Equality in politics – is it possible?

4 mins read

Why are women underrepresented in politics? The answer may be more complicated than you expect.

There are a number of reasons that the divide between men and women within the political field remains prevalent. Whilst quotas hope to break down the barriers to political access, a country’s political structure still holds more sway over the success of women in elections.

There are promising studies that show that the legally binding nature of quotas is an effective measure to ensure greater electoral equality. By allowing women to first gain a platform, they can readdress stereotypes that are so often pinned to them due to societal norms. The chance to prove themselves capable is essential in changing the narrative surrounding women in politics.

Credit: logpledge.org

However, the case against quotas is understandable to say the least. Introducing quotas also introduces doubts over whether a candidate has earned their position in the first place. The act of quotas dilutes the merits of the candidates it effects. After all, the candidate that gains the position may not be the one that people naturally felt inclined to support.

As well as this, there is the stance that quotas only work to glamourise the final statistics without treating the problem at the root. By ignoring the initial stigma, we fail to affect any real, long term change.

Across the world, more and more countries are being governed by parties that are more representative of the populations they serve. Still, a lot of the statistics are more promising than they at first seem with female politicians acting as window dressing rather than effective leaders, in countries such as Sudan, where Professor Mariz Tadros argues that “their presence has made little difference to the configuration of power.” 

In other instances where governments seek to rectify the discrepancies in representation, arguably they fall too short. For example, in 1995, Brazil introduced quotas. However, it is only in recent years that these quotas have seen any effect, with sanctions introduced to bolster their success. 

Women are less likely to hold a political position in party list systems with a fewer number of seats. This is due to people’s ingrained disposition to value men as political candidates over female candidates. Women also see fewer votes in countries where there are right-leaning political tendencies, with leftist parties holding equality further up their list of priorities. 

Encouragingly, studies suggest that once women serve in government, numbers of female politicians are more likely to increase from there on. 

Scotland’s political arena is an anomaly, with strong political figures such as Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson, Mhairi Black and Kezia Dugdale prominently featuring in national news. 

Credit: ibtimes.co.uk

Equal representation may not be a realistic target for some countries within the next five years, but that doesn’t mean countries should strike it from their list of goals. 

With growing tensions between nations, it’s essential that women come to the political forefront. Their presence in the political field is linked to greater instances of peacekeeping between countries, as well as improved healthcare and education.

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Brig Secretary 2019-2020. Studying Politics BA(Hons).

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