Women’s leadership and political participation is a hot topic. There are many debates about the reasons for the lack of women in politics, and how to encourage more women to participate.
Currently, only nine out of 193 UN countries have woman in leadership roles as president or prime minister. This is about five per cent of members.
This article will take a look the history of women’s leadership and political participation, what barriers they face and how to encourage more women to participate in politics.
History of women’s leadership and political participation
Less than a year after women won the right to vote in the UK, in 1918, the Parliament Act was passed, allowing women to stand as Members of Parliament for the first time.
Less than a month later, the 1918 general election took place with over 8.5 million women eligible to vote for the first time and sixteen women stood as parliamentary candidates. Among these were leading figures from the suffrage movement, including Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, and Charlotte Despard.
Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, and co-founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, earned an impressive 47.8% of the vote share in her constituency of Smethwick, coming in second place.
Countess Constance Markievicz was the only woman elected to Parliament in 1918. She ran as the Sinn Fein member for Dublin St. Patrick and won with nearly two-thirds of the vote. However, as an Irish nationalist, she did not take her seat in Westminster.
The first woman to take her seat as an MP was American-born Viscountess Nancy Astor, who became the Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1919. She remained in Parliament until 1945.
In 1921 Margaret Wintringham became the first British born woman to take her seat in Parliament. She won her seat in a by-election, triggered after her husband, and the sitting MP for Louth had died. Margaret only served as an MP until 1924, when she lost her seat at the General Election.
During her short time as an MP, she campaigned for equal pay, women to receive the vote on the same terms as men, women-only railway carriages and state scholarships for girls.
The first female Labour Party MPs were elected in the 1923 election – including Margaret Bondfield, MP for Northampton. Under the first Labour government, between 1929 and 1931, Margaret became the UK’s first female cabinet minister after being named Minister of Labour, after previously been the first female chair of the Trade Unions Congress.
In 1979 Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first female Prime Minister. She served in office as Prime Minister for 11 years, making her the longest serving British PM of the 20th century.
559 women have been elected to the House of Commons, since 1918. Today, 225 out of 650 MPs in Parliament are females which is 35%. This is an all-time high, with a steady, and fairly rapid increase, since Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979.
Currently, only nine out of 193 UN countries have women in leadership as either the president or prime minister, which is only about five per cent of members. So whilst great strides have been taken around the world to increase gender diversity across all levels of government, including local councils and national parliaments, there is still a long way to go.
The Barriers to Women’s Political Representation
There are many challenges facing women in the political process, such as lack of access to funding, lack of representation in the media and low levels of female representation.
Women also face a lot of obstacles when running for office. Women are less likely to be asked to run for office or be encouraged to do so by people who can help them win. Women are less likely than men to have the skills or experience required for a position, which makes it more difficult for them to find a job that has the potential to lead up the political ladder.
Women also have less access than their male counterparts when it comes to having connections with influential people and other power brokers in society. This is because they are often excluded from informal networks that exist at work and outside work.
Unconscious Bias and Stereotypes also play a role. These biases can shape the way we view others, what we expect of them, and how we feel about ourselves. One common example of unconscious bias is gender stereotypes, which dictate the roles that males and females should have in society. These beliefs are deeply rooted in our culture and begin as early as the first moments of life when people are classified by sex, which influence people’s perceptions of what someone should looks like, what jobs they should and should not do and how they should act.
How to Encourage More Participation in Politics
Women are underrepresented in politics. Women have a long way to go before they achieve equal representation in the political sphere.
The more women who take an interest in and know more about what is going on in their countries, the more likely they are to get involved in making change happen.
The United Nations has set an ambitious goal of achieving gender parity in national legislatures by 2030, but many countries are not on track to meet this goal.
There are many things we can do to encourage more participation in politics by women, here are a few:
- Offer Women a Supportive Environment for Careers in Politics
- Increase Media Exposure of female role models
- Develop Mentoring Programmes
- Training and leadership programmes for women
On the subject of training and leadership programmes for women, the United Nations Development Programme announced that from 2021 –
“newly elected women representatives will be able to unite around the values of equality, non-discrimination and the development of their communities. The Enhancing Women’s Political Participation at the Subnational Level project provides for the development and holding of offline and online training events for newly elected representatives, as well as for the conduct of an educational campaign about the need to ensure the full, free and democratic participation of women in political and public life, on an equal footing with men.”
However, whilst this is admirable, this does not cater for women who have a deep routed interest in politics, but lack the confidence and belief they need to make that next step and enter the political arena.
This is something Sarah Jones can help with. Sarah has decades of experience and provides one-to-one coaching to help you realise your full potential, and not just compete, but excel in male dominated arena like politics.
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If you are a woman, who is an aspiring politician of the future, or a political party looking to prepare your female candidates for roles in leadership, then please contact Sarah who can help you achieve your goals.
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