According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum, this year, women’s political empowerment has significantly declined globally. The gender gap in politics is the widest out of the four key areas studied – Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. The Global Gender Gap Index or Report is an initiative of the World Economic Forum introduced in 2006 to measure the progress of global gender parity and compare gender gaps of different countries across four dimensions.
Despite gender equality being an important developmental agenda in the world’s major economies, the progress isn’t very promising. The overall Global Gender Gap score in 2021 is 67.7% – worsened by almost 0.6 percentage points compared to the previous year. According to the World Economic Forum, this year’s decline is contributed by the reversal in performance on the Political Empowerment parameter. According to the report, it will take 135.6 years to close the present gender gap.
Moreover, Political Empowerment has achieved the least progress globally (22%); which means 78% of the gap is yet to be closed. At the current rate of progress, it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics, estimated by the report. This undeniably puts a question on the progress of SDG 5, especially in political participation and empowerment.
Here are some staggering statistics about the dire situation of women’s representation in national politics –
Women represent only 26.1% of parliament seats and approximately 22.6% of elected ministers in the 156 countries studied in the report.
As of January 2021, in 81 countries, there has never been a woman head of state.
In two countries (Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea), there are no women in the entire parliament.
In nine countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brunei Darussalam, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Viet Nam and Yemen) there are no female ministers at all.
Even the most advanced region in terms of Political Empowerment— Western Europe—has closed just 43.8% of its gap so far.
Despite the overall decline in the global average, it is noteworthy to mention that 96 small countries were able to reduce gender gaps in parliament from the last year, which is a positive sign. Because of very significant declines in some of the large countries with higher population, the global average has overlooked the important contribution made by these 96 countries. For instance, India (from 23.1% to 9.1%), Indonesia (from 23.5% to 17.1%), Colombia (from 52.9% to 38.8%). and Poland (from 27.3% to 4.8%) are some of the countries with the highest percentage of decline in women ministers.
Women’s equal representation in politics, public offices, and other decision-making positions is key to the full realization of democracy. Women’s participation in politics helps to create and implement gender-focused policies, laws, infrastructure and budget. An equal number of women in parliament is critical to ensure that policies and legislations are framed with balanced approaches, and don’t reflect only male perspectives and ideologies. Gender parity in politics is also an instrument of transforming the culture of the patriarchal social construct. Thus the decline in women’s political participation and empowerment must be a matter of great concern for the states and international community.
Social stereotypes and prejudices view women as dependent, submissive and incapable of decision making. Additionally, women’s responsibilities as a primary caregiver of the family restrict women to pursue public life. Attempts to improve women’s representation in political and public life does not ensure men’s participation in domestic and care work. Equality between women and men in political and public life can not be achieved without equality in personal life. Unfortunately, efforts and progress have been very slow in this aspect.
We must not forget that men’s participation in leadership and decision making roles in the public and private sector depends on their ability to depend on women in family and personal life. Therefore women’s equal participation in politics or leadership would challenge what has been considered standard in the traditional patriarchal societies. Unless we shift our focus to adopt a better mechanism to address this challenge, women’s representation in decision making positions in public and private offices would be a far cry from reality. Women will continue to be marginalized economically and politically in the years to come.
Despite the overall improvement in women’s higher education rate, this increasing gender gap in political participation suggests that decision-makers and governments should not limit their focus only on access to higher education. If higher education is not complemented by a shift in social and cultural prejudices about gender roles, we will not see notable progress in women’s representation in politics and leadership.
Related Post: Women’s Leadership Gap -A Critical Missing Piece