Centuries ago women were not viewed as equals and the only chance they had of being heard and having a voice in their home, community, and government was to present it through the men. Women fought hard to find equal footing in all faucets of life. Little by little society adapted to the idea that women should have the same rights that were given to the men. The laws may have incorporated equality but that does not disregard the fact the women are still not being heard as equals. Women stepping up and being involved and increasing the number of representatives will ensure that the gender inequality will be squashed and there will truly be a ground for equal voices in political decision-making.
In order to fully understand the battle of gender equality, one would have to look at where women came from, the history of their political roles. Women’s suffrage was significant during the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. The role was to support the man, but not have a voice. Women’s rights movement was a comprised of many brilliant, dedicated, and persevering women who demanded a change in the social, legal, and political system that was knowing in the United States. During the early nineteenth century, women did not able to manage their money, legally own property, or sign their own legal papers. They were essentially downgraded to their own private entity which was relatively powerless, there were many women who stepped up and took initiative while being involved in the overall reform and abolition. (Vosberg, 2011)
Women didn’t let the fact they were not “legally” allowed to speak up for themselves stop them from participating in the only ways they knew how. During this time period women were limited on their participation outside of the home. This was just not in politics, but in work and social settings as well. Because of the limitations women would participate in crowd actions, voicing their opinions through the majority, using their ability to speak to voice their opinion. They filled the quasi-governmental positions in hopes of getting a foot in the door for involvement. This was a form of progression due to the limited role that women could participate in outside of the home. Women lobbied legislators, hoping to find a voice by piggy-backing off of their agenda. Their voice may have been minimal, but it was step for their overall progression. And finally, they formed activist groups to fight the denial of female involvement. These groups were given little attention at first but as they grew so did their impact. Activist groups are still very relevant in today’s society. (Urgate, 2011)
As time progressed, so did the manner for which women and minorities pushed to have an input in the political activities. It was no longer just acceptable to be subservient to the husband or property of the white man. During the Revolutionary period women used outside electoral channels to influence the government, and find a way to speak for the minorities. They were in fact an equal minority with the “coloreds” in the aspects of decision making. Women’s liberation came about and so did the demand to have a political voice. It was the point where women decided they no longer deserved to be unheard. The history of women in politics beginning in the nineteenth century is virtually non-existent. Their only ability to provide input was essentially through manipulation. And that did not allow for women’s representation in any way. Their role was viewed to be in the home and what they thought was not valued in the political decision-making process. Not only did they not have a voice, but women in general were not considered in politics.
However, as their fight for equality progressed, gradually change occurred. “Women had a more active part in the political changes of the Progressive period. They passed on their voluntary work-social policy-to governments. “(Baker, 19) Their voices began to hold value and were an important step in addressing the problem gender inequality. They emerged from the homes to be employees, students, and actual members of society. There were many women such as Rosa Park, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Victoria Woodhull who made significant contributions to the evolution of gender equality. It was a long journey, and at times the progression may have seemed insignificant, but every piece has added to where we are today.
There were organizations that were formed in an attempt to unify and force the governmental change. These organizations were given little attention, however because of the growth their unity drew attention and the government could no longer ignore. The National Organization for Women (NOW) is one of the more dominate groups. This organization was established in 1966 to change the overall mentality of gender discrimination. It was not focused solely on political involvement, but overall equality in general. Contrary to many negative connotations regarding this group, it is not a ‘man hating’ collection of women. This group is comprised of men and women and is estimated to have in excess of 250,000 members. This group aided in the turning point for women in political decision making. (National Organization for Women)
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is another organization that is involved in allowing all women an equal voice in political decision making, around the world.
