Women's Political Empowerment: Lessons for Subnational Levels of Government – Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Indonesia

Women's Political Empowerment: Lessons for Subnational Levels of Government – Nepal, Pakistan, Rwanda, and Indonesia

Roberta Ryan (University of Technology Sydney, Australia) and Ronald Woods (University of Technology Sydney, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1645-3.ch018
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Abstract

Political participation by women is central to development and the empowerment of all citizens. This chapter argues for the recognition of opportunities for women in leadership, political participation, and the strengthening of democracy at the level of subnational governments. A key reason for focusing on gender equity in political life is that women constitute slightly more than half of the world's population, and they contribute to the social and economic development of all societies to a greater degree than men because of their dual roles in the productive and reproductive spheres. At the same time, their participation in formal political structures and processes, where they can contribute to decisions on the use of societal resources generated by both men and women, remains far below parity. Drawing examples from a range of national parliaments and countries, this chapter demonstrates lessons for increasing political participation by women in subnational governance.
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Benefits Of Participation

The political participation of women can be measured in three different dimensions (Shankar, 2014): participation as a voter, participation as an elected representative, and participation in actual decision-making processes. Political participation in the democratic context has both intrinsic and instrumental value. To be prevented from participation in the political life of one’s community defies the intrinsic value of human wellbeing and human rights (Bari, 2005; Bratton & Mattes, 2001; Sen, 1999). Instrumental value comes from the capacity for women to express claims or needs, given that women bring different conceptions to politics from the basis of their role in the domestic sphere (Bari, 2005; Bratton & Mattes, 2001; Sen, 1999). Thus, is women’s participation in the democratic sphere intrinsic, as an end to itself, or is it valued as an instrument that can, say, improve living standards, or promote legislation that will advance women’s position in their community?

While important, a focus on “numbers” and “percentages” of women in national and subnational governments leads to debates on the difference between descriptive, symbolic, and substantive representation (Kurebwa, 2015; Pitkin, 1967; emphasis added). It is evident that the provision of “numbers” constitutes the descriptive component of representation and, as will be shown, many of the increases in parliamentary representation by women have been as a result of the implementation of quotas. Symbolic representation may occur where women are elected to positions but have little capacity to influence decisions. However, substantive representation occurs when women have the agency to promote issues relevant to women (Bauer & Burnet, 2013; Pitkin, 1967).

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