According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum, there has been a significant decline recently in women’s political representation. 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.
The Decline in Women’s Political Representation: Institutionalized Misogyny?
Despite gender equality being an important developmental agenda in the world’s major economies, 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, as 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 populations, 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 in all countries face immense institutional and cultural barriers in running for public offices and other leadership roles. Take G20, a forum of 19 countries and the European Union (EU) to address major issues related to the global economy, such as international financial stability, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, as an example.
G20 convenes each year involving each member’s head of government or state, finance minister, foreign minister, and other high-ranking officials. G20 Summit has historically been a male-dominated space. There is an obvious under-representation of women in G20 delegation and representation. For instance, in the 2019 G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, out of the 38 official participants, just 3 were women. Theresa May, Angela Merkel, and Christine Lagarde. In the 2020 G20 Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, there were only 2 women out of 21 official participants.
The lack of women’s participation in the G20 Summit every year is not only a clear reflection of the gender-political gap in the world’s 20 largest economies but also evidence of a lack of commitment from these powerful countries toward gender parity in politics and decision-making.
The absence of women at the summit is not an oversight, it is a genuine reflection of how few women hold influential positions that involves crucial policy-level decision makings about the future of these nations.
The Decline in Women’s Political Representation: Digging Deeper
Social stereotypes and prejudices view women as dependent, submissive, and incapable of decision-making. Additionally, women’s responsibilities as primary caregivers of the family restrict women to pursue public life. Attempts to improve women’s representation in political and public life do 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.
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 create and implement gender-focused policies, laws, infrastructure, and budgets. An equal number of women in parliament is critical to ensure that policies and legislation are framed with balanced approaches and don’t reflect only male perspectives and ideologies. Gender parity in politics is also an instrument for 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 the international community.
Despite the overall improvement in women’s higher education rate, the increasing gender gap in political participation suggests that decision-makers and governments should not limit their focus only to 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. I personally think that in 2021, the primary reason for the exclusion of women from decision-making is a lack of commitment. The lack of serious and sustained commitment of the governments to addressing the systemic barriers to women’s representation in leadership roles is evident in all countries.