Essay: Overview, Theories and Concept of Women Political Participation

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  • Overview, Theories and Concept of Women Political Participation
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The role of women in leadership has over the years been of great importance. This is because of the acknowledged impacts women have made in socio-economic development when in leadership positions despite the obstacles they encounter. A further reason is that the participation of women improves the quality of governance as women are able to handle a wider array of policies than men. Low participation of women in leadership positions affects their progress in improving the legal and regulatory framework for promoting gender equality. Across the globe, few women are influencing the legislative process of their respective countries. This chapter shares various scholarly positions on women’s political participation and provides inputs to inform the discussions of the study.

The issue of political participation has received considerable attention for diverse group of researchers including sociological and public affair intellectuals since it is related to the standard way of democratic system depicted Lamprianou (2013). This raises the notion that women political representation is very essential in democratic processes however, ‘political theorists’ argued that there should be equal participation of all and sundry in development processes (Verba et al., 1978) cited by Lamprianou I, 2013 . This is because it ensures broad participation in the decision making process which is a precondition for proper democratic governance (Pateman, 1970; Dahl, 1978) cited by Lamprianou (2013). This implies that the involvement of women in political terrain is cheered by political scientists. According to Bourne (2010) cited by Lamprianou (2013) political participation can take numerous forms including membership of a political party or civil society organizations, contacting politicians to express one’s concerns about development issues, making suggestions, forwarding petition amongst many others.

The meaning of political participation has never been an easy one since it has diverse debatable attributes and branches. Cameron (2011) cited by Lamprianou (2013) spearheaded, how should one treat a riots of young individuals or a coup d’état in a particular country. Is it a form of political participation or should it be relegated to the background when one raise issue of political participation? This makes the definition of political participation non-universal in nature (Uhlaner, 2001) cited by Lamprianou (2013). In short however, he defines political participation as “political engagement” or “public involvement in decision making.” Diemer (2012) cited by Lamprianou (2013) sees political participation as an “enlargement with traditional mechanisms in the political system, such as being a member of political party or voting during election” whilst Riley et al (2010) cited by Lamprianou (2013) submits that political participation is a set of rights and roles that considers a formally organized civic and political activities. From Munroe (2002) cited by Lamprianou (2013) position, political participation constitute the degree to which citizens are exercising to engage in political activities such as protest to speak freely, to influence, to vote or to get more energetically involved.

Several other scholars’ opine that political participation is made up of series of activities that target at influencing political authority (Huntington and Nelson, 1976; Verba et al., 1995) cited by Lamprianou (2013). In this context, it can be pictured as dynamic in nature, characterized by evolving social phenomenon. Participation involves people and these people are likely to become more or less politically active (Riley et al., 2010) cited by Lamprianou (2013). Participation will therefore be influenced by several factors. Vecchione and Caprara (2009) as cited from Lamprianou (2013), identified education, age and gender as essential ingredients that influence political participation. In the direction of education, the more individuals were educated, the more likely for them to move into the political net of their country. The assumption holds that women participation in politics could be achieved when women were educated to know the benefits that accrued from such national engagement (Verba et al., 1995; Stolle and Hooghe, 2009; Conway, 2001) (cited by Lamprianou (2013).

In the direction of age and its influence on political participation, younger population under the universal charter age is often excluded from the political domain. Other age restrictive barriers are applied to old age citizens especially to some high of the land. Lister (2007) argued that since young people are financially dependent and immature, they are often isolated from the political net of their countries. Others have however argued that the younger generation is not alienated from the political market. There are numerous studies that have shown that the young people have critical attitude towards institutional politics, thus; they are not totally disengaged from their country’s political set-up (Briggs, 2008; Henn et al., 2002; O’Toole et al., 2003; Phelps, 2005).

In establishing relationship between women involvement and political participation, Bourdieu’s Concept of “Habitus” offers some explanation on the relation geographical representation of women in politics (Eriksen and Nielsen, 2001). The theory explains that the world is surrounded by structural constraints which form “permanent dispositions” representing various schemes of perception originating from conventional categories such as male/female. These constraints could prevent women to participate in politics. Apart from structural constraints, internalized dispositions could also influence the way and manner individuals engage in politics and take part in decision making processes (Bourdieu, 1990). This draws the idea that not only do external constraints impede women political participation; but also, the internal driven attribute of the women could serve as an obstacle for women political participation. In making a clarion call for women’s political participation, five main arguments have been propounded which are the Justice Perspective, the experience argument, the interest school of thought, the symbolic argument, the critical mass argument and the democracy argument (Inglehart and Norris, 2003; Joshua and Aseem, 2013).

