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Women’s Political Participation: Beyond Women’s Right

Few weeks ago, many women around the world celebrated a new victory in their battle of political participation and decision-making; a battle that dates back to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until today. Mrs. Kamala Harris in the United States of America made history becoming the first woman to serve as Vice President. Mrs. Harris in her victory speech, spoke of her mother and the generations of women of all races who paved the way for this moment and said, “[w]hile I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last[…]”.[1]

While some may think that tackling gender equality issues is irrelevant since women are leading in various fields of today’s world, it is required to consider other fields in which women did not reach yet their desired equality such as in Politics.

Some may question the purpose of discussing the discrimination against women in political and public life rather than shedding lights on other gender inequalities women face on a daily basis. When women lack an equal political participation with men, this may be one of the main reasons and at the basis of gender discrimination in other fields. Women must participate more in political decision-making in order to achieve their desired equality with men.

 What is the legal framework for women’s political and public participation?

 Political and public participation include, but are not limited to, the following rights:

  • right to vote; i.e., the right to choose the political leaders
  • right to participate in political leadership and decision-making
  • right to take part in public administration and public debates.

Participation rights are human rights that must be enjoyed by men and women without any gender discrimination. Women’s political participation rights originate in the principles of non-discrimination and equal enjoyment of political rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”)[2] and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women (“CPRW”)[3].

In addition to that, Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”)[4] ensures that every citizen of a signatory State of the ICCPR must exercise his/her political rights and participate in the public life of his/her country without any discrimination based on gender. Article 25 of the ICCPR ensures that “[e]very citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”

Moreover, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”)[5] explicitly tackles women’s political equality and women’s equal participation at all levels in articles 7 and 8 which impose on States Parties to the convention positive obligations in this regard. Furthermore, Article 4 of the CEDAW encourages the use of temporary special measures to accelerate the achievement of de facto equality between men and women. CEDAW also known as the international bill of rights for women provides the basis for realizing equality between women and men through ensuring women’s equal access to, and equal opportunities in, political and public life including the right to vote and to stand for elections.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action[6] also included a list of measures to be taken by governments, political parties, trade unions, international organizations, the United Nations and others to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures as well as to increase women’s capacity to participate in decision- making and leadership.          

There are many other international and regional conventions, United Nations resolutions and domestic laws that provide for women’s political participation rights. The measures and recommendations to ensure such equality have been thoroughly discussed, the attempts to achieve this goal are numerous; however the problem of women’s underrepresentation in Politics still exists.

Facts and numbers prove that there is still a lot of effort to be done before attaining gender parity in the  political life, noting that half of the world’s population are women:

  • Women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 21 countries.[7]
  • Only 25% of all national parliamentarians are women, up from 11% in 1995.[8]
  • Only 21% of government ministers were women.[9]

 It is clear that progress has been made in this regard but progress remains slow. It is true that women’s right to vote has been secured in nearly every country in the world. Many States have adopted different forms of quota systems as a measure to improve women’s political participation such as political party quotas, legislative quotas or reserved seats. Despite all that, women remain underrepresented at all levels of political and public life. Achieving gender equality remains one of the Sustainable Development Goals[10] set by the United Nations and this goal encompasses achieving a better political representation for women.[11]

While a lot of studies and surveys tackle the barriers to women’s political participation, one can conclude that they are of different types: institutional, financial, social, cultural, psychological, motivational… What is important to take into consideration is that, it is not solely a legal barrier that is preventing women from reaching a political position. In a world where holding political power and leadership is still seen as a male domain, it is hard to normalize the idea of sharing this power with women. Maybe some can also add that women themselves are, at many times, not willing to fight this tough battle.  

Increasing women’s political and public participation is not only in favor of women themselves, but is beneficial to every human being. Many positive social outcomes result from women’s leadership, knowing that women are said to increase the prioritization of social issues such as health, education, parental leave, childcare, pensions… Women also work through parliamentary women’s caucuses on issues such as the elimination of gender-based violence, gender equality laws, electoral reforms… The world is surely and clearly in need of focusing on all these issues to ensure better social justice to everyone. For example, it was discovered in India that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62% higher than in those with men-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship was found between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage.[12]

In addition to that, the landmark Security Council resolution[13] on Women, Peace and Security reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

The following question remains with no definite answer: Why are women still underrepresented in Politics, despite the international commitments, conventions and efforts to attain political parity? In my opinion, what is more important than discussing the barriers and factors to such an inequality in the political field, is to train women to improve their campaign skills, provide financial resources to support women candidates, but above all to encourage women to seek political office.

 It is not easy for women to take part in this field; however, it is always possible. Jeannette Rankin[14], Millicent Fawcett[15], Margaret Thatcher[16], Angela Merkel[17], Nancy Pelosi[18], Ursula von der Leyen[19], Jacinda Ardern[20], Christine Lagarde[21], Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi[22], Rawya Ateya[23], Laure Moghaizel[24], Emily Ibrahim[25], Myrna Bustani[26] and many other women proved and are still proving that women are capable to fight for their political rights as well as to be part of the political field.

