Women in politics: The harsh reality

30 Aug 2017

The problems that women in politics face are much the problems that prevent many women excelling in other areas. Although the recent general election saw a record-breaking 192 women gain a seat in parliament, women are still not being taken seriously in politics. Women may have made significant progress in breaking down the gender barrier, but the discrimination and dismissal of their politics is still all too real.

 

There has always been a media fascination with the wives of politicians, which results in us forgetting about the women who sit in the House of Commons today. We overlook and undermine the important issues because we are told to focus on these women's pasts rather than their ideas for the future.

 

Rosy Senanayake, a member of the United National party in Sri Lanka, once summed up what it is like to be a woman in politics after receiving sexist comments from a Sri Lankan government minister, Kumara Welgama: "I'm still being recognised as a beauty queen, but I've been a high commissioner and in politics for such a long time. As a woman you are not recognised as a person who has done so many portfolios, but always referred to as the beauty you were in your heyday". To the outside world, a woman’s past is far more important than a man’s. 

 

But ultimately sexism in politics is 'casual', as many men nullify women's ideas with misogynistic 'jokes'.

 

There are many examples of this including that from Austin Mitchell, the former MP for Great Grimsby. In 2012 he tweeted "Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn't disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn't lie about why she quit politics". This was aimed at former MP Louise Mensch.

 

In 2012, Cecile Duflot, a French politician, received wolf-whistles as she gave a speech in the national assembly, and the justification? Nicolas Sarkozy said that she was wearing a dress “so we wouldn’t listen to what she was saying,” with others saying that they were giving her “a tribute.”

 

So what can we do about this? Quite simply, we need to focus on the politics and not on the looks or past of a woman.

 

It is important now more than ever that we start to listen to the politics of female politicians so governments are accurate reflections of their countries.

 

The very first step to solving the discrimination, is by helping the current government to realise that there is one. Jeremy Corbyn has been an advocate for getting more women into politics, yet his Shadow Cabinet of 31 positions, has 11 women. Theresa May’s Cabinet is also male-dominated. Out of 23 positions, only 6 are occupied by women (including May).

 

The best way to solve this is to encourage women into the world of politics, instead of beating them down. There are often cases where men have been intimidated by the rise of female politicians. Most notably, Donald Trump, has on many occasions attempted to put women down when they've challenged his politics. When women challenge Trump politically, he insults them physically

 

Some may argue that women should be elected simply on the basis of implementing a gender quota in Parliament. This must not happen. An MP should be elected entirely on the basis of their politics, not their gender, and gender should not play any role in who you vote for. The world around us is changing, and politics must progress. 

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