Gender Norms Still Define Politics as Masculine Space, Researchers Find

Nora Löhr • 2 September 2020
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The Advancing Learning and Innovation on Gender Norms (ALIGN) platform released a guide on gender norms and women in politics, in the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform of Action.

The guide titled, ‘Gender norms and women in politics: Evaluating progress and identifying challenges on the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform,’ published in August 2020, is authored by Rachel George with Emma Samman, Katie Washington, and Alina Ojha.

The 1995 Beijing Declaration includes a goal to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making. The ALIGN publication finds that women are increasingly exercising their right to political participation, but many still “find their way barred by the gender norms that see politics as a masculine space.” The guide highlights how, 25 years after adoption of the Beijing Declaration, gender norms still influence women’s parliamentary representation, women’s experiences running for and standing in leadership positions, and women’s engagement in civic action and social movements.

The authors determine that “across many cultures and societies, it is increasingly common for young generations of girls to aspire to political leadership.” This is due to rising access to and achievement in education and economic shifts, as well as women’s movements and women leaders of wider social movements, among other factors. At the same time, the authors report, coalitions and movements that don’t support gender equality also are growing in power and influence.

The guide also presents statistics showing trends in women’s political participation. Women’s parliamentary representation has doubled since 1995, from 12% to 25% worldwide. The number of countries with more than 30% female representation has risen from 5 to 51. At the level of heads of state and government, the authors report that women account for just 10% of leaders worldwide – but in 1966, no country had ever had an elected female leader. Sub-nationally, fewer than 5% of the world’s mayors are women, and women account for just 20% of local councilors worldwide on average, although data on these trends are limited.

ALIGN is a digital platform and programme of work aiming to create a global community of researchers and thought leaders committed to gender justice and equality. The initiative provides research, insights, and grants to examine and change discriminatory gender norms. ALIGN is currently led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Government of Canada. 

On 1 October 2020, the UN General Assembly will convene a high-level meeting to commemorate Beijing+25. The high-level meeting on 1 October will focus on ‘Accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.’

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