The mentality is, “Equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels”. The idea of women’s input being considered unequal in the political-decision making process personally was a foreign concept, so there some questions to seek clarification on. I interviewed JoAnn Davison via telephone to get some insight from an activist who is encouraging and training women to get involved with politics. JoAnn began by discussing the importance of females getting involved in politics, more importantly, the decision-making process. She began, “we as women have fought for equality for centuries. How can we stand by and allow the battle that our ancestors were defeated in over and over not account for anything. We were not born with equal rights, we demanded them. So how can we be allowed to stand by and have no voice in what laws are going into effect? Considering half of society is female (assumptive not factual) we should have half of the votes.” (J. Davison, personal communication, May, 2013) This statement is stating that women are not stepping up to take their role in politics. They have been given the rights they fought for and not getting involved, letting the majority of men take the lead still. Politics from the beginning were determined and dictated by men. However somewhere along the way, both women and minorities realized that they should have a right to equality. Focusing on politics does not discredit the fact that these individuals had to work their way up. It was not from the bottom straight into the political arena, they had to fight for the right to work, to socialize, and even vote in the same capacity as the white man. With today’s mentality it is hard to fully understand the progression that has occurred. Speaking for the majority requires involvement of everyone that makes up society.
Whereas change occurred over decades and even centuries, there are pivotal points for gender change. A big change was being pursued during 2001-2006. This is when the political world was looked at in greater depth. The number of women and minority representatives around the world are limited. It was so limited that it brought attention to the need for immediate change. This was a little eye opening and change the interview direction. The next question I asked was a little more difficult for her to answer. I wanted to know if the political environment of a male dominated area could cause need for women to be fearful of how they will be treated or even accepted. Any situation where minorities are presented could lead to the potential for negative and even spiteful treatment. JoAnn paused for a few seconds and answered, “fearful? No, but there is always a chance that they will not be readily accepted and their views to fall on deaf ears. This is why it is so important for more women to step up and even out the playing field. It’s not an ‘emotional’ woman wanting to be involved it’s an individual who is speaking for millions of other ‘emotional” women who have the same thoughts and wants.” (J. Davison, personal communication, May, 2013) In order for women to have an equal voice in the political decision-making process, women in general has to step up and take their position.
In order for women to have an equal voice in the political decision-making process society in general, they have to step up and take their position. Throughout history there are significant individuals who broke the barriers for equality. Regardless of the significance of their position, their presence was necessary for the reform that was occurring. The reality is, there will never be change if women do not step up and demand it, participate, and be involved. JoAnn addressed this in the first interview question. The first question I asked was what does it take to get involved in politics? A generic question that I felt was important because women cannot participate if they don’t know where to start. According to JoAnn, the first step in the process is mentoring. Knowing how to get involved and what it takes to be successful in politics is necessary. This is important because they can allow that individual women to see if this is something they can be successful at and it can also instill the desire to pursue their own political role. The next step is training. Having the education and working knowledge of what an individual’s role is in any type of position is important for success. The idea of politics is different for every individual. They need to know details that will allow them to be successfully elected or selected. The emphasis on women’s political participation and leadership at the international, national, regional and local levels has been highlighted and many activists and groups have pushed for greater involvement. Part of the process is raising the awareness and need to facilitate a change. Women, and men for that matter, may not fully realize the impact that diversity makes. Teaching individuals on gender issues and the importance of diversity is essential in the overall process. Once the awareness has been made clear that is when training comes into play. Groups pulling together to encourage and aid in the process has made it easier for women to take the step to get involved in politics on many different levels.
Current socio-economic is based on a diverse world in which we live. Everyone needs a voice, women included. The political transformations have shifted from a white male dominance to gender and racial equality. Woman’s impact on the mainstreaming of a gender perspective into policies and programs has been positive. The growing awareness and need has raised the stakes for much more involvement. Women’s presence in decision-making is important because they represent half of society. Without their voice, the female society is at the mercy of others to determine what is best for them collectively. That is no way for a country, state, city, or locality to operate. A democracy is based on what is best for the people collectively.
I asked JoAnn if she felt or saw the voice of women as being equal in today’s current political time. She very confidently said no. Her personal opinion is that with the equality and discrimination laws in place, if men are still the dominate gender it is a hidden practice. It is not like when Congress woman “A” voices her beliefs regarding the law revision, all the men tell her to sit down and be quiet. She is allowed to present her case, but it is quietly disregarded and the other male congressmen can collaborate on what they feel is the best law. From what I understood, JoAnn was expressing that the inequality that does take place, and it does take place, is done in a manner that is not visibly transparent. Most of the political roles are still heavily weighted towards the male representation and the outcome often reflects that as well. This is because the lack of women’s involvement.
