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Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Women in politics , politics in decline

Statistics from the World Bank state the percentage of the United Kingdom population who are female is 50.8%, While this figure is unsurprising I draw attention to it in order to highlight the oddity that this modern western democracy, which expounds on the representative nature of its political system, is 49th in the world for the percentage of those representatives who are female; a mere 17.9% of it parliamentarians after the general election of June 2001. The United Kingdom is not alone in this; indeed 49th in the world is quite high in a ranking of over 200 countries. In the French parliament, for example, the figure is as low as 12.2%. These already low figures are thrown into sharper relief when compared to the Nordic states where the figures for representation range from the higher figure of 36.4% in Norway, to Sweden where 45.3% of its parliamentarians are female. If you follow the logic that a parliament should be representative of the people of the state then it would seem self-evident that the Nordic states and Sweden in particular are better at representing the female half of their population.
The question of why this is the case is something we can apply some comparative study to . by looking at the citizenship models of Britain, France, Belgium and the Nordic states . For example in Britain, moves by the labour party to increase the number of sitting female MP’s by introducing all female selection lists for election candidates were challenged in the courts and had to be dropped. It was not until they gained office that they were able to make changes to the sexual discrimination act in parliament to allow for such positive strategies in selecting female candidates. While this can be seen as a positive change it has not greatly changed the political landscape of the sexes in the United Kingdom. Contrast  this with the approach taken by the Nordic states of introducing a quota system, and indeed the Belgium system where legislation was introduced stipulating that electoral lists could not contain more than a two thirds majority of any sex. Interestingly Denmark which was one of the first country’s to introduce the quota system has since abandoned it, and yet percentage of female representation has continued to expand in that country. The Danish political landscape having being originally changed by use of a quota has appeared to become self-sustaining.
Using a comparative methodology to look at politics in different states allows us to get a broad view of trends which seen in isolation tell us very little. Take the question of why participation in politics is in the decline, one which informs much debate in the United Kingdom. It is not until we look at trends in other countries however that we see that this is not a problem isolated to the United Kingdom but is endemic of most western democracies around the world over the last 50 years of the 20th century . Conjecture would have it that this is due to a high degree of contentment within these countries leading to a culture of not bothering to vote, as it makes little difference whom is in power. Oddly however this is not the case in two of the states on this list, Denmark and Sweden, where the trend towards less participation is reversed. Denmark and Sweden share a commonality in the investment in ‘social capital’ within their societies. Social capital helps to promote electoral participation. From this we can see that it is not simply a case of contentment, leading to apathy in the electoral process, leading to lower figures for voting, but perhaps a lack of social capital which leads people to feel less inclination to vote in elections. Here the comparative approach has the advantage of allowing us deeper exploration the issue of lack of participation in elections, and allows us to contend that by trying to increase the social capital within British society we may reverse this trend. Rather than the opposing view that it is simply contentment among the population, a view that many Politian’s would probably happily champion.
This lets us draw an interesting correlation of our own. This being that the two nations cited as having increased participation by the electorate, namely Denmark and Sweden are also respectively 2nd and 3rd in the world rankings for having female representation in there parliaments. While this is only a correlation and by no means proof of cause and effect, it does suggest that being more representative in parliament of the 50% or more of your population who are female leads to more interest and involvement in politics.
So strangely having  women with more  representation in political life will lead to more participation in  politics. Because the 50.8% of the population who they make up might think that there is something in it for them.

A final note , the country where women are best represented in their parliament ,, Rowanda