The proponents of the Justice argument contend that women have a right to more than half the seats in parliament since they are more than half in terms of their number to men of the world population. The experience school of thought avows that women have different experiences which are biologically and socially constructed and should be represented in the political platform as well. The interest proponents include scholars who contend that women and men have conflicting interests and these interests cannot be represented by men; hence the need for women political participation. The symbolic scholars are of the view that women acting as political heads serve as role models for all women regardless of their political viewpoints or membership of a political unit. From the critical mass perspective women are able to achieve solidarity of purpose to represent women’s interest when they are able to achieve certain level of representation. The democracy commentators argue that there should be equal representation of women and men as this enhances democratization of governance.

2.1 The Political System

As part of democratization there arises the guiding principles, the structures and the formulae thereby political system is discussed based on the strength of democracy, the electoral system and gender electoral quota systems. This system is very vital in democracy therefore WorldNet define it as:

The political system is “a set of institutions, political organizations, interest groups such as political parties, trade union, lobby groups, the relationships between those institutions and the political norms and rules that govern their functions (constitution, election law) in other words, it is a system composed of the members of a social organization or group who are in power” (WordNet, N.D.).

2.1.2 The Strength of Democracy

The essence of democracy has received mixed reaction as to whether it produces tangible benefits in entire development process (Boone, 1996; Bueno de Mesquita et al.2003; Dasgupta, 1993; Moon and Dixon, 1985; Zweifel and Navia, 2000; Przeworski et al., 2000; Sen 1991). Despite the uncountable disadvantages associated with democracy; there are good evidences of democracy in development (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2005; Niskanen, 1997). It is through democracy that the concern and involvement of women could be ensured. It is therefore of vital need for countries to embrace democracy and to empower women within the democratic system. The absence of democracy will mean minimal women participation in politics (Stasavage, 2005). The democratic argument submits that women at all levels should be encouraged to participate in the political processes like their male counterparts.

2.1.3 The Electoral System

Electoral system is a network of crucial choices which involves who is/are to be elected and how the process should be conducted. It is through the electoral system that heads of government, parliamentarians and other political leaders are brought into the political market (Moser, 1999). An electoral system is broadly defined as the manner in which votes are translated into seats. It is made up of district magnitude (the number of representatives elected in one electoral district); the electoral formula by which the winner of a seat is chosen; and the ballot structure, which determines whether the supporter cast their vote for a candidate or a party, and whether the supporter makes a single choice or expresses a series of preferences (International IDEA, 2014). Electoral system has direct implications on political participation of women. A country with fair and transparent electoral system stands the better chance to empower their women in decision making process (Norris, 2004). This partly depends on the political will of the woman, her education background and her financial strength (Down, 2010). It is not only the political will of the women, but also the institutional framework mediated by the existing political leadership.

2.1.4 The Gender Electoral Quota Systems

The Quota electoral system involves the use of electoral laws of a country to make provision which advances the representation of women in publicly elected bodies (Electoral institute for the sustainably of Democracy in Africa, 2000). Oquaye (2011) adds that the quota system considers the reservation of seats as an affirmative action strategy. It is implemented as statutory routes for seeing women’s politically represented. Quota system prohibits discrimination in law or in the activities of public officials so as to exclude the prevention of discrimination against women in customary law and specifically permits discrimination that “takes due account of physiological differences between persons of different sex or gender” (Constitution 1980, Article 23). It permits “the implementation of affirmative action programmes for the protection or advancement of persons or classes of persons who have been previously disadvantaged by unfair discrimination” (1980 Constitution of Zimbabwe). In fact, the quota system becomes a universal remedy to incorporate women in political related issues. Thus, the quota system can influence the participation of women in political decision making process; hence, countries advancing for women participation should welcome the Quota electoral system in its political processes. In most countries like Ghana, strive towards affirmative action has only become rhetoric’s. The political will often is absent. The findings of Marie-Antoinette (2011) in Ghana on women perception of political participation in Ghana brought to the fore that major gap exist towards achieving gender equality in political decision making and participation.

2.2 Theoretical Approaches to Women’s Political Participation

Various scholars have diver’s views about theoretical approaches to women political participation/ representation. Blomgren (2010) stated that notably, theorists used mainly by scholars in relation to women’s political participation involve ‘structures, institutions and actors as well as feminist theory’. Theoretically, according to his paper, he argued that the major reasons that account for women’s lowly inclusion in political affairs are attributed to how they are perceived by the community, the electoral system and how party authorities make their selections. He as well noted that there are other characters like opinion leaders that supervises and monitors inclusion of participants and therefore call for schooling and enlightening everyone as well as implementing the globally accepted policies on inclusion of women in the political field.

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