Will Women Ever Achieve Equality In Political Leadership? By Lulu White-Raheem

In recent times, evidence has shown that women have been making significant strides in politics. Through initiative such as Gender Equality, women have better positioned themselves for greater career success, better business opportunities and countless other opportunities for political advancements...

In recent times, evidence has shown that women have been making significant strides in politics. Through initiative such as Gender Equality, women have better positioned themselves for greater career success, better business opportunities and countless other opportunities for political advancements.

Despite these gains, statistics on global leadership and political participation presented by UN women in June 2016 indicate that;

  • Only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995;
  • As of January 2017, 10 women are serving as Head of State and 9 are serving as Head of Government;
  • Rwanda had the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. Women there have won 63.8 per cent of seats in the lower house;
  • Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all;

From these statistics, one can ascertain even though there is progress, the acceleration of women into positions of political leadership is rather slow.

What are the barriers to women leadership in politics?

Even though, women have consistently demonstrated leadership across party lines and have been successful in effectively managing aggressive political environments; championing issues of gender equality and drastically improved decision-making in political leadership, barriers still keep them from climbing the peak of their political careers and often have to prove themselves against their male counterparts.

The hindrances to such progress can only be found among women themselves, as some women have revealed.  Women are reported to not be supportive of each other and their very own ideas. Often, a woman present an idea and it would gather no support from fellow women, but once the same idea is regurgitated by a male colleague, the same women who did not support it, would applaud its greatness.

There seems to be greater confidence in the male leaders to take over leadership positions elected through a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system such as ward councilors and other executive roles such as  executive mayors, premiers and ministers, etc while women are consigned and generally considered to do better in supporting leadership positions from proportional representation such as PR councilors and deputizing in positions such as deputy executive mayors, and deputy ministerial positions.

It would seem that women do not nominate or support each other for political leadership positions.  It could be that women lack the political confidence to position themselves for such nominations or to nominate other women for such positions, unless that woman is nominated by a male counterpart.  This is an indication of the persistent gender profiling that seeks to associate leadership with masculinity, as opposed to merit.

Other factors that act as a barrier for the advancement of women politically are the societal responsibilities of motherhood and family time.  Studies have revealed that women suffer what is known as “motherhood penalty” across all their chosen career fields.  From the discovery of pregnancy to medical care, childbirth and childcare right up to an age when a child is able to sufficiently care for themselves. Navigating between family time and a political life can be a tremendous challenge which many women are not able to manage effectively.

Another barrier that may be the political culture within which women participate in has become acrimoniously negative with political mudslinging and personal smear campaigns that are aimed at discouraging even the best women candidates from effectively contesting elections.  The unwarranted invasion of privacy to the women deters most from participating openly as their male counterparts.

How does society change these dynamics?

A new movement of feminism is required to send positive messages to women and girls about their role and place in civil society. The current women movements are strongly partisan and fractured and often still driven by a male dominated narrative.

Women need to communicate a message that says “not for us, without us” on leadership roles that men dominate. Democratic initiatives and principles must be intentionally driven to include more and more women participation in active leadership roles with men deputizing and offering support. Mainstream feminism must chart a new course that encourages more women to participate in elections and more senior political positions in order to overcome the current deficit in women leadership.

In conclusion, women have the responsibility to flatten the political playing field for themselves. Men are not going to give them these roles on a silver platter. Women have to be deliberate and set the tone of engagements they need in order to advance politically. South Africa currently employs a quota system that provides that at least 40% of the candidates in an election must be women, however this is not currently enforceable by any standards.  It is certainly a start.

In other countries, this quota system should be enforceable in order to support the “not for us, without us principle”

The power still belongs to the women and only they can change the status quo.


This article was written by Ms Lulu White-Raheem in her capacity as CEO of the Elections Consulting Agency of Africa (EMCA) and a Thought Leader on African Elections and Democracy.

Lulu is an African Elections Expert with experience in election management. She has worked in various high-profile African organizations. Through her organisation, she aims to unify election processes on the continent and advise on the legislative requirements to create environments that allow for free, honest and credible elections. She uses her sound analytical skills and specializes in structuring, standardizing and streamlining election processes to provide more accurate and productive systems that helps companies and organizations realize their organizational and/or company goals, through regular and credible elections of their representatives.

Reach Lulu by Email: info@electionsconsultingagency.co.za | Website:  www.electionsconsutingagency.co.za


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