Published on January 29th, 2013 |
by Yazmin Gachette
Image © André Zehetbauer/ creativecommons.org via Wikimedia Commons
Rosemary Butler, the Presiding Officer in the Welsh Assembly has recently asked for more women to be elected to reflect the population as a whole more effectively.
Being a woman myself, I completely agree that more women should put themselves forward for public offices. Though I soon began to wonder whether women actually need women to represent us? Or can a man effectively do that for us? Surely it is inevitable that one MP will not share the characteristics of the majority of their constituency? Being male/female can have a major impact on your view, coupled with your age group, your social background and class, these are all external factors as to how we see the world. So why, when it comes to representation, specifically in the UK, do we have 78% men in Westminster, and 96% of them are Caucasian? Perhaps this is social elitism in the cape of democracy? If we had a truly democratic process, we would expect our parliament to mirror our society as a whole. Or perhaps we, and Rosemary Butler, are being far too idealistic, and in fact we should stick to our meritocratic system and let whoever’s best for the job, win?
Anne Phillips from the London School of Economics implied in her book, The Politics of Presence, that it doesn’t matter who our politicians are, it only matters what they think. It is also worth noting that people don’t cast votes based on descriptive characteristics such as age, gender, class etc – you make your vote based on the policies they have to offer. Referring back to the issue brought up today by Rosemary Butler that there should be more women involved in politics, perhaps this is understandable considering the rise of issues such as abortion are increasingly being tangled with day to day Westminster life. How can a man know truly what a woman goes through when bearing a child or faced with the decision of abortion? But then again, maybe this is too much of a simplistic assumption, because even women don’t agree on the issue. Therefore, we cannot take it as a given that just because you may share the same descriptive characteristics as a representative, you necessarily have the same ideology – though it is more likely you will.
So the main question we are yet to answer is how do we organise Parliament to ensure fair representation? Perhaps we could introduce quotas for genders, like Rwanda. Though this might be patronising for women as it suggests that are unable to continue a career in politics without a helping hand. Likewise, how can we justify a man – who on a completely meritocratic basis has gained the most votes but has lost because he is not woman? Surely this is a process of two steps forward, three steps back? The most obvious solution would be to encourage women to stand. There may be a psychological gap where they have ambitions to stand for office but are not able to fulfil them because they are so familiar with the male representative dominating UK politics. Training and money could be a massive incentive for example, EMILY’s list in the USA – early money is like yeast because it makes dough; which could offer women the motivation to stand for election.
There nevertheless needs to be some change to the way Parliament functions with ethnic minorities and gender differences because it can lead people to question the legitimacy of the body and though this hasn’t filtered through onto the world stage, many countries such as France have overtaken the UK on the percentage of women in office (27%). Therefore, the UK needs to make some adjustments to its current political system because it potentially won’t be long before other countries and international organisations start questioning the UK as a representative body on the global stage.