We need more women in the political decision-making process. They add value to countries. When more of them become political leaders, members of Parliament, occupy Minister positions or other political roles, more innovative ideas are brought to the tables where decisions are made and more inclusive legislation is passed. Moreover, female representation at the top is crucial for women’s economic empowerment.
The value of women’s involvement in political discussion and governing actions may have been interpreted mainly as a wishful thinking, a nice-to-have plan to implement. Today, it is backed by research, results and numbers, like “Representation Matter”, one of the latest authoritative looks into it, does. This comprehensive report from Women Political Leaders (WPL) clarifies the positive implications and outcomes of more gender-balanced representation in the decision-making process. «A country’s overall progress and performance improves when it has significant representation of women in political leadership because they often have different viewpoints and priorities than men.»
In September, the non-profit network of female political leaders founded ten years ago released this first study, reviewing literature and analysing data to highlight the persisting issues preventing women from entering (or staying in) politics. It aims to offer some guides that can help implement positive interventions, looking at the bigger picture and including all the widespread gender gaps in our societies.
As for today, there are too few women involved in decision-making, which means that at least half of the population’s needs, contributions or ideas are – at least – overlooked. On the one hand, gender-equal participation in politics is a funding element of a democracy. On the other, increased levels of female participation contribute to improving the democratic processes and institutions.
«Representation matters. Voting matters. Running for office matters. Staying in politics matters», confirms the study. And societies are impacted. In fact, where greater numbers of women are in the position to decide which laws to discuss and which topics shall be prioritised, higher levels of protection from discrimination (both for women AND men) are recorded. Moreover, women’s participation in the economy increases. As we know, many gender inequalities are related to workplaces environments and the cultural barriers perpetuating specific social roles but also to existing legal frameworks. Changing perspectives and introducing new points of view can then enforce a virtuous circle that feeds itself.
According to Julia Gillard, chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leaders at King’s College London, when women are political leaders, they reshape the nature of politics and international relations because they put on the table problems like gender-based violence and reproductive health, previously considered “non-priorities.” Research shows that a higher number of women elected plays a role in counteracting corruption, directing resources toward public services and focusing on areas that benefit the more vulnerable – education and welfare, among others. «More women leaders – she writes in the foreword to the study – seem to make for more equal and caring societies.» She also considers that countries where more women hold political power are less likely to go to war and commit human rights abuses.
Even if the correlation may not seem immediate, greater female participation in the decision-making process results in an greater participation of women in the workforce, WPL’s report maintains. For starters, as mentioned, laws that benefit against discrimination increase opportunities to participate in the economy. If reached more widely, this goal can boost national economies; Canada and Japan, for example, could expand their GDP by 4% and Pakistan by 30%. Yet, in the world, only 14 countries have legal equality of economic opportunity and freedoms for both genders*.
The report further illustrates that the percentage of women who are members of Parliaments and cabinets relates to the level of legal equality of economic opportunity recorded in a country. As Obiageli Ezekwesili, Chair of the WPL Board, puts it, «Women’s political representation is closely linked to the promotion of legal equality of economic opportunity. The data suggests that only if women have significant representation (ideally parity) will we achieve legal equality of economic opportunity and unlock the benefits and economic improvements associated with this diversity.»
Looking at these two elements, typically, only a representation of women in the law-making process allows for the hoped legal equity. And, as the study suggests, a more balanced presence of male and female policymakers may boost a country’s economy.
To improve the situation
How to improve the situation? The first step is acknowledging the opportunity for more gender-balanced representation in politics, especially in decision-making. Secondly, because we know that when things are left to themselves they do not change (if ever, maybe very slowly) some positive actions are to be taken, monitored and enforced constantly until they become “habits.” We have seen in the past decades, and we now know – numbers at hand – what works. And the proofs, if we need some, are the best practices from those places that have been relying on them for years.
Among the more effective key actions**, “Representation matters” points out the following:
- quotas and positive measures at the national and/or party level can help boost participation numbers and even grant more role models to look up to. Forcing new voices into the discourse already represents a significant change – yet again, it cannot be left to itself without monitoring or enforcement.
- Reconfiguring the political institutions to be more gender-sensitive.
- Ensure political institutions accommodate the caring responsibilities of their members.
- Set up (cross-party) women’s parliamentary bodies.
- Ensure women’s organisations and movements work together with women in Parliament.
* “Women, Business, and the Law (WBL) index”, The World Bank, 2023.
** The key actions are published in “Women political leaders: the impact of gender on democracy”, The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
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