Women have been involved in politics for a long time but their presence in big offices has grown significantly both in the 20th and in the 21st century. This growth can be attributed to many factors which will be considered in this essay and among them is the emergence of feminist movements in the 20th century. Feminism basically refers to a movement anchored on philosophy and it addresses gender differences that exist between men and women with the aim of promoting women’s agenda in society. Feminist movements that are very common have been divided into; radical feminist, liberal feminist, Marxist feminist among others. Liberal feminist will be vital in this essay because it has made modern women politicians climb to unimaginable heights and at the same time, it’s attracting various criticisms.
Historical women in my case will be represented by an African woman as well as American women who participated in politics in the 19th century. Modern women shall be represented by Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin who are running for the vice presidency in America on a republican ticket. The accounts of these two groups are going to give detailed information of the path women have followed as well as highlighting the problems they have encountered along the way and their future which is represented by Palin.
Historically women were not keen to vie for top sits in government. This is due to the fact that most societies embraced patriarchal systems which put men in the leading position and women were relegated to very inferior positions. First of all American women did not have the rights to vote and this made it very difficult for a woman to vie for a political post. Various reasons have been cited in order to support this argument. Karen et al (2002) note that ‘women were considered unfit to vote by a majority of men who drafted the constitution, especially those who wished to maintain control over their wives or those who thought that political issues are too complex for females to understand.’ this is very biased and chauvinistic thinking because there are no biological differences between men and women which impairs women thinking capacity. There are others who believe that women are very moral and involving themselves in politics ‘a very dirty game’ would taint them.
Feminism challenged these ideas and finally, constitutional changes were effected starting with the USA and later on to other countries, and women were given a chance to vote and go for a political post. Although the battle seemed to have been won many women did not make it to parliament. This case applies mostly in African and Asian countries whereby culture dictates that it’s only men who can be elected as leaders. Most of these cultures deny women a chance of becoming a politician through the division of labor at the domestic level. Women are confined to their homesteads and they are only engaged in reproductive work which is not paid for therefore denying women economic power which comes in handy in politics. The girl child is also not taken to school and she ends up missing a chance of acquiring formal education and knowledge which is critical in any political career.
Where girls are relieved of their domestic chores and given education being voted in both by men and their fellow women becomes a problem. This is because in Africa women are not recognized as good leaders although this archaic excuse is fast losing its meaning. For educated women, without husbands, it becomes very worse. Most cultures dictate that for one to be a good leader you must start by managing your family before you proceed to a higher level and a family is made up of a married man and woman.
For modern African women, the going is becoming easier because feminism campaigns are now bearing fruits. More men have come to the conclusion that women can make good presidents such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia who is leading her country out of ashes after a civil war. Women have proved to be excellent policymakers because they are interested in the well-being of the country, they are not corrupt, and are not warmongers. Their presence in politics is a good encouragement to young girls since they have real role models who are a source of inspiration to them. Affirmative action has also played its part and it has led to the establishment of a quota system in governments. Mutume (2004) reports that African governments have started adopting quota systems and ‘between 2000 and 2002, elections were held in 23 countries in sub samara Africa with increases in women parliamentarians in 14 of them,’ she tributes to the quota system. She also notes that there are three types of quota system: ‘constitutional quotas, election law quotas, and political parties’ quotas.’
In America and other developed countries, the struggle is different. This is because every child is entitled to education and there is equal employment for men and women in the country. This is due to the fact that American values are an integral part of the American dream where everyone has to work hard and contribute to the growth of her country positively. This country is also gender polarized and leaders are not elected on a sex basis. Arguing along the same line Romano (2008) notes that gender was not a disqualifying factor for either Clinton or Palin. Voters who turned against them did so for other reasons, just as they do with male counterparts.’ These factors have a lot to do with foreign policies and mistakes of previous regimes under which they may have served.
However, the modern woman here is facing a lot of other challenges most of them generating from the earlier savoir i.e. feminism. Liberal feminists argue that for reduce reproduction in order to give women a chance to participate fully in productive activities and in politics. Therefore being families are not encouraged by liberal feminists and they often support abortions. Hillary for instance has one daughter only. The rise of Palin who is one of the beneficially of liberal feminism has put liberal feminism in chaos. This is because she does not support abortion and to make the matter worse she has a big family. To be specific she is a mother of five. The argument here is that some liberal feminists feel that Palin is neglecting her role as a mother in favor of politics.
In Africa and other countries lack of support is a big problem hampering the efforts of modern women politicians. Lack of political will from the ruling governments tops the list followed by strong political traditions that have not been fully cracked. Conflicts are also many and they draw all the attention since many women are displaced the powers of numbers often lacks. Quota systems are also part of the problem. Mutume (2004) points out that ‘quotas may constitute a glass ceiling beyond which women cannot go unless they engage in additional struggle.’ Therefore quota system is only a temporary medicine that is not good enough for making a true democracy where women participate fully.
The current state of the economy worldwide is not good for women who want to take the world by storm. This is because the major players of the economy are men and they will be reluctant to accept policies that do not assist them to make more money. These businessmen can easily shoot down a policy due to their political as well as their gender advantage. The current financial down wants leaders who can act tough and women sometimes are sympathetic and this does not go well in times of a crisis. The change o the political landscape is also going to give women a headache. For instance, many political parties are failing to have a majority in parliaments, the lower house, and in the upper house and this calls for the formation of grand coalition governments. Women will join hands with political parties and they experience a lot of internal fighting and their government never settles. This case applies to Israel where the caretaker of the Kadima party is facing a similar problem.
Women have risen in political hierarchy although through a lot of struggle. The historical women politicians were subjected to a lot of problems because they hailed from a society where patriarchy was the order of the day. Through feminism inequality between men and women was tackled and women got an opportunity to be elected by people as their leaders. Although this war succeeded other problems are emerging and they are pulling women downwards such as issues of abortion, economic crisis, and formation of grand coalition governments. I hope that both men and women will work together in order to eliminate these problems.
Mutume G. (2004), Women break into African politics: quota system allow more women to gain elected office. African Recovery, vol.18. United Nations, New York.
Romano, L (2008), Election: year of the woman. Washington Post Company.
Zeinert, K. and Karen, Z (2002), Women in Politics. New York, Prentice Hall.