Political Representation for Women

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Politics and governance involve all aspects of power: who has power, what power relations exist, how power is exercised, the institutions of power, how they operate, what laws and policies are churned out from these institutions and what impact those have on people. Through the patriarchal powers vested in them by society, men become the ‘directors’ of virtually all public life – the ‘face’ of politics and governance. (Lowe Morna, 2004: 25)

It is a statement of the obvious to note that women have been discriminated against in the political arena for centuries, enjoying little to no representation and playing no role in the governing of their countries. To effectively give credence to the arguments for women’s representation and to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of various ideologies, electoral systems and the use of quotas in offering women political equity, we must first understand how they have been politically marginalised.

To that end, this paper begins with an exploration of the concept of citizenship: what it means, how important is it in having access to rights and representation and how and why the notion is gender-biased. Arguments are then presented that highlight the imperative need for women to have a face in governments, indicating their right to be a part of the policy making process. Women’s representation is, however, not a cut and dried issue for many political theorists and there are a number of debates surrounding the issue including the matter of women’s interests being a part of policy making, the legitimacy of feminists in government and the substantive effect of descriptive representation. Each of these will be discussed and evaluated as will the effectiveness of liberal democracy in terms of women’s rights and representation.

Finally, a focused discussion on electoral systems and quotas and how they can be used to ensure fair representation and participation for both genders ensues. Based on this, the required evaluation of their effectiveness in increasing the number of women in government is made. Once again, this is a subject that elicits much debate but has in certain instances, as will be demonstrated in the final section, been immensely successful. 2. Women and Citizenship

The term citizen is a broadly used and widely interpreted one that has meant different things to different people across the centuries. The basic understanding of the word is any member of a state who is politically and legally recognised as an individual and who, by democratic principle, therefore has both rights and responsibilities toward that state. Erasmus goes one step further to outline those rights in terms of equal access to judicial, political, social and economic independence. Despite the fact that days where women, ethnic minorities and the mentally ill were not formally considered citizens at all have passed in democratic countries, the question remains whether their inclusion is meaningful to the extent that they have access to the political mechanisms of democracy.

A history of the state highlights some of the reasons why the concept of citizenship has traditionally been gender-biased. These include the perception that it is by defending a state in military terms or contributing to it in economic terms, that one has rights to citizenship. As both of these fields have, for centuries, been off limits to most women across the globe, their exclusion was a natural result of their relegation to the lesser-valued private sphere. In addition, land ownership laws, inheritance laws and marriage laws have been used to ensure that women were passed along from the care of their fathers to that of their husbands without ever enjoying either the experience or recognition of being individuals. (Phillips, 1991a:96) While most of these laws have been changed over the last century, the perception that accompanies them has been slow to follow.

In her article, Citizenship and Feminist Theory, Phillips...
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