So, I recently found out a fairly upsetting statistic. Women make up 22% of representatives within government around the globe. The UK is on par with this number. Sure, the statistics say the global average has doubled since 1995, and of course this is a positive thing. However it seems a little underwhelming; for all the movements and activism and the parlance of feminism in politics, women are still only marginally represented.
There are some people who may say that aiming for a 50/50 representation (which is a great campaign across the EU, check it out!) isn’t needed. “Women’s needs are well represented within politics and there are far more important things to be discussing at the moment.” However, I would argue that this isn’t the case. I would argue that current trends in the USA and past actions in the UK are indicative of the importance of women’s voices, for women. I would even go so far to argue, using the Swedish/ Saudi fiasco as an example, to demonstrate why female and feminist representation can have a knock on impact for women’s rights around the globe.
Let’s take the USA first, for example. I’m sure the readers of the UF website keep up to date enough with American affairs to know of the wave of anti-abortion, anti-contraception, pro-abstinence that is flowing across the nation currently. Just have a google to find out numerous examples of these debates. Some examples include Ohio house voting to limit abortion time to six weeks; “when the foetus begins to have a heartbeat”. (Fortunately the senate will not touch this bill, so it will not become law.) Another example is of a woman being found guilty of feticide and women’s health NGOs arguing that a fear of accusation or punishment for miscarriage is the next stage for Indiana. Finally, the religious rights of a corporation to reject health coverage for contraceptive pills and IUDs, and yet include Viagra, has churned up a storm of internet discussion. A common trend of these debates, besides the obvious Christian influence, is the tendency for panels to be dominated by men.
Of course the USA, I acknowledge, is a rather extreme example. Perhaps a happier turn would be noting the way female representatives have benefited women. This has recently been celebrated in a UK newspaper. Making the houses of parliament more female friendly, for example, was something that women (arriving in droves with the 1997 labour government) contributed to. 1997 also welcomed the first female sanitary machines in toilets in the houses of parliament. In support of more feminist lawmaking, Megg Munn persuaded the speaker to make legislation gender-neutral. Tessa Jowell, MP in 1992, set up an early nurturing programme Sure Start that benefited thousands of families across the UK. Another very helpful step was to reduce VAT on female sanitary products (that government previously argued were luxury- and taxable items) and contraception. Without these voices, women’s lives would be that little bit harder.
Women in power has a huge symbolic impact across international relations, particularly for less-than-feminist countries. In terms of foreign policy, Sweden has effectively lost their bid to join the UN security council. In criticising Saudi Arabian institutional and national sexism, Sweden has lost support from Arab states. A shame, according to some, for the Swedish economy. For women’s rights, a win. Diplomacy took a back seat, and with that Sweden leads the way in equality and justice. Rather than silently supporting the suppression of Saudi Arabian women, like the two previous countries discussed within this note, Sweden has stood up for human rights.
Sweden currently has women in 13 of the 24 government minister positions. 43.6% of members of parliament are women. A much healthier proportion than the UK or the global average. Easy to see the benefits of women in power, then. I recently produced a piece for Radio UF discussing this issue in our The Future of Democracy episode. Arguing that women were far from fair representation in democracy. Uttryck Magazine has a new theme for this year’s last issue, Do Something. I echo the final note of that piece here: Women, I ask you, to get involved in politics- vote, discuss and debate. If you have an issue that isn’t discussed in power today, you may need to put your voice in there tomorrow
By: Laila Mendy
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