The present report focuses on the issue of the underrepresentation of women in politics. Although there have been significant developments in this area over the past century, the findings of the report suggest that the underrepresentation of women in politics remains a significant issue. Based on statistics, the average share of female parliamentarians in national legislative bodies is less than 25%. Both developed and developing countries experience the problem of the underrepresentation of women in politics, highlighting the global nature of the problem. The issue is of great concern because the inequality of representation affects the governments’ priorities, limiting its effectiveness in promoting the well-being of all citizens.
The findings also show that the underrepresentation of women in politics is connected to socio-cultural and structural barriers. The conclusions of the report concern the importance of underrepresentation and its potential impact on governments and populations. Based on the findings, the report provides recommendations for improving the representation of women in politics. Educational outreach and training programs are advised to empower young women and provide them with information about engaging in politics. Additionally, quotas for women in political bodies could be effective in addressing the problem.
The underrepresentation of women in politics is an important issue that stems from historical inequality faced by women in all aspects of life. Despite significant progress in women’s rights, women remain underrepresented in global politics. While some countries achieved a balance between men and women in power, most countries struggle to do so, which has a negative effect on political decision-making and women’s rights in general.
The present report will examine the problem of the underrepresentation of women in politics, as well as its causes and consequences. The primary aim of the report is to highlight the importance of the underrepresentation of women in politics. The objectives related to fulfilling this aim are to explore and explain the role of women in global politics, identify the negative consequences of underrepresentation, and propose solutions for increasing women’s participation in politics on national and global levels.
Women in Politics
Research into the representation of women in politics shows that there are significant variations in women’s political participation around the world. Based on the data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2019), there are only three countries that managed to grow the share of women in their lower or only house to 50% and above: Rwanda (61.3%), Cuba (53.2%) and Bolivia (53.1%). The rest of the 192 countries appraised in the report have less than 50% of female parliamentarians, with some countries having none at all (Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu).
It is important no note that women’s political participation does not depend on the country’s status. Both developed and developing countries show evidence of the underrepresentation of women in the government. For example, the United States is ranked 76th globally; the share of women in the lower house there is 23.6%, which is the same as in Afghanistan and Cabo Verde (Inter-Parliamentary Union 2019). This means that the underrepresentation of women in politics is a global issue that is not limited to a single group of countries.
In Europe, the degree of women’s political participation varies significantly. The lowest share of women in politics among the European countries is evident in Malta and Hungary. In these two countries, women have 11.9% and 12.6% of seats in the house, respectively (Inter-Parliamentary Union 2019). On average, the share of women in European parliaments is 28.6% (UN Women 2019). In the United Kingdom, the situation is comparable to this figure, with 32% of elected representatives in the Commons being women (Pankhurst 2018).
On the global level, the average number of female parliamentarians is 24.3% (UN Women 2019). In other domains of government, the situation is similar. Based on the data from UN Women (2019), only 20.7% of government ministers across the globe were women, and the median share of women in elected local deliberative bodies was 26%. Based on this information, it is evident that there is a problem with the underrepresentation of women in global politics. Although the degree of underrepresentation varies significantly, there are very few countries that managed to achieve a balance between men and women in power.
Causes of Underrepresentation of Women in Politics
Historically, women’s participation in politics was limited due to their inferior position in society. Norris (2018) explains that, for a long time, women suffered from stereotypes that made them seem unable to make good political decisions. While there was a certain number of female monarchs throughout history, elected officials were predominantly male. In many countries, women were banned from voting or starting a political career until the 20th century (Norris 2018). Women’s rights movements across the globe achieved substantial progress since then, earning women a place in global politics. Still, the situation in most countries remains unfavourable for women, preventing equal participation of both sexes in politics.
