U.S. Army



The Politics of Gender

It would be hard to argue that women are not as competent as men, yet you wouldn’t know this by looking at the proportion of women holding political office. USAID has highlighted this issue in their five-year plan. Despite making up half of the population, women make up less than 20% of the world’s legislators. It’s clear that women face countless challenges in their political participation. UN Women claims the issue lies not with an unwillingness to vote for women, but rather “structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office…[rarely do they possess the] resources needed to become effective leaders.” Why should we invest in ensuring women have the resources to contribute to politics?

French finance minister Christine Lagarde commented on women’s strength as politicians with her controversial statement: “[women make good politicians because they] inject less libido and less testosterone into the equation…We don’t project our own egos into getting our point across.” Despite coming across as inflammatory, her main point stands: typical female attributes that have held them back in the past (such as passiveness) are now highly valuable in the political arena. On a global scale, the National Democratic Institute credits women with the skill to successfully carry out peace operations.

As women disproportionately suffer the consequences of armed conflict, they are firmly committed to peace building. Groups like Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which helped end Liberia’s civil war in 2003 through nonviolent activism, have shown that reconstruction and reconciliation efforts take root more quickly and are more sustainable when women are involved.

Emma Sky is an example of a diplomat whose stark contrast to the severe military attitude meant she could peacefully enter negotiations and ensure multiple peace treaties in Iraq. From 2007 to 2010, she was the political advisor to American General Ray Odierno, where she acted as an intermediary. As a female, she was seen as unthreatening and was thus able to open negotiations without fear of weapons. Sky shows how women are valued and useful in global political discussions and can offer unthreatening diplomatic approaches in tense situations.

The NDI also claims that countries where women are supported as leaders have a lower level of corruption. Female participation in government also correlates with positive developments in education and health standards at the local level. There’s a direct link between high rates of gender empowerment and standards of living.

At the local level in New Zealand politics, Elaine Brazendale show how women in office benefit society. Elaine recently retired from 21 years in local government, and it is hard to imagine her skills and experience being lost to public service altogether. She describes the beginning of her 21-year career in public office as entering a predominately male domain. When Elaine was elected to her local council in 1995, there often was only one woman serving at any given time. As a child, she was always encouraged to do what she did well, rather than to focus on gender roles.

Although women in office are often held back by their families, Brazendale credits her family for giving her the confidence to succeed in political office. Women are a political force of nature. On an international scale, women like Emma Sky offer a calm mindset that diffuses difficult situations. In local governance, women like Elaine Brazendale have used their traditional female attributes, such as family values, to project confidence and ensure they are heard. Governments need women, not only to fairly represent society, but also to help society function better.