Why We Need More Women In Power
4th July 2020
We’ve read the memes and had discussions with our friends regarding women in power. We know that women have ‘historically’ suffered societal and political discrimination, and have been underrepresented in government positions. For instance, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only granted American women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, ending nearly a century of protest. A limited cohort of Irish women won the right to vote in 1918, but it wasn’t until 1922 that all Irish women got the right to vote. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the fourth President of Iceland, was the world’s first democratically directly elected female president, serving from August 1 1980 to 1996. Her famous quote “If anything can save the world, women can”, resonates with people, and especially women, today just as it did in the past.
We also know that ‘historical’ discrimination continues to this day. Less than 10% of countries have a female leader. The United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world, has yet to elect a female president. However, according to the Los Angeles Times, Americans are not only ready to have a female president but would prefer one! ABC News also recently published a poll which asked Americans whether they would be open to elect their first female president, and the results were positive. Many suggested it is time for a woman to both even out the playing field and act as a saving grace, particularly in light of recent political events with Trump’s presidency and multiple controversies relating to sexual harassment of women and his egocentric views on politics. With the rumours of Michelle Obama running for president in 2020, there is hope that the U.S. will finally make history and elect its first female president.
Throughout World War I and II the only political leaders were men, and most of the soldiers were also men. E.M Forster stated that “I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there could be no more wars”, which is a fascinating theory. Throughout the years mothers, wives and children were the ones suffering from the loss of loved ones at war and more than anyone wanted it to stop. Could war be avoided if women were involved?
Women have been excluded from politics and government for as long as history can remember. They were told to stay at home and care for the children and the home, and this was seen as the ‘traditional role’ of any woman. This was heavily influenced not only by religion and other patriarchal institutions but also by male bias including theories based on the fact that women have a smaller brain, a form of ‘neurosexism’ that persists to this day. According to President Daniel arap Moi, former president of Kenya, “You [women] can achieve more, can get more but because of your little minds, you cannot get what you are expected to get!” while leading a regional women’s seminar in Nairobi! When women in Saudi Arabia were fighting for their right to drive, Saad al-Hijri, head of fatwas in Saudi Arabia’s Assir governorate, stated that women shouldn’t drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping. Questioning what the traffic department would do it if it discovered a man with half a brain, he asked: “Would it give him a licence or not? It would not. So how can it give it to a woman when she has only half?”… “If she goes to the market she loses another half. What is left? A quarter … We demand the traffic department check because she is not suitable to drive and she has only a quarter.” After such comments, he was banned from preaching.
“Fine sees issues with how ‘facts’ about sex differences in the brain are sometimes produced, reported, cited and interpreted, saying that these can “become part of cultural lore, and reinforce social attitudes about men and women in ways that hinder progress towards greater sex equality.“”
Neurosexism is a universal problem, as explored by Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, affecting all societies and cultures to some degree. Fine perceives neurosexism as damaging for men too, although women obviously suffer the most from these myths and the social attitudes that result from them. Of course, it is essential to point out that Fine is not dismissing the fact that there are specific sex differences in the brain which can be scientifically evidenced. (For instance, in a study of sex differences in reactions to pleasant and unpleasant slides (Gomez, Gunten, & Danuser, 2013), researchers found women reacted more negatively to unpleasant slides (e.g., mutilated bodies, physical violence, and suffering or dead animals), a sex difference that persisted in size from ages 20 to 81.) Rather, Fine sees issues with how ‘facts’ about sex differences in the brain are sometimes produced, reported, cited and interpreted, saying that these can “become part of cultural lore, and reinforce social attitudes about men and women in ways that hinder progress towards greater sex equality.”
While Fine perceives the concept of the gendered brain as inherently dangerous, there is another school of thought which suggests that the female brain is precisely what we need right now. Scientifically, women may be more emotional and sensitive, but maybe that’s exactly what is required in today’s world? Perhaps the type of leadership qualities typically associated with women are the same qualities which are most needed to transform our world, and bring it into greater balance? We need to feel compassion for the poor and homeless. We need to help those who are fleeing desperate situations with the hope for a refuge. We need to take care of the elderly and the sick. We need to spread values of love and equality throughout the world.
Despite the setbacks, roadblocks and defeats they face, many women make significant changes in their own countries once in power. The following are some examples (although there are many more): Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel who, despite strong opposition from other ministers, opened Germany’s borders to immigrants from Syria during the Syrian refugee crisis. The president of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who was the first female president in Africa, received a nobel peace prize for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The former Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt was the first female prince minister and leader of the social democrats in Denmark. She was responsible for loosening strict anti-immigration laws. She served as the Chief Executive for a non-governmental organization, Save the Children, which promoted the rights of children in developing countries. And last but not least the Chairperson of the State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, who was the first woman to head the Bank. She changed the male-dominant culture of the bank to a female-friendly environment by allowing women to take two-year sabbaticals for going on maternity leave and caring for family members. These changes alleviated the fear for working women of India that they would lose their jobs if they needed or chose to care for their family.
This article is not saying that women are better than men; it’s trying to raise awareness of the fact that women have been largely neglected in government and political decision making and to open eyes to the negative implications of shutting women out of politics. Most countries worldwide have yet to elect a female representative, but are willing to chance their arm on countless mediocre male politicians. At the same time, women are held to a much higher standard even to be deemed electable. Politics should represent our society and reflect its diverse make-up. Given that the world’s population has a 50:50 male/female split, why can’t political parties be equal sex-wise? Why not have a male and female political head for each country? Even better, why not have a representative from each societal group to create a voice for each minority? Whether we are black, white, green, or purple, male or female or in-between, we are all people. Some might cry tokenism in response to this suggestion; however, the rationality of one leader as being sufficient to represent all is outdated and not working, so why not explore other models? Giving one person such a massive responsibility for others is unfair and dangerous. Having two leaders would reduce that risk. Even better, having multiple people responsible for a country would create diversity and would minimise irrational government decisions.
Featured photo by Giacomo Ferroni