WOMEN’S STRIVE FOR LEADERSHIP: WHAT OBSTACLES?
Across the world, numerous obstacles including pervasive and often subtle attitudes and beliefs that women are unequal to men at home, work and in the government hamper women in leadership positions.
Feminist argue that regardless of race, class or ethnicity, women are constantly defined as political outsiders whose participation in public life is conditional upon their maternal roles.
Many cultures view the raising of children as a feminine duty, thus men are not expected to have domestic roles. In countries where male chauvinism and female subordination exist, women who venture in to powerful positions are faced with multiple roles - to manage her household and family and to also performing their professional task. This often leaves women at a disadvantage in relation to their male counterparts.
As Dr Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, Zambian Ambassador to the US told African Renewal, getting into and staying in positions of power is difficult because of the roles traditionally expected of women.
Still quoting the Zambia Ambassador, to gain positions of authority, women frequently have to be over qualified, just to be noticed as such, it is a direct reflection on how societies view women not to be as good as men. And when women do get appointed, you hear people say ‘she is just like a man’ in other words they relate to you as a man if you are an achiever.
Activist also noted that because women are often viewed as out of place in professional environments, they are subjected to more scrutiny at work than are men of the same rank, which slows down women advancement in to management position.
To reaffirm this observation, former Mexican Ambassador to the UN, Rosario Green said, “I was always being watched by my colleagues, at all levels”, men who were above me watched me, to see if I would make a mistake. Men who were at the same level would watch me to see where I could do things as well as they did. And of course my bosses, who were men, were always scrutinizing me and other women, because they are fearful of history judgment: ‘you made a mistake you selected a woman’.
World wide, about thirty of the world’s more than one- hundred and ninety countries apply some form of female quotas system in politics. This is a form of affirmation action in favor of women. In Africa, there are three main Quota Systems.
A constitutional quota is a system whereby, some countries including Burkina Faso and Uganda have constitutional provisions reserving seats in national parliament for women.
Election law quotas - provisions are written in to national legislation, as in Sudan.
While in political party quotas - parties adopt internal rules to include a certain percentage of women as candidates for office. This is the case with the governing parties in South Africa and Mozambique.
How ever, while introducing quotas provides a means of addressing the gender imbalance in decision making, the practice often lack support from important political actors or meets opposition in societies that have strong patriarchal traditions. Much like the debate around affirmative action, those opposed to quota systems say they discriminate against men.
The Zambia National Women’s Lobby Group accused its government of lacking political will. While the Zambian Government has ratified a number of international instruments to promote women in politics, the group reports, none have been domesticated, cultural and traditional practices subjecting women to male dominance have also hindered women’s progress in achieving gender equalities in politics.
The group also noted that, women face barriers such as ‘conflicts, intimidation, negative attitudes, stereotypes by society and lack of support from the electorate.’
The Stockholm- Based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) reports that women politicians across the globe confront a ‘masculine model’ of politics. In many cases, they lack political party support and have no access to quality education and training to enter politics. ‘Political life is organized for male norms and values and in many cases even for male life-styles’ noted Ms Margaret Dongo, a Zimbabwean politician. ‘But this must and will change’.
From another standpoint, UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) report cited that, simply increasing women’s share of seats in parliament alone is not a solution; it does not guarantee that they will make decisions that benefit the majority of women. ‘It can only level the playing field on which women battle for equality’ reports the UN Agency.
Many factors obstruct elected women from promoting laws that aid women. These may include limits on policy choices Parliamentarians can make due to loan conditions set by international financial institutions.
They may also be restrained by national constitutions that hamper parliamentary power in relation to the executive powers of government and political parties that exert strong discipline over their members noted UNIFEM
Some Gender Activist also argues that quotas may constitute a ‘glass ceiling’ beyond which women cannot go unless they engage in additional struggle. Others contend that women who come to power under such a system may be under valued or viewed as not politically deserving.
From the viewpoint of Mrs. Mata SyDiallo, Former Vice-President of the Senegalese National Assembly, Quotas ‘can only be a transitory solution not a cure for the making of true democracy'.
The IDEA Institute in Stockholm also raised the fact that, women politicians around the world are at a disadvantage in terms of financial resources, since women are a majority of the world’s poor and in many patriarchal societies cannot own property and do not have money of their own. Despite such hindrances, other IDEA study recommends that women around the world learn the rules of politics, create conditions that allow more women to participate and then eventually change the rules to suit the needs of the majority of women.
Meanwhile, Ms Brigitta Dahl, a Swedish Parliamentarian cited that ‘Political Parties, The Educational System, Non-Governmental Organization, Trade Unions, Churches, all must take responsibility within their own organization to systematically promote women’s from bottom up’.
South Africa’s speaker of parliament Frene Ginwala insist that the main responsibility falls on women themselves “ in any society and situation it is those most affected who must bring about change ‘ she added ‘ those who are privileged benefit from a system that marginalizes others. It is up to us the woman.
By Enie Cecile
Facts from African Recovery, United Nations