Women in Politics – Misconceptions and Stereotypes

When I examined the Inter-Parliamentary Union Women in Politics 2014 map, it exposed deep-rooted inadequacies in my conception of the world.

I expected the UK to be fairly high in the table. We’re a reasonably liberal country, gender equality is high on the political agenda. I know we’re not perfect, not by a long shot, but I expected many people to be below us.

We’re 64th.

Out of 145.

22.6% of our parliament is women. Only 15.6% of our ministers are women. That compares pretty badly with the top countries – the top ten countries all have more than 40% of their parliaments made up of women.

Some of the top ten don’t surprise me. Sweden, Finland, Belgium, these are places that I would expect to have high representation rates and equal rights for women.

However, the top three contained a surprise:

– Rwanda (63.8%)
– Andorra (50%)
– Cuba (48.9%)

Wow.

Let’s ignore Andorra for the moment. All I really know about Andorra is that it’s tiny, and in the mountains between Spain and France. Their parliament only has 28 members, so 14 of them being women might not even be statistically significant. I’d have to check the variation over time.

Since I don’t have any preconceptions over the quality of their gender policies, they aren’t relevant to this post.

Rwanda

Rwanda is infamous (at least in my head) for genocide. What my brain has failed to keep up with is that the genocide in question (killing of Tutsis by Hutus, mainly, with long and complex reasons behind it) happened in 1994.

Oddly, in the twenty years since then, some things have changed.

Diversity is increasing, and although there is still a lot of discrimination along race lines, this doesn’t seem to extend to gender. In fact, there appears to be an amount of positive discrimination, at least in parliament. I found a cryptic comment in the middle of a BBC article:

“Helped by quotas, Rwanda is the world’s only parliament where women form a majority.”

I can’t find any detail on what kind of quota is in place in Rwanda. Whether quotas is a good idea or not is an entirely different matter, and one which many people have debated long and hard.

But 63.8% of their parliamentary lower house (of 80 seats) is women, as is 38.5% of the upper house (of 26 seats). 39.3% of their ministerial positions are held by women. No matter how they got there, that’s
pretty impressive.

I’m actually slightly worried about overrepresentation of women, and the plight of men.

Cuba

Cuba? My stereotypical view of Cuba says that they are a communist regime, run by one man (Fidel Castro), and nobody else really gets a say. Human rights are a problem, and people risk a lot to run away from Cuba and get to the US, the “land of opportunity”.

So what, after some research, do we actually know about Cuba?

Well, for starters, Fidel Castro isn’t in charge any more. He resigned in 2008, and his brother Raul is the new president. He promised to remove some of the day-to-day restrictions imposed by Fidel, and is trying to put a limit on the number of terms a president can serve. I think I vaguely knew this at the time, but didn’t remember it.

Cuba ranks reasonably high in health and education. Life expectancy at birth is 78 years (37th in the world) and the government provides universal healthcare. Cuba’s literacy rate is 99.8%, tenth highest globally, largely due to the existence of free education for all, at every level. Abortion and contraceptives are widely available, one of the common measures of women’s liberation.

Political parties are not permitted to campaign on the island, but about half of the elected representatives (of which there are 612) belong to the Communist Party. The rest are independent candidates. None of them actually get a government salary – they aren’t professional politicians.

Far from being sexually biased, since 2013 Cuba has had a transsexual municipal delegate. 48.9% of the elected representatives are women, although only 22.6% of government ministers are.

And yes, human rights are still a problem, but they’re working on it.

Conclusion

I know a little more about these two countries now. I hope that in the future I will remember that I don’t know everything about the world, and not jump to conclusions when talking about how “advanced” the UK is compared to other places.

Ultimately, I hope the prediction in this article comes true – if the rate of improvement worldwide continues, gender parity in politics could be a reality within 20 years.

Interested in more? The IPU have a number of interesting information kits on their website: http://www.ipu.org/english/surveys.htm

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