Female Underrepresentation: Are Women Electable?
The participation of women in the political scene remains even today one of the unresolved issues for the achievement of social equality, representation, and participation. In recent decades, remarkable steps have been made and the situation is clearly improved in Western-European countries. Similar improvements are obvious in other regions with smaller paces. However, many quantitative and qualitative analyses prove that we still have a long way to go to achieve equal political representation of the genders.
Quantify the problem
To analyze this multidimensional and complex issue, on the one hand, we can examine the numbers and statistics presented at global, European, and national levels. Taking Greece as an example, the numbers shortly present the situation. In accordance with the United Nations World Report on Women for 2023, Greece ranks 152nd with only 2 women in ministerial positions (10.5%) and 3 deputy ministers in crucial ministries of the country. In another measurement, regarding the total number of women in the Parliament, Greece records low percentages in this part as well, with 63 of the 300 seats in the parliament being held by women, a percentage that only reaches 21% of the total seats. In this context, the country ranks 106th in the report, in the same category as China, Morocco, Bulgaria, Israel, Kenya, and other countries.
At the municipality level, the numbers do not differ significantly. In the local elections of 2019, only 17 women won the office of Mayor, out of a total of 331 municipalities and these were mainly in islands, remote areas, or smaller towns.
Qualitative Analysis of the Problem
However, by presenting only the quantitative elements, it is difficult to understand the real causes and obstacles that shape this reality. What are the real reasons women are discouraged from getting actively involved in politics? Why are women part of political groups or involved in supportive roles but not taking the next step and claiming leadership positions? Does everyone have the same starting point and ultimately what needs to change so that women are not just included on the ballot because they "have to", but have real electoral success? These are some of the questions worth asking when considering the issue of women's political participation.
In particular, the European Women's Lobby, which works on issues related to women's rights and equality, identifies the following reasons as predominant for the under-representation of women in politics:
- Confidence: women - for a variety of highly rational reasons - have more doubts about putting themselves up for election
- Candidate selection: once women agree to run, it’s often difficult for them to get an electable spot on the election list.
- Culture: politics is a men’s world. Sexism is rampant and external threats - women - are often not welcome.
- Cash: when women run for election, their campaigns often receive less funding than their male counterparts)
- Childcare: across the EU, women spend double the amount of time on childcare compared to men
By emphasizing the qualitative characteristics of the issue, we can pinpoint the roots of the problem which actually perpetuate and reinforce underrepresentation. Attitudes and culture often play a decisive role in the choice of occupation and the "pre-defined", in a way, fields in which women can work. These unconscious biases lead many women to pursue different roles in their careers and even if they are actively involved in politics they are unable to assume leadership positions.
In addition to this argument, the lack of similar role models is an important factor. As women in politics and participation are numbered, there are not many role models to that other women could relate and be inspired to follow a similar path. Furthermore, women working in male-dominated fields, such as politics, often adopt male models and standard behaviors in order to "survive" and prove their competitiveness. In this case, the difficulties and obstacles they face are fudged.
At the same time, politics, like other workplaces, needs the creation and maintenance of a network of colleagues, journalists, entrepreneurs, and representatives of society, who will be able to function as a supporting framework in the course of a candidate. Thus, as there are already few women in the field, this makes it difficult for them to support each other. Otherwise, they will need a man to "introduce" them into these circles, where they will be the minority.
Finally, it is common ground that women bear the brunt of unpaid work in terms of caring for the family and the home. Having that in mind, we understand that women who wish to enter politics do not start from the same starting point as men. Even in supportive families and relationships, where household chores are attempted to be shared equally, there is an immediate need for benefits and services that will work to support families.
Why do we need women in politics?
There have been several attempts to systematize the arguments into meaningful groups. The United Nations, for example, summarised the arguments for more women in politics into six groups: the justice argument, according to which women account for approximately half the population and therefore have the right to be represented as such; the experience argument (women's experiences are different from men's and need to be represented in discussions that result in policy-making and implementation); the interest argument (the interests of men and women are different and even conflicting and therefore women are needed in representative institutions to articulate the interests of women); the critical mass argument (women are able to achieve solidarity of purpose to represent women's interests when they achieve certain levels of representation); the symbolic argument (women are attracted to political life if they have role models in the arena), and the democracy argument (the equal representation of women and men enhances democratisation of governance in both transitional and consolidated democracies).
FNF and Women Empowerment
One of the key strategic pillars of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom is the support and empowerment of women. This can be achieved by highlighting crucial gender issues and advocating with society for women's rights. Initiatives aimed at women's empowerment and increasing women's representation in the country's political life are some of that actions. In this context, the office of Greece and Cyprus over the last years has supported a series of programs oriented in this direction: from the documentary of the Greek #MeToo to Academies organized exclusively to strengthen the skills of women.
This year, following this strategy, in collaboration with the Liberal Alliance Party, we are planning a Political Leadership Academy for women. The range of participants will cover women who are involved or wish to be involved in active politics at the local, national, or European level in the future.
The training will consist of 4 in-person 2-day meetings, which will give the participants the opportunity to acquire theoretical and practical knowledge, develop their network, talk with acknowledged trainers and actors, and organize their strategic planning.
Specifically, the training will help
- To facilitate and/or strengthen women’s involvement in electoral politics
- To enhance networking and cooperation among female aspiring politicians
- To help women explore political preparation and campaigning issues
- To help overcome challenges faced by women in politics
- To support liberal political parties to develop and implement gender policies
- To promote gender mainstreaming in politics
More information and the application form will follow soon, so stay tuned!