One of the primary causes of the underrepresentation of women in politics are stereotypes that influence people’s perception of female politicians. As explained by Oberai and Anand (2018), there are unconscious biases that can affect people’s decision-making in various areas, including politics. When it comes to female politicians, biased thinking draws from stereotypes about personal qualities associated with femininity. Schneider and Bos (2014) state that “female politicians might be negatively evaluated because [their] feminine qualities are inconsistent with the masculine traits necessary for leadership roles” (p. 245). As a result, people are likely to perceive female politicians as incompetent or weak, regardless of their individual qualities and favour male politicians during elections.
Additionally, some scholars suggest that women might hesitate to pursue a political career because politics is a field dominated by men. Maguire (2018) presents the results of research that confirm the negative impact of the perceived masculine culture of parliament on retention rates among female members of the parliament. The same situation is evident in local governments, where the established culture is resistant to female entrants (Maguire 2018). Because politics is perceived as a field where women are not welcome, many women choose other careers instead.
Another important issue faced by women considering a political career is work-life balance. Despite the changing role of women in contemporary society, they are still expected to fulfil their duties as mothers and wives (Kumar 2017). This could cause difficulties for women who wish to build a career in politics since they are required to devote a significant share of their time to their families (Kumar 2017). This explains why women are less likely to pursue high ranks in the government, as these positions require much more time and effort than minor political roles.
Besides stereotypes, cultural factors, and work-life balance issues, there are also structural and institutional barriers to women’s participation in politics. For example, recruitment practices in political parties often leave decision-making to local party selectors, who are prone to choosing conventional candidates over individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, including women (Maguire 2018). Moreover, eliminating discrimination and bias during recruitment is also difficult because of the lack of openness and transparency in political recruitment and selection (Maguire 2018). These structural barriers limit the opportunities for women to enter politics, thus contributing to the problem of underrepresentation.
Lastly, research indicates that there are knowledge and information barriers preventing increased participation of women in politics. For instance, “many under-represented groups (including women) are less likely to have access to the networks, information sources and role models that are a fundamental requirement for candidates seeking political office” (Maguire 2018, p. 34).
Hence, in most countries, men from dominant cultural backgrounds are in a favourable position compared to women when seeking to join a political party or local governments. They are also likely to have better access to information about recruitment and selection through personal connections (Maguire 2018). The lack of information, discrimination during selection, work-life balance considerations, and biased thinking are thus the key causes of the underrepresentation of women in politics.
Consequences of Underrepresentation of Women in Politics
Although most people know about the problem of the underrepresentation of women in politics, few consider it a cause for concern. The primary reason why underrepresentation is an issue is that it limits the perspectives and priorities of people who make political decisions. This, in turn, creates a political environment where the interests of certain groups of people will be prioritised (Ng & Muntaner 2019). For example, when the vast majority of politicians in a country are white men, they will be less likely to focus on laws benefitting minorities. Increasing the participation of diverse groups in politics is thus essential for sustaining democracy and national prosperity.
The primary effect of the underrepresentation of women in politics is that it creates barriers to gender equality. According to the research of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (2008), most people believe that male politicians cannot sufficiently represent the interests of women in politics. This means that countries, where the majority of politicians are male, may struggle in advancing women’s rights because the issues faced by women remain unaddressed by those in power.
Research confirms that female politicians are more likely to hold left-wing views and work on achieving gender equality by addressing pay equity, violence against women, and family policies (Ng & Muntaner 2019) Therefore, increasing the share of women in politics would assist in advancing gender equality and protecting the interests of women in political decision-making.
Furthermore, the underrepresentation of women in politics creates barriers to improving population health. A study on the relationship between the share of female politicians and population health outcomes showed that the increased representation of women in politics had a positive effect on total, male and female mortality rates (Ng & Mutaner 2018). In part, this effect was due to women’s support of population health agendas, which resulted in increased government spending on healthcare (Ng & Mutaner 2018). Another study that examined the relationship between female political representation and child health reached a similar conclusion.
According to Quamruzzaman and Lange (2016), a multilevel analysis showed that the increased number of women in the government had a positive influence on the child health agenda, resulting in more state spending and improved child health outcomes. The underrepresentation of women in politics prevents countries from experiencing these benefits, thus having a negative effect on population health outcomes.