All women’s rights are human rights; so, if the international community wants a better world for everyone, then each one of us must work to end all inequalities women are still facing. This can be achieved if we all keep in mind that society gets better for everyone when women’s rights are taken seriously. Women must also believe more in their potentials and support one another to overcome all barriers. Generations of women fought for so long and won the battle of acquiring many of their political rights, similarly today new generations are fighting a new battle of achieving better political participation. This being said, let us remember what Constance Baker Motley[27] once said, “Something which we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade.”

[1] C. JANES, Kamala Harris, daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, elected nation’s first female vice President, The Washington Post, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/kamala-harris-vice-president/2020/11/07/5e6cb460-1df2-11eb-90dd-abd0f7086a91_story.html>, consulted on February 18, 2021.

[2] Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], G.A. Res. 217 (ІІІ) A, U.N. Doc. A/RES/217 (ІІІ) (Dec. 10, 1948), available athttp://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/>.

[3] Convention on the Political Rights of Women [CPRW] art. 1,2,3, G.A. Res. 640 (VІІ), U.N. Doc. A/2361 (Dec. 20, 1952), available at < http://www.un-documents.net/cprw.htm>.

[4] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], G.A Res. 220 A (XXІ), (Dec. 16, 1966), available at  <https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx>.

[5] Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [CEDAW], G.A Res. 34/180, (Dec. 18, 1979), available at  <https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cedaw.aspx>.

[6] It is a visionary agenda for the empowerment of women and embodies the commitment of the international community to achieve gender equality and to provide better opportunities for women and girls. It was adopted by consensus in 1995 by government delegates, experts and civil society representatives at the Fourth World Conference on Women. The Platform of Action covers 12 critical areas of concern, available at < https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/pdf/BDPfA%20E.pdf>.

[7] UN Women, Facts and Figures: Women’s leadership and political participation, < https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures#_edn19>, consulted on February 18, 2021.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) or Global Goals are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals that were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly in the UN Resolution called the 2030 Agenda since they are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. The Goals are the ”blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice”.

[11] United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, <https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/> , consulted on February 18, 2021.

[12] UN Women, Facts and Figures: Women’s leadership and political participation, < https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures#_edn19>, consulted on February 18, 2021.

[13] United Nations Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security, S.C. Res. 1325,U.N. Doc. (S/RES/1325), (2000), available at <https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/>.

[14] Jeannette Pickering Rankin (1880-1973): was an American politician, women’s rights advocate and the first woman to hold federal office in the United States.

[15] Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929): was an English politician, writer and feminist. She campaigned for women’s suffrage through legal change and led the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Britain from 1897 to 1919.

[16] Margaret Hilda Thatcher (1925-2013): was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. She was the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office. She is also known as the “Iron Lady” due to her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

[17] Angela Dorothea Merkel (1954): is a German politician who has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She served as Leader of Opposition from 2002 to 2005 and as Leader of Christian Democratic Union from 2002 to 2018. Merkel is the first female Chancellor of Germany.

[18] Nancy Patricia Pelosi (1940): is an American politician serving as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives since 2019 and previously from 2007 to 2011. Pelosi is the only woman in the U.S. history to serve as speaker.

[19] Ursula Gerturd von der Leyen (1958): is a German politician who has been the President of the European Commission since December 2019. She is the first woman in such a role.

[20] Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern (1980): is a New Zealand politician who has been serving as Prime Minister of New Zealand and Leader of the Labour Party since 2017.

[21] Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde (1956): is a French politician, businessperson and lawyer serving as President of the European Central Bank (ECB) since November 2019. She served as Chair and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 2011 to 2019. Lagarde was the first woman to become  finance minister of a G8 economy and the first woman to head both the ECB and the IMF. She was also the first female Chair of the major international law firm Baker and Mckenzie between 1999 and 2004.

[22] Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi (1962): is an Emirati politician and member of the ruling family of Sharjah. She was the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the United Arab Emirates.

[23] Rawya Ateya (1926-1997): was an Egyptian woman who became the first female parliamentarian in the Arab world in 1957.

[24] Laure Moghaizel (1929-1997): was a Lebanese attorney and women’s rights advocate. She was a founding member of many associations concerned with women’s rights and freedoms.

[25] Emily Fares Ibrahim (1914): is a Lebanese writer, poet and feminist. She was the first Lebanese woman to run for the parliamentary elections in 1953, but was not elected.

[26] Myrna Emile Bustani (1937): is a Lebanese businesswoman. She was the first woman to serve in the Lebanese parliament in 1963-1964 after she took charge of representing her father’s parliament seat upon his death in 1963.

[27] Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005): was an American lawyer, judge and an effective legal advocate in the civil rights movement. She was the first African American woman to become a federal judge.

Rosabelle Saba
Notice: This article is protected under Lebanese Copyrights Law. No one shall copy more than 25% of this article without referring to its main source.

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2 thoughts on “Women’s Political Participation: Beyond Women’s Right”

  1. FADI Al Hamidi

    Thanks for this information.
    I believe in feminist . People should take the rights of women automatically from nature as it is for men . We should not recognize between both genders.

  2. Eliane Youssef

    If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman. -Margaret Thatcher-
    Thank you Rosabelle, interesting, must read article, well done!

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