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Politics has for a long time been a field for men and women have been locked out for centuries. The debate on the fitness and ability of females to be worthy political leaders or opponents has been existent since time immemorial. A good number of administrations and governments have for a long time thought males to be the dominant parties in the political scene. Even during the colonial period, vey few females were considered heroes of nationalism. Although this paper does not seek to fully reveal the reasons behind the lack of sufficient women in politics and government, it analyses the challenges faced by women in politics today and furthermore answer two questions: how individual cultures affect women's' political race and secondly, how equality vs. difference arguments have pervaded debates over women's suffrage and political representation.
As mentioned, the representation of women in governments has been quite poor and this is due to a number of challenges that they face as females in a male society (Krook, 2004, p. 313). Factors such as culture and gender inequality are the major aspects that have greatly affected the political race of many female candidates (Colin, 2005, p.5). Inspite of these two factors, many women have been known to excel in various political fields and in fact scale unimaginable heights like the presidency. The cultural factor has several subsets that fall under its faction and these include; religion, ethnicity, norms, beliefs and values. The shaping of societies in general is dependent on cultural and traditional factors, as well as economic and political systems. In America, society, culture and traditions play a major role. Culture predominantly influences women's' roles in the political arena, because of the emphasis placed on women's status and acceptable behavior as dictated by society. No matter what form the political system takes, no matter what level of education women attain, no matter what traditional values govern employment, many American women still do not play major leadership roles in modern day economics because cultural factors have impeded their development (Colin, 2005, p.45).
The participation of religious women in the public domain, including the political arena, is very limited in America (Schmitz, 2010, p.1). Many religions such as Islam give no social or political rights to females. Most people that profess the Muslim faith do not believe that men and women are equal in matters of religion. The role of women in the family and upbringing of children play a major part consequently, the women are allowed to worship at home as the men and the boys worship at the mosque. Despite the active role of women in religion, I women are denied access to any management roles and leadership positions in the country's religious institutions. There are still some conservative segments of the Christian and Hindu population who also do not want to embrace The New World Order, where women work and are independent, religion is still the excuse of this people. There is as an ideological conflict between culture and religion. For instance, Islam allows women the right to education and work, still Islamic women continue to seek careers and political power with society's expectations hover over them, giving them more strength to those who oppose empowering women (Ahmed, 1992, p.60).
Different ethnicities also have different reactions to the political activities of females. In the Caucasian community, it is normally not so much as the role of women but rather their ability to stand against males (Schmitz, 2010, p.1). On the other hand in the African, Asian and other ethnic groups, the roles of women are clearly specified and they are not obliged to be politically active. Also, the Asian, Arab and sub Saharan communities greatly look down upon females therefore the personal urge for them to be active in politics is non existent (Ahmed, 1992, p.14)). For instance, in America, women are considered to be less than men and equal to children. Males are given priority in business, education not to mention politics (Helen, 2007, p.90). The belief systems and values of many cultures also dictate that women should be beside their children and families and not active in political fields. In many cultures, often in the past, women did not have much to do outside their homes. Girls, from an early age, obtained a domestic role that befitted them. For example, for a young girl in Africa, becoming a mother is the norm and is the biggest goal in life. She is raised to believe that she should aim to be a "good mother" and that it is her duty to dedicate herself to her spouse and offspring. However, this is gradually changing with the new age that is dawning.
Culturally women have been socialized to be submissive and not challenge status quo. Institutions are ideally supposed to empower women, build them enough to challenge this status (Paxton & Hughes, 2007, p.300). There is a need for cultural transformation where women are seen as weaker vessels and thus unable to lead. Women have proved that they are capable of partaking in decision-making. Women need the support of all citizens in order to take up political positions. We derive some leadership inspiration from Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected Speaker of the Congress in the US, and also Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator of New York. These are top positions occupied by women in America who refused to bow to the culture of social oppression (Paxton & Hughes, 2007).
Democratic institutions are institutions created for the purpose of strengthening democracy in a country. It is a legitimate way of national administration and practiced through a systemic structure of institutions and bodies which are established for specific purposes and functions. These institutions include; the Executive, the legislature and the Judiciary. These three bodies are normally referred to as the three arms of government. Other democratic bodies include the National Electoral Commission, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the National Commission on Civic Education among others. If indeed the practice of democracy, through its various legitimate institutions would lead to the realization of respect for human rights and the rule of law, then women politicians have a duty to help fashion out formidable means to strengthen these institutions (Paxton & Hughes, 2007, p.143).
