Women in Politics: A Backlash Against Them...


Women's activism has risen fast during the last years, with millions of women raising their voices against abuse and harassment. We haven't seen a bigger number of women candidates running in parliamentary elections than in recent years, and that change didn't only take place in developped countries, but globally.

Even in Afghanistan, during the year 2018, 417 women were candidates in elections and 2.011 women in Iraq.The years between 2005-2018, Lebanon saw a rise of women in politics, from only 4 to 111. In the United States, more than 500 women run for Congress during 2018. It is the first time in the history of the U.S., that women hold almost 25% of the seats in the House of Representatives, and the Senate. This rise of women in politics, can be seen also in Brazil, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Mexico, Djibouti.

Some might say, that this female representation is a matter of fairness. But it is not only that! Statistics and researches upon this issue, showed that gender diversity in leadership, leads eventually to a better and "healthier" governance. Laws supporting children and social welfare, are usually issued by women and not men. It is not but a fact, that in Norway, due to womens' representation in municipal councils, greater childhood coverage has been achieved, something that improved womens' chances to take place in the workforce of their country.

There are many more assets in this situation of gender diversity in governance. A research conducted in the University of Uppsala in Sweden, showed that womens' participation in high-ranking positions, means lower percentage of criminality and political violence in general, as a consequence. According to the female political scientist Mary Caprioli, when women's parliamentary representation increased by 5%, a country becomes one-fifth likely to respond to a political crisis with violence.

But is this representation trully giving women power? Or is it just a window dressing? In the Soviet Union, women made for years a 30% of the Supreme Soviet, which was a high legislative body, but with no power at all...! In Rwanda we can see the highest number of women representatives in politics worldwide, with 61%. But Rwanda is not famous for protecting womens' rights and gender equity as a country. So it is not a surprise that these "rights", are usually called "unqualified tokens drawn from unrepresentative elites".

In our days, we can observe a backlash against women politicians! As the number of women in politics has grown over the previous years, the hostility and in many cases, the violence against them, has also risen. Lately, women trying to enter politics, they face a disproportionate number of attacks, most of which are gender-based. Attacks against women politicians reached a record high globally, during the year 2019. Even women who simply exercise their right to vote, especially in rural areas and at polling locations, fall victim to violence at nearly four times the rate of men.

According to a survey conducted in 2017, in Honduras, Tanzania, Cote d'Ivoire and Tunisia, 55% of female officials were subjected to violence while carrying out political duties.

Even online, we can observe a disproportionate and targeted assault against women in politics, which takes the form of a harassment in social media, targeted on gender features, giving it a gender-specific quality. In some extreme cases violence against women in politics, and threats against their loved ones, became lethal, as for example in Brazil, when Merielle Franco,  a black feminist and city councelor in Rio de Janeiro, got killed.

Even in the United Kingdom, almost 100% of female legislators increased their security at home, compared to 75% of the men.

It is common knowledge that this backlash against femaly politicians, is driven by misogyny, a pathology with deep roots in most societies. The most disappointing fact in this situation, is that this is a cultural feature and is not showing signs of being soon eliminated.

The problem becomes bigger, when one takes into account, the fact that violence against women in politics cannot be easily tracked. In many cases there is lack of data due to underreporting, of women who want to avoid being identified to the stereotype that they are ill equipped for politics. Governments, initiate laws to protect women, too rarely.

So, it is time to think about the reality of these quotas showing the number of women representatives in politics globally. Even the fact that as societies we need to use quotas, in order to "promote equity and democracy", is a sign of deep misogyny and of political correctness. Quotas should represent real power, and not numbers that have the effect of making women "sit back and relax" as if they made it! 

It is not a surprise, that Sweden resisted to legislate the quotas, as a measure of governance in top corporate positions, a measure that was adopted by Norway. Sweden insisted, that the real change should be made in the area of working conditions, that would eventually enable more women to thrive, and the quotas should follow...And that is true! Because if you don't beat the illness of misogyny with a punch from the inside, then all the other changes are fake amendments and half-measures...The race is long and there is no time for celebrating over numbers...!

                                                    written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science

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