By Manjima Misra
This week, after having celebrated International Women’s Day, it might be instructive to analyse the implications of the gender gap that exists in political leadership across the world as of 2018.
According to UN Women report, as of October 2017, 11 women are serving as Head of State, and 12 are serving as Head of Government. As of January 2017, only 18.3 percent of government ministers were women; the most commonly held portfolio by women ministers is the environment, natural resources, and energy, followed by social sectors such as social affairs, education and the family. These numbers indicate that women’s representation in political leadership across the world is far behind the global gender equality goals. In 2016, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook commented, “Men still run the world; I’m not sure it’s going so well.”
Human beings first, females later?
There is, however, no categorical and conclusive evidence that the world would be a more peaceful place if women are in power. Andrew Heywood has pointed out that some empirical evidence suggests that while empowering women at the domestic level often translate into peaceful international politics, the presence of a female leader may at times increase the severity of violence used in a crisis. He further says that this tends to occur because female leaders operate in a ‘man’s world’ and so are encouraged to adopt ‘hyper-masculine’ behavioural patterns. From Margaret Thatcher to Indira Gandhi, women leaders have been uncompromising in achieving their political goals and have contradicted the assumption that women are more likely to use non-confrontational strategies or opt for consensus building and cooperation over force and coercion.
Some feminists argue that “the goal of equality does not lead to justice, but to the erasure of difference, to women’s erasure. What seems impartial or gender neutral is actually male-defined.” Thus, if military and defense is a male domain, women holding portfolio in such departments is seen as breaking the glass ceiling, as proving themselves to be ‘as strong as men.’ A hard stance by a woman in a position of power, irrespective of whether it is a well-calculated move or not, such as endorsement of intervention in Libya by Hillary Clinton, may break stereotypical assumptions but do not necessarily lead to gender justice or even, justice in general.
Perhaps, in contrary to the argument by gender difference feminists that there is no singular universal human nature, we can say that “To err is human” and this dictum is thus, applicable for both men and women.
Is gender neutrality a feasible solution?
There is a lack of clear data on the implications of a higher degree of political leadership by women simply because enough women haven’t been in power. We do not know if women at large will make less rash and aggressive decisions than men. While the difference in biological and psychological drives between men and women must be acknowledged and understood, gender sensitivity rather than gender neutrality might be a better way out. Soft areas such as education and healthcare are not a domain for the weak, and defence and security areas are not necessarily symbols of strength.
As long as masculine attributes are seen as the standard to achieve strength, gender neutrality will not be sufficient to attain justice. The most critical part is a reconfiguration of perception and mindset and to set priorities right. While realpolitik may emphasise self-interest and power politics, it is essential to understand that it is primarily a male domain, and women through their difference and uniqueness (rather than sameness with men) can redefine realist politics. To ensure peace, sustainability and harmony in the world, it is essential that women come to the forefront to reshape the realist understanding of politics.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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