Equal Participation in decision-making involves the four inter-related concepts. The first is political participation. This concept includes things like lobbying and debate as well as discussion and activism. Conventional participation is when women do their part by voting, making donations, and serving in public office. Often women and men both forget the importance of voting and their civil duty to participate. There is also unconventional participation. This includes boycotting, signing petitions and staging protests. Many younger women choose to utilize this means of political participation. And lastly, there is illegal participation. This typically includes activities in which the law is broken in some manner, using means such as terrorism and sabotaging others campaigns. This is not the route that one would encourage women to use in order to increase political participation. Secondly, equal participation involves the political representation. This involves various women actors in decision-making arenas and key social forums in democratic societies. Women need strong representation in this area. Without a strong voice, there is no way for their best interest to be taken seriously. Having open participation is important as well. This is a way for an individual to bring citizen’s voices, perspectives, and opinions into the political arena for consideration. It’s a step of the policy-making process and it is a viable tool to utilize in order to be heard. A century ago, women knew how to use these tools even though they were not legally allowed to do so. Thirdly, equal participation in political leadership. This includes key individuals shaping political agendas and participating in their translation into policy. There are many programs that have been developed to aid in the preparation of political leaders. The individual I chose to interview is JoAnn Davidson a member of the Ohio Leadership Institute. Her role is to train and encourage professional women to get involved in an elected or appointed role in the government. JoAnn was responsible for a program that developed women with the intentions of getting into politics. She was an advocate for development and education in politics. Not knowing how to start or even if you have what it takes to be a politician should not be an obstacle. Guidance and encouragement can go a long way when it comes to participation.
Lastly, is equal participation in political accountability. Any individual regardless of their gender, race, or personal belief has a significant amount of accountability on their shoulders. In order to represent a party one has to be able to represent themselves. This means that their actions have to be appropriately reflective of what a politician should portray. This seems trivial, but put a women representative in office and allow the public to find out she is having an affair on her husband, the whole identity of representation is ruined. This is because with politics comes mud-slinging. For a woman to have a fair shot, they have to ensure they are representing themselves in the best possible manner and be accountable for their action.
Politics are an important part of society and its functioning. “Democracy also includes the presence of political and civil rights for citizens, especially freedom of expression, association, and assembly, which require the guarantee of due legal process and liberty and security of person to be effective. There has been recent debate on the necessity of economic, social, and cultural rights as conditions of democracy, however, it is becoming more widely accepted that “for civil and political rights and freedoms to have any value, citizens must possess the capacity to exercise them.” (Bentham, 2000) Society depends on the men and women that represent them, and their political input that aids in decision making.
There are factors that enhance or hinder women’s representation in politics. “Women’s effective participation and leadership in civil society organizations, political parties, and governing bodies ensures that decision-making includes a broader range of perspectives and interests. This leads to policies that are more likely to foster inclusive economic and social development and benefit all people.” (Ugarte, 2011) Other factors are a low numbers of representatives and electoral systems that has had a direct impact on women’s participation. There is also structure and organization that can be obstacles and political parties that have a direct impact on women’s participation.
There needs to be a means to increase women’s participation, representation and leadership. This can be done in many different ways. However, a key concept is to develop incentives to attract women’s participation and to use their voices. Implement an electoral quota to allow higher number of women’s involvement. Women’s participation and representation in politics will provide an opportunity for an equal voice in political decision-making positions. This is because women will be represented by women, not men who take control of the decision making. Diversity in politics ensures that everyone is represented in the best way possible.
Baker, Paula. (1984) The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780-1920. Retrieved from http://bhsecamericas2.omeka.net/items/show/15
Beetham, David. (2000) Democracy and Human Rights. Retrieved from http://iisdb.stanford.edu/pubs/20433/Freedom_and_Rights.pdf
National Organization for Women. Retrieved from http://www.now.org/
Ugarte, Petro. (2011) Strengthening Women’s Rights and Political Participation. Retrieved from http://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment/addressing-gender-programming/strengthening-womens
Vosberg, Alicia. (2011) The Evolution of the Woman’s Rights Movement In the Nineteenth Century. Retrieved from http://userwww.sfsu.edu/epf/journal_archive/volume_VIII,_1999/vosberg_a.pdf