The Great Lakes Invitational Conference Association

Encouraging Political Participation by Women

Encouraging Political Participation by Women

Women have been given the opportunity to participate in the political process for hardly more 120 years, beginning with New Zealand granting women suffrage rights in 1893. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to take part in the government of his or her country directly, or through freely chosen representatives. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women also affirms that states should take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country. Nevertheless, women still face constraints on their ability to engage politically, either through discriminatory laws still in effect or structural social barriers placed on women by the masses. For example, Ethiopia’s population is approximately a fifty-fifty split between men and women. Yet, a woman’s average working day is believed to vary between 13 and 17 hours per day, during which she earns less than her male counterparts, and consequently women are poorer on average. Ethiopian women are also on average less educated than men, which only further exacerbates the problem. It is nearly impossible for someone working 17 hours a day to engage in any kind of political activity – even something as simple as voting in an election. Ethiopia is currently still structured socially as a patriarchal system, which keeps women in a subordinate position, and uses religion and culture as an excuse.

 

When it comes to women serving directly in government office, even the West’s record is spotty at best. After the 2016 elections in the United States, only 21 of 100 Senators, and only 84 of 435 members of the House of Representatives, were female. Only one of the nine senior leadership positions in the two houses was held by a woman – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Nordic countries fare better, holding an average of 41.7 percent of parliamentary seats. Rwanda actually has the best record by this metric, with fully 63.8 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament held by women. Yet it is clear that more needs to be done. Recent action by the United Nations has contributed to much-needed change in the direction of more balanced political representation. Kenyan elections in 2013 provided an increase in women legislators of more than 20 percent, aided by UN Women’s provision of training to roughly 900 female candidates running for office. UN Women also supported women’s voter registration in Pakistan for their 2013 general election, with more than 40 million women registered to their National Database and Registration Authority. While these initiatives provided positive change in equitable representation within political structures, there is much more that needs to be accomplished in this regard.

 

Women account for approximately half the world’s population, and therefore have the right to be represented accordingly. Women’s experiences and perspectives can differ substantially from men’s, and they should have the ability to make decisions that affect public policy in their favor. Women are needed in representative institutions to articulate their interests, and a more diverse political body can provide a more accurate picture of the community for which policy is written and implemented. The purpose of this committee is to build a policy that attempts to operationalize this ideal. How can we increase women’s representation in politics? What limitations are placed on only women that stop them from voting, organizing, or running for office? How do we address secondary factors, such as education, free time, and access to resources, which have so far hampered women’s participation?

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