Globally, less than 20% of parliamentary seats are held by women. However, female political representation varies greatly by country and region. 56% of Rwandan parliamentarians are female, the highest in the world. Qataris, on the other hand, elected only male representatives. Scandinavia averages 42% female legislators and Arab states trail with less than 12% overall.
Despite their minority status, across nations and cultures, female elected officials prioritise important issues that make a difference in the lives of their people. They tend to mobilise constituents differently, work collaboratively, and focus on health, education and other human development issues. They also have a better understanding of the challenges facing girls and women and are in a unique position to promote these concerns.
In the Cayman Islands, less than 7% of current legislators are female. One woman was elected in 2009 from a field that was 18.6% female. Women made up 20% of both candidates and elected representatives in 2005; 24.6% of candidates and 6.7% of elected representatives in 2000; and 22.7% of candidates and 20% of elected representatives in 1996.
It would be overly simplistic to state that Caymanian women are not elected because they are not running for office. There are likely many complex reasons for these gender gaps in politics. We must consider not only why more women do not run for political office, but also why they have been less likely to be elected in some instances. When we start to understand these reasons, the country can develop possible responses to promote greater female participation in the Legislative Assembly and in political life in general.
International research concludes that there are various political, economic, social, cultural and religious constraints within both formal and informal public and private spheres that hold back women’s political participation (See quotaProject).
For example, in the United States, women often perceive greater gender bias in politics and are less competitive, less confident, more risk averse, and much less likely to think they are qualified or to be encouraged by others to run for office. In most societies, women are also still responsible for the majority of unpaid caregiving and household tasks, making it more difficult to develop the necessary qualifications, connections and financial resources to campaign for election and to serve in office.
When women are left out of the political arena, the country loses the diverse voices, ideas, perspectives, motivations and contributions of the other half of the population.
This lack of women at the highest level of decision making is not because women are disinterested in issues of national importance or unambitious, but rather a result of external, social factors that create a vicious cycle.
When girls see very few political role models, they grow up not visualising themselves in this important role. And when women see how female candidates and representatives can be treated or portrayed in politics, they may think twice about entering the political ring.
Understanding these reasons and encouraging women’s participation requires everyone to take a more holistic view of women in politics. Let us all consider how we can promote gender equality and support the girls and women in our lives to step up and be tomorrow’s leaders.
More information available at: www.genderequality.gov.ky