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In her book ‘Invisible Women ‘, Caroline Criado-Perez illuminates the gender data gaps we as women suffer from in a world built for -and by- men. She details some seemingly small problems that women face in workplaces headed by men, such as office thermostats being set at the tried-and-tested ideal temperature for the average 70kg man, leaving women out in the cold – quite literally. Another mentioned was the lack of pregnancy support for expecting women in the Facebook offices, until a pregnant woman was promoted to a leadership role and gave her attention to an issue the men hadn’t even noticed.
Those are just two tiny examples of what can happen when women are forced to work in places managed by men exclusively. Now, imagine why it’s so important for women to infiltrate the world of politics.
The policy makers and action takers that are in direct control of our day to day life are mostly men, with only 19 out of nearly 200 countries being female led. We have seen an increase, over the last two decades the rate of women’s representation in national parliaments globally has risen from 11.8 percent in 1998 to 23.5 percent in 2018. Doubling our stats in 20 years, but still leaving 76.5 percent to the men.
Some may say, isn’t there enough women now?
To that I say…no. Unsurprisingly, women are not a minority, and we make up half of the population. To be truly fair, democratic and responsive to all citizens and issues, we need to see that figure mirrored within all political institutions.
But would it make a difference? As Criado-Perez proved in her book, yes! Just having women in the room where decisions are made motivates more women to speak up, and inevitably leads to great policies that wouldn’t have been conceived otherwise. As mentioned, the awareness of issues that men just don’t think of is, in these situations, a woman’s greatest strength.
Madeline Albright of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) famously said women in power “can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses others accept”. The truth of the matter is that men and women have different life experiences that lead to different priorities and needs. These women specific needs will either not get the attention they deserve because there are no women in the room to mention them, or they will be ‘dealt with’ by the room full of men. The latter usually leads to catastrophic women’s rights violations, like abortion on request still banned in 134 of 195 countries.
It’s not just about us women though! There is evidence that as more women are elected to office, there is a direct increase in policy making that emphasises quality of life for all, and reflects the priorities of families, children and ethnic and racial minorities. Women in power and politics is beneficial to everyone.
Take Coronavirus as a huge example. Recent studies have solidified the speculations that female led countries dealt with the pandemic better from the very start, revealing that women did indeed “act quickly and more decisively”, compared to their male counterparts. Of course it’s no contest, but if it were, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern would be walking away with the crown and only 22 Covid deaths. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson would no doubt look on irritably, weighed down by 176k deaths and 41k deaths, respectively. Men have frequently expressed their distaste for women in politics. ‘Too emotional’ is usually the handicap female politicians are labelled with… the facts seem to be telling a different story.
People are crying out for more women to enter the political world, especially more women of colour. Just the knowledge of our own lived experiences could be enough to incite positive change, make the world a better place for people like us, and even improve the lives of everyone else along the way.
So don’t be afraid to be political, ‘too emotional’ or the only woman in a room full of men, because that is how we’re going to change the world.