What needs to change for women to move from the political margins to the mainstream? Multiple and intersecting factors underpin gender disparities in public life. They must be tackled simultaneously.
First are a set of measures aimed at leveling the field in the electoral domain. While quotas have helped, we need more complex strategies to improve the overall political landscape. These include voter education to combat gender stereotypes, expanding women’s access to campaign financing, fostering cross-party and regional coalitions of women in politics, and engaging with the men who control political parties and agendas.
Second is the hard work of dismantling structural and social barriers that obstruct women. A fundamental but often forgotten factor that underpins gender inequality is women’s burden of unpaid care and domestic work. Redistributing it more equally in family and society is essential to women realizing their economic and political opportunities.
Patriarchal values, tradition and conservative norms exert a powerful hold and cannot be fought just with advocacy campaigns. Women as much as men, as candidates and voters, harbor harmful gender norms and stereotypes that portray politics as the domain of men. Confronting and combating these trends require coordinated strategies that target gender bias in education, media, social affairs, health and employment.
Violence in politics is a global and growing phenomenon. Women are targeted for their gender and routinely face vicious gender-based cyberviolence that is often life-threatening. This is a huge deterrent to aspirants, especially younger women, who must enter electoral politics in far greater numbers if the gender gap is to be bridged.
None of this is easy, but women leaders and parliaments and local assemblies in a growing number of countries are showing us the way.
At the national level, women parliamentarians have driven crucial legislation on women’s rights – for example, criminalizing violence against women in North Macedonia and early and forced marriage in Kyrgyzstan, and promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Montenegro. We know that women in decision-making positions at the local level promote human development because they more often than men prioritize community over individual needs.
There are other pressing reasons why gender diversity must become intrinsic to good decision-making and responsive governance. Today’s complex problems call for smarter solutions. Whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inequalities combined with gender wage and labour gaps, or climate change, our responses must consider a multiplicity of perspectives and experiences – informed by gender, race, background, education, class and occupation.
Equal participation in political decision-making is a matter of gender equality. Women are half the world’s population and must have equal say in all decisions that affect their lives. On International Day of Parliamentarism, let us join forces for an #EqualFuture.
Editor's Note: If you found this piece useful, also check out "Armenian women take the political stage".