles in politics.

The aim of this article is thus to critically discuss why women like Hillary Clinton and UN Women ambassador Emma Watson stress the need for women in politics and a greater representation in parliament. How critical is the need for women in politics? Do women have the emotional intelligence and are they capable of forming the necessary relations?

In 1998, Francis Fukuyama wrote in a Foreign Affairs article entitled ‘Women and the Evolution of World Politics’ (September/October 1998) that women’s political leadership would bring about a more cooperative and less conflict-prone world. This is the common world view with regard to female political leadership. But is it fair to simply group women by the stereotypical roles and characteristics of being nurturers and care-givers, and to assume that the only need for women in politics would be their more cooperative stance and tendency to prioritize socio-economic needs as opposed to going to war?

Moving towards unpacking a non-gender stereotyped piece and shying away from feminist stereotypes which claim that women should be in politics solely for their nurturing and care-giving roles concluding that, women would prioritize children, women and poverty issues contrasts with pragmatic historical examples of women who were in power. The likes of Margret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice and Mbande Nzinga serve as an example of female leaders who break these essentially feminine stereotypes of women serving as “negotiators”, “caregivers” and “nurturers”. The problem with these stereotypes is mainly that they represent women as a homogenous interest group and equate the existence of women in political leadership with feminized norms [3]: for example, women should be concerned with empowering other women and furthering women’s rights; women innately aim to avoid conflict; women are emotionally driven rather than rational.

Many people don’t understand what the big deal is, but others certainly understand the importance of coalescing in unprecedented ways to address the gender imbalances in government. Firstly, the increase of women in political leadership is important not because it will lead to world peace and far less social issues, but merely because women are a group that deserve representation. Historically, politics was understood as a public activity dominated by men and requiring typically masculine characteristics. Women were identified, above all, with the private sphere of family and domestic life. The value of a fair representative democracy of groups is not equally represented. This enormous gender imbalance threatens democracy and does not fully represent what democracy means.

Secondly, images of women in politics do not paint the picture of a career path which is receptive to young girls. It is inspiring to witness women such as former Malawian president Joyce Banda, AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Hillary Clinton – however their rise to power, although heartening, often appears unattainable. In reality, most women see this path as almost impossible to follow. The declining numbers of female participation in politics is largely due to the fact that there simply aren’t enough women in key political positions.

It is important for women to note that being in government does not only mean running for office. It means getting involved in your local cities, your communities, even contributing a specific talent or expertise, for starters. And I think the misconception most have of being a politician is that one needs to have a background in government, or possess national aspirations – yet professional backgrounds in accountancy or even biology can be used to support local policies and help policy-making.

Perhaps quotas need to be in place in order to analyze the fluctuations of women in politics. However, with that being said, further scrutiny needs to go into the quality of women placed in public offices. While it is important to be concerned with the decrease in numbers of female participation, it is arguably, and equally important to be concerned with the status of women and their contribution to office. Merely filling up the positions so as to meet quotas does a disservice to both the woman and society.

And finally, politics and policies have always, directly or indirectly, affected women’s lives. Therefore, the involvement of women in politics, the impact of politics in women’s lives and the politics of women’s social positions should be more of a reason for greater participation from women.

Undoubtedly, the presence of more women in positions of political power around the world does serve as a powerful affirmation of what’s possible for others. Women now, need to dare to compete. I believe young girls can’t aspire to be something in particular, if there are no role models available to carve that desired path for them. And thus if this issue is not addressed, it creates a vicious cycle. I truly believe in role models and mentorships. And the more we see women participating on both a local and national level it is when you will see younger women aspiring to be in office.

By: Bonolo Mogotsi

Age: 26

Educational Background: BA (Hons) International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand

Occupation: Researcher at Yomiuri Shimbun (Japan’s largest Newspaper publication)

[1] Brand South Africa. South Africa. Fast Facts. http://www.southafrica.info/about/facts.htm#.VZU_7UZ8vds

[2] Gender Link. South Africa Misses the Mark on Women in Politics. http://www.capago.eu/FR-ZA/index.php/en/apply 27 May 2014

[3] Morobane, F. Women grossly Underrepresented in International Politics. 21 July 2014. http://www.leadershiponline.co.za/articles/women-11974.html

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