Globally, women make up 25.5% of legislators, with Rwanda ranking 1st for the greatest numerical presence of women in parliament, and Micronesia; Papua New Guinea; Vanuatu ranking 188th. Currently, women make up 33.9% of MPs in the United Kingdom. When disaggregated according to its devolved nations, Scotland boasts 45% and Wales does not fall far behind at 43%. As of 2018, 30% of the Northern Ireland Assembly is made up of women.
There has been a widespread incremental increase in descriptive representation, i.e. the proportion of women, across legislatures. Undoubtedly, this is a positive and shows that attitudes towards women are improving.
Of course, there is a lot of work to be done. Simply looking at numbers of women MPs in the UK obscures the gendered power gap that exists within the political arena. For instance, the Labour Party has never had a female leader despite its outspoken commitment to gender equality.
Figures such as Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher were not outspoken feminists that prioritised the promotion of women’s issues
Additionally, figures such as Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher were not outspoken feminists that prioritised the promotion of women’s issues. Therefore, the relationship between the percentage of women and the fight against gender inequality is complicated.
Returning to the question of the gendered power gap, this issue persists due to masculine norms and institutional rules that prevent women representatives from ascending. We can see this if we analyse the composition and positioning of Westminster’s Cabinet.
Becoming a ministerial member of this institution is a gendered process. Firstly, it is more difficult to be selected to become a member because of gendered qualifying criteria. For example, women MPs struggle to appropriately network to promote themselves as potential ministerial candidates.
Networking often takes place in exclusively male spaces where women are restricted or unwelcome. Due to the informal process of selecting ministers, it is easy for a masculine bias to prevail. Secondly, if women do enter the Cabinet, they are given positions that reaffirm traditional gender stereotypes, or that lack political resources.
Positions in the Cabinet do not share equal amounts of power and prestige. Jessica C. Smith conducted an analysis of the sex of ministers who appeared during televised COVID briefings. She revealed that only 7% of the briefings within the period of her study were led by women: Priti Patel.
Nonetheless, there are certain conditions that favour the appointment of women into positions of leadership: times of crisis
This is despite the fact that women ministers possess positions that are most relevant to the COVID pandemic. Unfortunately, women are not likely to held powerful ministries. A woman has never been the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for instance.
Nonetheless, there are certain conditions that favour the appointment of women into positions of leadership: times of crisis. These present the best opportunity for women politicians to promote themselves to the forefront of the public sphere because the post is less desirable – a phenomenon called the ‘glass cliff’.
Therefore, the little positions of leadership that women do hold are often precarious. The prime ministership of Theresa May is a prime example of a female leader who only gained leadership due to her state being in crisis. David Cameron had stepped down after the Brexit referendum and tensions were high.
Generally, politicians wanted to avoid being leader during such a testing time; making any mistakes would cost them electorally. As a result of this huge lack of competition, it became a two horse race between two female candidates: Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May.
The rise of women legislators in Scotland, and across the world, is promising and shows that society is accepting the presence of women in the public sphere
In fact, even when it comes to contesting for seats in parliament, parties oblige women candidates to campaign in marginal seats; in comparison, men candidates are most likely to compete for safe seats.
As we can see, the rise of women legislators in Scotland, and across the world, is promising and shows that society is accepting the presence of women in the public sphere. However, there remains a looming dearth of women in positions of leadership and power.
Arguably, politics is still a man’s game. A masculine bias reduces the eligibility of women candidates for positions on the Cabinet, and women leaders are most likely to appear under strenuous circumstances. The playing field is anything other than level. Gender means that men and women representatives are treated differently.
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