Why are women underrepresented in politics?
The pre-election Bermudian parliamentarian system comprises 36 seats but only eight women — a mere 22 per cent representation in the House of Assembly.
How can this be when women make up 52 per cent of the population? Why are women not entering the political spectrum, even though we are increasing our presence in the boardrooms of major companies?
What is it about the male chauvinistic behaviour of government that prevents women from getting involved and what can we do about it, with the exception of quotas being implemented?
Women have been entering the boardroom in high numbers and now is the time to make that transition over to political leadership.
There is, generally, a road map for those of us who want to get involved in politics. It’s pretty well tested by our male colleagues.
It’s the general method that you do well at work, you get involved with some boards — either government or charity — network some key relationships, have increasing visibility and find yourself at the political table.
But there are still gender roles that prevent women from taking this same path to success.
Before Covid-19, women were expected to parent like we do not have a job and work like we do not have children. The time that we do have after our job is dedicated to our families — especially when our children are young — and even with supportive families and spouses, the majority of us fall back into traditional gender roles once outside of work.
Thus, the time for the political pathway does not exist in the same context for the majority of women. But does that make our way any less worthy? No.
Why do I care about this? Because women lead differently than men.
In countries with the highest percentages of women in their parliamentarian systems, there are quotas in place to increase women involvement because they recognise that although we lead differently, we still lead.
If you look at some of the countries that had the best outcomes globally for Covid-19, such as New Zealand, Finland, Iceland and Taiwan, you will see that they all have one significant factor in common:
They are led by a woman.
Historically, women in politics are placed in the “softer” ministries — ie, health, education, cultural affairs — and very rarely in the “strong” ministries of defence, security and finance.
As a society we have placed labels on how we think women should lead, rather than looking at the evidence of what women are achieving. But wait a minute, you say: Bermuda has done well with Covid-19 and we are led by a man!
Yes, but the Chief Medical Officer throughout this has been a woman (Cheryl Peek-Ball), the head of the Bermuda Medical Council is a woman (Fiona Ross) and let’s not forget Bermuda’s own, Carika Weldon.
All these strong women have been instrumental in our country doing as well as we have.
While we celebrate the work of those three women, we also owe a debt to those women who have worked remotely while simultaneously home-schooling and managing their families.
Besides the lack of disposable time, why are women not entering the political landscape in the same numbers as men? For many women, the misogynistic behaviour that we experience from some men in the room drives us away.
In the US, only 20 per cent of women who lose in their first challenge for a political seat remain active in politics — even though their failure rate is the same as with first-time male political challengers.
Research by Politico shows that male and female children look to be involved in politics at equal rates as young children, but as we grow, girls are less and less likely to run for politics owing to stereotyping that we as a society put on our girls — she’s “bossy”, while he’s a “leader”.
The skills that we have as women are not valued by society as leadership traits. Women tend to suppress leadership qualities to fit into cultural norms.
If we want to see more women in politics, we need to do a few things:
1, We need to vote for more women to be present in our legislature — creating mentors for other strong women in our community
2, We need to stop the thought that we all enter politics using the same path, but look to strong women in our community to represent us
3, And, most importantly, we need to stop stereotyping our girls and praise them for their leadership skills so they can continue to thrive and grow
• Catherine Kempe is the deputy chairwoman of the One Bermuda Alliance, a registered nurse case manager for a leading health insurance company, a wife and mother of two boys
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