Having “The Voice” and Gaining Agency: Substantive Representation of Women in Local Politics

Having “The Voice” and Gaining Agency: Substantive Representation of Women in Local Politics

Senem Yildirim (Bilkent University, Turkey)
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4829-5.ch004
OnDemand PDF Download:
Available
$37.50
No Current Special Offers
TOTAL SAVINGS: $37.50

Abstract

This study delineates on the conceptual interplay between political empowerment, agency, and gendered interest by drawing the contextual limits of how empowerment, agency, and women's voice are intertwined within the experiences of women in local politics. Most of the studies on women's political empowerment employing a critical perspective focus on non-Western contexts. In these contexts, women are depicted as agents employing unconventional ways of becoming political through different strategies. The narratives of ‘neo-liberal Western subject' are not being read through this critical framework. So as to observe to what extent the binary of Western vs. non-Western is transgressed in distinct socio-political contexts, this study employs the conceptual framework created by the narratives and experiences of women in local politics in Turkey to read the experiences of women in local politics in the US.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

Literature on development refers to the conceptual interplay between empowerment, agency, and autonomy which are in fact integral to the feminist perspective (Madhok & Rai, 2012). In terms of the process and the outcome, empowerment denotes overcoming structural barriers to claim rights and control; thus, it is associated with marginalized and disadvantaged groups, including women. Empowerment literature operationalizes political empowerment through political representation. Local politics as being an indispensable element of modern representative democracy becomes a level through which women participate in politics. The importance of that specific level is also affirmed by the world-wide trend indicating that the number of female politicians at the local level is higher than the number of females at the national and/or federal level. Such a trend also brings the prominence of substantive representation forward. In addition to the numbers, the question of whether women’s interest and women’s perspectives are being represented points out the vital role of agency in this process.

Based on these discussions, this study delineates the conceptual interplay between political empowerment, agency, and gendered interest in local politics. It is articulated that what is expressed politically can be defined as ‘the voice’ of women, which is substantiated by gendered interest, namely women’s interest. Thus, the paper endeavors to draw the contextual limits of how empowerment, agency, and voice are intertwined within the experiences of women in local politics. When agency is stated as acting on defined goals within a process of self-realization and affirmation, the age-old binaries of agency versus structure, free will versus determinism, which in turn nourished by the grant dichotomy of Western versus Non-Western, become integral to the discussion. Here, most of the critical studies on women’s political empowerment pointing out these dichotomies focus on Non-Western contexts. In these contexts, women are depicted as agents who are employing nonconventional and intangible ways of becoming political through different strategies. The narratives of the ‘neo-liberal subject’ of the West are not being read through this critical framework.

This study aims to question whether these binaries are transgressed in distinct historical and socio-political contexts. To this end, it employs the conceptual framework created by the narratives and experiences of women in local politics in Turkey to read the experiences of women in local politics in the United States (US)1. The rationale behind choosing these two cases is two-fold: to fill a gap within the literature on women’s political empowerment at the local level, and to elaborate on how agential reading of political experiences challenges the alleged boundaries of mentioned age-old binaries. There is a lack of comparative studies that analyze the experiences of women at the local level. The argument that the use of the public-private (as well as political-nonpolitical) dichotomy is considered to be problematic outside the context of Western modernity (Conrad & Stange, 2011), making a comparative study of Western and Non-Western cases valuable. Moreover, most of the studies on women’s political empowerment employing critical perspectives on agency and gender-specific interest focus on Non-Western contexts. Thus, a comparative reading of experiences of female political subjects both from Turkey and the US would give the researchers a chance to observe to what extent these binaries can be transgressed through women’s experiences. In addition, having the US as ‘the Western’ context would put the category of ‘homogenous West’ into question since the US has a relatively poor record in political empowerment subindex of the Global Gender Gap Index compared to rankings of Western European countries (World Economic Forum, 2020, p. 13).2

Key Terms in this Chapter

Substantive Representation: A form of representation in which the representative acts on behalf of the represented group regardless of any membership or resemblance to that group.

Political Participation: Refers to a broad range of actions taken by people to shape and control the decisions-making processes that affect their lives.

Strategization: A dimension of action through which agents design a plan for specific achievements.

Empowerment: Overcoming structural barriers to claim right and control over resources by disadvantaged groups.

Descriptive Representation: A form of representation in which the representative is a member of the represented group.

Mukhtarship: A local political institution in Turkey that functions as the official administration of neighborhoods.

Political Empowerment: Acquiring access and control over decision making processes as well as gaining an awareness of having this ability by those who does not have it before.

Agency: Acting on defined goals within a process of self-realization and affirmation.

Women’s Interest: Interest identified by women on the basis of their distinct and subordinate position in the social hierarchy.

Gendered Interest: Interest identified on the basis of gender differences and inequalities.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset