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Political Representation For Women

Essay by   •  April 24, 2011  •  4,524 Words (19 Pages)  •  1,178 Views

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Politics and governance involve all aspects of power: who has power, what power relations exist, how power is exercised, the institutions of power, how they operate, what laws and policies are churned out from these institutions and what impact those have on people. Through the patriarchal powers vested in them by society, men become the вЂ?directors’ of virtually all public life вЂ" the вЂ?face’ of politics and governance. (Lowe Morna, 2004: 25)

It is a statement of the obvious to note that women have been discriminated against in the political arena for centuries, enjoying little to no representation and playing no role in the governing of their countries. To effectively give credence to the arguments for women’s representation and to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of various ideologies, electoral systems and the use of quotas in offering women political equity, we must first understand how they have been politically marginalised.

To that end, this paper begins with an exploration of the concept of citizenship: what it means, how important is it in having access to rights and representation and how and why the notion is gender-biased. Arguments are then presented that highlight the imperative need for women to have a face in governments, indicating their right to be a part of the policy making process. Women’s representation is, however, not a cut and dried issue for many political theorists and there are a number of debates surrounding the issue including the matter of women’s interests being a part of policy making, the legitimacy of feminists in government and the substantive effect of descriptive representation. Each of these will be discussed and evaluated as will the effectiveness of liberal democracy in terms of women’s rights and representation.

Finally, a focused discussion on electoral systems and quotas and how they can be used to ensure fair representation and participation for both genders ensues. Based on this, the required evaluation of their effectiveness in increasing the number of women in government is made. Once again, this is a subject that elicits much debate but has in certain instances, as will be demonstrated in the final section, been immensely successful.

2. Women and Citizenship

The term citizen is a broadly used and widely interpreted one that has meant different things to different people across the centuries. The basic understanding of the word is any member of a state who is politically and legally recognised as an individual and who, by democratic principle, therefore has both rights and responsibilities toward that state. Erasmus goes one step further to outline those rights in terms of equal access to judicial, political, social and economic independence. Despite the fact that days where women, ethnic minorities and the mentally ill were not formally considered citizens at all have passed in democratic countries, the question remains whether their inclusion is meaningful to the extent that they have access to the political mechanisms of democracy.

A history of the state highlights some of the reasons why the concept of citizenship has traditionally been gender-biased. These include the perception that it is by defending a state in military terms or contributing to it in economic terms, that one has rights to citizenship. As both of these fields have, for centuries, been off limits to most women across the globe, their exclusion was a natural result of their relegation to the lesser-valued private sphere. In addition, land ownership laws, inheritance laws and marriage laws have been used to ensure that women were passed along from the care of their fathers to that of their husbands without ever enjoying either the experience or recognition of being individuals. (Phillips, 1991a:96) While most of these laws have been changed over the last century, the perception that accompanies them has been slow to follow.

In her article, Citizenship and Feminist Theory, Phillips explores the notion that citizenship is no longer just viewed as one’s right to show up at a polling station every four or five years, but is an “evolving complex of civil, political and social rights” that calls for more active participation and “more substantial citizen involvement and control.” (Phillips, 1991b: 78) This then calls seriously into question any instance where a group is denied the required access to get involved and make a contribution, making them, by implication citizens of a lesser degree, if at all. Lowe Morna comments on this point that women are often “rendered non-citizens by their virtual non-participation in decision making.” (2004: 26) It is with this in mind that we turn our attention to the arguments for women’s representation, for what more fundamental way to be an active citizen than to represent one’s people in government.

3. Arguments for Women’s Representation

While the need for women to be adequately represented in government may be as obvious to some as to defy the need for justification, there are no shortage of tangible reasons for those who are less certain. Phillips poses four arguments in her book, Engendering Democracy, why women should have equal representation to men. The first is a matter of democratic justice. Democracy claims to recognise the human rights of all individuals and this must necessarily include women. It is therefore a violation of human rights to exclude women from public representation just as much as when racial groups or ethnic minorities are given no political say. The second reason is utilitarian in nature, posing that it is an immense waste of knowledge, wisdom and skills to automatically exclude half the world’s population from your list of eligible politicians. As prior discussions on feminist ideologies have illuminated, women have a potentially vast and unique set of attributes to contribute to the public sphere. This ties closely with the third justification for women’s representation, which is that women bring something distinctly different and unique to political positions. This is important both in recognising that women are different and cannot be adequately represented by males and in creating a socially balanced political arena. “The representation of women and the inclusion of their perspectives and experience into the decision-making process will inevitably lead to solutions that are more viable and satisfy a broader range of society. (Lowe Morna, 2004: 29) Finally, in a world still battling to attain social equality between the genders, having women

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