The low numbers of female politicians also affect collaboration between political parties and national governments. The research by Ng and Mutaner (2018) found that the effect of female representation on population health did not depend on female politicians’ political alignment. In other words, women with differing political views were able to facilitate a consensus that positively affected population health outcomes. The researchers believe that their findings are explained by the fact that women tend to “work in more collaborative and bipartisan ways than their male counterparts” (Ng & Mutaner 2019, para. 17).
Studies also show that international collaboration is stronger when there are more women in politics. A study by Hicks, Hicks and Maldonado (2015) found that countries with more female politicians were likely to provide increased support to nations affected by crises compared to countries with limited gender diversity in the government. The results of both studies mean that female politicians are more likely to respond to global issues and collaborate with other politicians to reach positive outcomes. The underrepresentation of women in politics, in turn, impairs political collaboration and prevents governments from achieving the same results.
Lastly, the low participation of women in politics also impacts the legislative effectiveness of political bodies. The research by Volden, Wiseman and Wittimer (2010) showed that women were more likely than men to adopt positive legislative strategies, including exerting high effort, building consensus, and working on specialised issues. Additionally, women from minority parties showed better results than men in maintaining and supporting their bills throughout the legislative process (Volden, Wiseman & Wittimer 2010).
Meanwhile, women from majority parties showed better results than men in terms of the amount and diversity of legislation introduced (Volden, Wiseman & Wittimer 2010). Based on these results, the underrepresentation of women in politics affects the effectiveness of legislative bodies by limiting the introduction of beneficial legislation and restricting the government’s agenda.
All in all, the underrepresentation of women in politics is a significant issue that is prevalent all over the globe. The statistics provided by various institutions show that both developing and developed countries suffer from a low number of female parliamentarians. Based on recent findings, there are very few countries where the share of women in parliament is close to or above 50%. The average share of female parliamentarians around the world is 24.3% (UN Women 2019).
However, there are significant differences in female political representation on global and regional levels. The research into the causes of underrepresentation shows that women face socio-cultural and structural barriers to political participation. Studies highlight the suppressing influence of masculine political culture, reduced opportunities for networking, work-life balance issues, and discrimination during recruitment and selection as the core causes of the issue (Kumar 2017; Maguire 2018).
The importance of the issue lies in the potential benefits of increased female representation in politics. Research into female politicians shows that they bring positive changes in various socio-political areas, including gender equality and population health. Moreover, the increased share of female politicians is associated with greater legislative efficiency of the government, since women improve collaboration between parties and introduce more diverse political agendas and bills (Volden, Wiseman & Wittimer 2010). Hence, the report shows the need to increase the representation of women in politics to promote population well-being and increase the efficiency of legislative bodies.
In order to address the underrepresentation of women in politics, it is crucial to remove barriers to the political participation of women. According to Maguire (2018), training programs for young women can help to promote political participation among women by reducing the gaps in knowledge and education. Educational outreach programs could also encourage girls to pursue their interests in politics while providing information about recruitment and selection of political party members (Maguire 2018).
Additionally, it is essential to promote the election of women into political parties. Improving the openness and transparency of selection procedures would encourage local party selectors to improve the diversity of chosen candidates (Maguire 2018). Moreover, establishing national quotas for women in various political bodies could assist in addressing the issue. Kumar (2017) states that quotas can help to reduce discrimination during recruitment and selection, thus promoting the increase in the share of female politicians. Maguire (2018) provides examples of successfully implemented quotas in various countries.
For example, in Spain, there is a legal requirement for candidate lists to contain at least 40% of candidates of each sex. The country’s initiative had a positive effect on women’s political participation, enabling it to become among the leading European countries in terms of female political representation. Applying a comprehensive approach to empower women and reduce discrimination in politics would help to achieve sufficient representation of women in politics.
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