There is a vital role that women can play as leaders in politics and their communities, and the re is need for increased support for women's political leadership both in the U.S. and abroad. Empowering women politically helps countries develop democratic institutions so they can begin to successfully address issues related to security, jobs, human rights, physical well-being and human development (Paxton & Hughes, 2007, p.88). The various barriers that limit women's political and civic engagement are access to positions of power and to economic resources, lack of government transparency, and pervasive and discriminatory gender stereotypes. Some of the ways to build women's political participation include ,conducting ongoing communications trainings; building leadership skills; uniting women across political party lines, often in the form of women's caucuses; reforming political parties internally so that women's participation is a real priority; teaching women to train other women so that knowledge and skills are not lost; training elected women so that they are ready to deliver services back to constituents, increasing their chances of re-election; exchanging information internationally; and engaging youth to help change attitudes and behavior towards women (Paxton & Hughes, 2007, p.45).
International tools and conversations available to ensure the protection and participation of women in politics and governance include women and governance; women and security; women's role in Haiti's reconstruction process; U.S. policies in Afghanistan; violence against women; the importance of ratifying The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); and the creation of a new United Nations gender entity that would coordinate efforts to support women globally.
2. Equality vs. Differences
To establish gender equality, social and cultural perceptions of masculine and feminine traits and roles must be considered (Junn, 2009, p.107). In many societies boys are pushed into the activities thought to exhibit male traits and girls vice versa through the toys given to children i.e. trucks for boys, dolls for girls. The sort of discipline given out, the employment or career opportunities to which they might aspire and the portrayal of men and women in the media is all pre determined. Children gain knowledge of their gender from birth. They are trained how they should conduct themselves in order to be observed by others, and themselves, as either masculine or feminine. Right through their existence this is emphasized by parents, teachers, peers, their culture and society. These ideals and perceptions last right through adulthood and this is the cause of such scanty numbers of females in government and politics. The difference in aggression, personal ideals and maternal instinct are most probably the likely factors that disqualify women from many of these political battles. Women are perhaps not as aggressive as males are when it comes to politics probably because they see that they have more to loose than gain what with their families and "societal roles." They often abstain from such squabbles because at the end of the day, it really does not accomplish anything.
Also unlike men, females are known to have solid principles and virtues that govern their lives. Not that men do not possess these qualities, but women would most of the time put their voters need before theirs, not to mention their families. The maternal instinct present in all women also makes them value and give significance to their voters. In the same way females care for their children, so do they care for their voters and constituents. Most female candidates would not like to see their constituents embroiled in conflicts or skirmishes that would harm them, their families and their property. Women have special virtues that make them unique and exceptional leaders of nations. Some argue that the interests of women will not necessarily be represented if women are not present in decision-making bodies (Krook, 2004, p.320). Women may be seen as bringing to politics their own perspectives, experiences, and expertise and are more likely than men to introduce legislation regarding education, health, child care, and violence against women. This is true with the discussion presented above regarding the differences between male and female candidates and supports the idea that women are worthy and able leaders.
Power and justice must go hand in hand because the former without the latter is tyranny while justice without power is inefficient. There are vast cases of gender discrimination in the political sector in America, this is attributed to the fact that many of the candidates are idealists and have interpreted societal stereotypes in a particular way. For women, access to political power is very limited and/or minimal enjoyment of the full benefits of leadership or individuality. Gender discrimination against women has inspired reformers to proactively advocate for democracy and empowerment of women in the country (Kang & Tripp, 2008, p.350). The international community is also working in close collaboration with the reformers to help in the administration of justice and the equality of gender in all parts of the world. Consequently, America has made major progress in women's education and empowerment (Helen, 2007, p.7).
The purpose of this study was to examine the cultural and gender factors that affect women in their pursuit of leadership positions in a cut throat society. The women now more than ever are willing to take the risk and empower themselves. Sooner than later women from all parts of the world will catch up with other countries that have overcome gender discrimination. Studies show that women are becoming more visible in the social, political and economic scenes due to the current interest in multiculturalism and global awareness. There are many women in America who have attained leadership roles on a large scale, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton who is a great achiever in politics and government (Junn, 2009, p.110).
Reform is urgently needed in both educational and political sectors to provide greater equality for women of all ages, cultures and ethnicities (Kang & Tripp, 2008, p.352). Previous trends of females in political development indicate an ever expanding access of power by women to where they may outnumber men. However, gender segregation and inferiorities in curriculum differentiation is still experienced. There should be more awareness campaigns for women to be informed on the importance of pursuing political power to a higher level and diversification of leadership positions. After all "if you empower a woman, you empower a nation".