Friday, 21 January, 2022

Women’s Battle For Leadership

Namrata Sharma


The number of women holding political offices in Nepal has been significantly increasing. Similarly, although the number of women holding political positions in the USA grew substantially in the last two decades, men still outnumber women by more than 5-to-1 ratio.
Historically, women all over the world faced disadvantages in running for office and winning voter approval. Experts say these barriers are lower today. In Nepal, as elsewhere, the female lawmakers have highlighted the issues affecting women, their families and children. The sad truth is that the partisan divisions within the country have thwarted such initiatives.

In the US, having a woman as president has now finally become a possibility with Kamala Harris in the seat of the Vice President, breaking the taboo and becoming the first woman in one of the most powerful positions on earth. When Hilary Clinton ran for the position of President and lost, many of her supporters voiced concern that her campaign was hurt by sexism in media coverage of the race. Julia Gillard, the first Australian woman Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party, is a perfect example of a politician who had to basically terminate her position due to gender discrimination and sexist behaviour from the opposition. She is a politician who worked herself up the ladder and led her party and became Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013. She was the first woman to hold both the positions as leader of her party and Prime Minister of Australia.

Gender acceptance
Women like Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and a few others left their mark in their respective countries and were considered great statespersons. However, even today men still dominate the topmost political positions all over the world. Although, the understanding and acceptance of both genders in leadership positions is increasing, men are still the preferred choice and women still have to struggle more to achieve the same positions. Such behaviour could in some ways be attributed to the fact that various theories have been generated since centuries on beliefs related to hierarchy in the power structure, especially 'Traits' that are attributed to leadership and linkage to "men" as the leadership guardians.

The “great man” theory by Thomas Carlyle (1841) was the first systematic attempt to benchmark a "trait theory", whereby Carlyle focused on the innate qualities possessed by great social, political and military leaders like Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Napoleon. There are similar theories where political leadership is attributed to male charisma, intelligence, and capability. There are hardly any theories working on women leadership based on their gender-constructed roles.

Women still face numerous obstacles in getting a fair representation in governance. Their participation has been limited by the assumption that the women’s proper sphere is still the “private” sphere. While the “public” domain is one of political authority and contestation, the “private” realm is associated with the family and the home. By relegating women to the private sphere, their ability to enter the political arena is curtailed. Societies that are highly patriarchal often have local power structures that make it difficult for women to contest and win elections.

Women politicians are always under the scrutiny of the media. They are either "over exposed" or "dumb"! More focus is given to their private lives than their political careers. The media is very quick in pointing out if their fashion choices and looks are either too feminine or masculine. The women leaders' romantic life is a subject of much interest to the general public rather than her political responsibilities and stance. If the woman political leader is married and has children, then the question arises as to how she balances her work and family, something that a male politician would never be asked about. Unlike their male counterparts, the female candidates face barriers like sex stereotyping, political socialisation, lack of preparation for political activity and work and family balance.

The work-life balance is invariably more difficult for women as they are generally expected by society to act as the primary caregivers for children and the elderly, as well as for maintenance of the home. Due to the demands of work-life balance, it is assumed that women choose to delay political aspirations until their children are older, or either remain unmarried or childless. For this too they will be "blamed" by the society for not maintaining the traditional gender constructed values.

Women’s contribution
However, it is a fact that women politicians in Nepal have always been participating equally to usher the country into the federal republic state. Right from the Panchayat regime, women like Sahana Pradhan, Shailaja Acharya, Asta Laxmi Shakya, Mangala Devi Singh, and now leaders like Pampha Bhusal, Binda Pandey, Dila Shangraula and many more - both well- known and numerous unknown women - have contributed significantly in their fight against autocratic monarchy and restoring democracy in 1990 and then championing for a federal republic state. Women combatants too have played a significant role in the Maoist uprising against the state. There are several Maoist women leaders who have combated with new-born babies clutched in their arms, and have been subjected to war crimes like rape, molestation and other hardships.

The stereo-typed role of women and their struggles to attain the top political position still continues. They still face the stigma of gender discrimination and roles that they need to fulfil while their male counterparts go scot-free. Now, as he top political parties have conducted their general conventions, this struggle has been seen there too when leaderships have been modified. Women politicians and leaders need to be supported within their households, their communities and the nation so that they can demonstrate their leadership skills to full potential, without facing any sort of violence either in the domestic arena or in the work place.

(Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate. namrata1964@yahoo.comTwitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)