The equal participation of women in politics and government is integral to building strong communities and vibrant democracies in which women and men can grow. By voting, running for office, and engaging in civil society as leaders and activists, women shape laws, policies, and decision-making in ways that reflect their interests and needs, as well as those of their families and communities. However, from the local to the global level, women are underrepresented both as voters and in leadership positions. This happens despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.
Facts and Figures
- Only 22.8% of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3% in 1995.
- As of September 2016, 10 women are serving as Head of State and 9 are serving as Head of Government.
- Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 63.8% of seats in the lower house.
- As of June 2016, only 2 countries have more than 50% women in parliament: Rwanda with 63.8% and Bolivia with 53.1%.
The “Talent Gap”
Women’s skills sets, knowledge, and expertise are vital leadership resources for political parties. Unfortunately, they are under-utilized when parties are insufficiently represented by women. Like in the business sector, this gap becomes even more apparent at decision-making levels in political parties. The “talent gap” that has been identified within companies in the business sector is equally applicable to the sphere of politics.
Addressing the gender-based talent gap can benefit political parties in several ways. Often, women express different political preferences from men, such as education, health care, birth control, abortion and the environment. Women’s engagement in the political process – both by voting and by running for office – is essential to ensuring that these issues are addressed in ways that reflect their needs.
Foremost, partnering with female leaders of civil society and government can help to successfully advocate for the adoption of a 30% quota for women candidates in national elections, thus helping to reduce the talent gap.
Obstacles to Women’s Political Participation
Women face several obstacles to participation in political life. Structural barriers created through discriminatory laws still limit women’s options to run for office. For instance, women candidates may face gaps in capacities or resources that prevent them from competing effectively. If polling stations are located in remote or unsafe areas, women voters may be hesitant to use them.
Among the political obstacles that women face, the following feature prominently:
- Prevalence of men dominating the political arena,
- Lack of party support, for example, limited financial support for female candidates, limited access to political networks, and more strict standards and qualifications applied to women;
- Lack of access to training systems for women’s leadership and for orienting young women towards political life.
Supporting Women’s Political Participation
It is essential to support women around the world because they are highly committed to promoting national and local policies that address the socio-economic and political challenges facing women, children and disadvantaged groups.
They are also strongly committed to peace building, as they often disproportionately suffer the consequences of armed conflict. Reconstruction and reconciliation efforts take root more quickly and are more sustainable when women are involved.
Finally, female participation is strongly linked to positive developments in education, infrastructure and health standards at the local level.
I believe that equitable participation of women in politics and government is essential to building and sustaining democracy. Governments and political parties need to recognize that women must be equal partners in the process of democratic development.