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Overview of Women in International Politics



Women across the world are affected by decisions and policies that determine their lives, and yet in most countries, this is done by elected political bodies where they do not have enough representation. Women don’t even hold a third of the seats in 81% of legislatures across the world. Globally, the country which sees the most representation of women in the lower house of parliament is not a Nordic or highly developed country as one would expect. In fact, Rwanda, one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, takes the lead with 62% of women in parliament. This achievement is attributed to post-genocide efforts to institutionalize women’s political participation and encourage their presence in public life.

This state of affairs is dismal across the world with only 20% of ministerial positions being held by women, and most of these are portfolios like social affairs and family, which heavily hints at gender bias.


Factors that promote women in politics in countries that are doing well:


Socioeconomic factors:

  1. Capabilities: Women require specialised attention and training to understand how to campaign, build their capacity, and strengthen their legislative skills, to make them more involved in the political process.

  2. Financial Access: The Inter-Parliamentary Union conducted a survey with women parliamentarians which found that lack of finances to contest and campaign is a major factor deterring them from entering politics.

Structural/Institutional factors:

  1. Quotas: Gender quotas in electoral systems is a popular mechanism to ensure representation of women as legislators and MPs. 50 countries, like China and Pakistan, have seats reserved for women constitutionally. Research also shows that an increase in the number of women in parliament increases the likelihood of the parliament to address women’s issues.

  2. Electoral System: Women do better in proportional representation as opposed to the first-past-the-post majoritarian electoral system. In most majoritarian systems like the US, UK, and India, each constituency elects a single politician. These systems are known as single-member-district systems. In all PR systems, on the other hand, each constituency is responsible for electing more than one politician. This is attributed to a higher possibility of social engineering at the district level through ticket balancing, which isn’t possible in a single-member district.

  3. Internal political party efforts: Political parties are the cornerstone of elected bodies and women’s representation in political parties will automatically increase the chances of a country having a diverse political body. Globally, women usually constitute 40-50% of party membership but they only occupy 10% of leadership positions.


Constraints and factors that reduce women’s participation in politics:



  1. Barriers to entry: Non-quota systems are followed in more than half of the world’s countries, including the United States and India. These automatically tend to favour the dominant socioeconomic groups in society, including men, the dominant race, dominant religion, and those with financial resources and existing political networks.

  2. Issues after entering: Even quota systems that increase numbers of women in parliament are rendered ineffective if they are still marginalised and their opinions are overridden once they are elected to power. In Iraq, even with a constitution that mandates a quarter of the seats be reserved for women, female parliamentarians don’t have a voice in the regional-bloc dominated discussions. They are also not present in the cabinet and other high-level roles.


Contextualising in India:



  1. The constitutions of many Indian political parties (the INC, the Trinamool Congress, the AAP) have reservations for women in their executive bodies and other levels. But these policies are hardly executed properly, with not enough women as promised. The BJP is a slightly more successful case study because according to its 2007 amendment, 33% of its National Executives are women leaders. However, other decision making bodies like the Central Election Committee and the Parliamentary Board in the party still barely have women representatives.

  2. In the Indian context, gender roles are considered the realm of the women. They find it difficult to go outside often, and politics requires quite a lot of activity. Apart from this, their husbands or fathers have control over their financial activities, and so campaign funds and other costs of being in the politics field make it impossible for them to enter.

  3. Sexist comments that women politicians face from male counterparts are not new in the Indian political arena. Women politicians with the patronage of male politicians are approved more. This is unfortunate and a direct reflection of the patriarchal nature of our polity.

Women have proved themselves time and again and by clearing the structural, socioeconomic, cultural barriers, they will find themselves adequately and easily represented in political arenas across the world.


Gopika Kumaran

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