Gender parity in cabinets: a dream or a reality?
In 2015, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced equal number of men and women in his federal cabinet, it garnered a lot of attention and the journalists questioned the reason behind this move, to which he answered, “Because it’s 2015”. My exact thought though, why is there even a question for something that should feel normal? The answer is because despite our attempts to portray ourselves as a progressive society that champions equality of all forms, we still have not learned to accept equality as a norm. On the contrary, no one has ever questioned gender disparity that prevails in most of the governments around the world when gender-balanced cabinet is still far from being a reality in more than three quarter of the countries.
Out of 195 countries globally, there are only 22 cabinets that conform to gender parity up until 2019. Some of the most gender-balanced cabinets in the world include Spain, Finland, Nicaragua, Sweden, Albani, Canada, and South Africa. There are also about 10 other cabinets in the world that fall slightly short in terms of gender parity up until 2021 and some of them are Switzerland, Germany, France, Norway, Peru, United States, and New Zealand. When put together, only 15% of the cabinets in the world have equal or close to an equal number of men and women at the moment. If we were to take a look at the situation in our home country, Malaysia, only 5 out of 32 ministers are women, and that only accounts for 14.2 % when the population is made up of approximately 49% of females (15.9 million as of 2020), clearly demonstrating under-representation of the gender.
Why gender-parity is crucial in cabinets?
Cabinets around the world house policy-makers who are given responsibilities to create legislative and regulatory frameworks that become the cornerstone of a country’s operation. Having a better gender representation at the federal level will promote gender equality across different disciplines and sets a precedent to fight against gender discrimination through appropriate legislative framework. Such parity is going to positively impinge on the way womens’ roles and responsibilities perceived in the society via appropriate law or policy implementation. A balanced representation at the federal level also means that the governing party places importance on equality at the highest level. From a fundamental perspective, gender balance represents the basic human rights of women to be involved in the decision-making processes which is going to impact the lives of both genders equally. It is also a crucial ideation of democracy to involve everyone in the process of decision-making for a fairer and more legitimate political institution. We have witnessed that increase in female representation in the cabinet has led to impactful policies in different areas including education, health, labour, childcare, and socio-economy. The gender-balanced cabinet led by Jacinda Arden in New Zealand is one good example of how better representation will change policy-making and thus the quality of people’s lives. It is also indisputable that there are so many unaddressed issues involving women especially such as workplace discrimination, abortion, child abuse, maternity policies, and violence against women which require the mandatory presence of women policy-makers. For instance, Rwanda with 64% of female representatives has a lower maternal mortality rate than other Sub-saharan African countries and made it mandatory for 30% of all government roles to be exclusively reserved for women.
The gender gap in political empowerment can be attributed to multiple factors including voters’ bias, the unwillingness of the women themselves, the existing culture of the local political atmosphere, or parties’ bias. Nevertheless, the scene is changing and women worldwide are embracing more senior positions in higher political scenes and more females should be encouraged to take up political careers. Any initiative towards gender parity in cabinets is going to strengthen the perspective of women as leaders and fulfil the unmet need of women in different issues worldwide. At the current standard of women representation in politics, we might only achieve global gender parity in 2068 so there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. Perhaps, gender-balanced cabinet worldwide is a distant dream that is slowly turning into a possibility, or so we hope!
- Why Women Matter: The Importance Of Gender Balance In Government, https://natoassociation.ca/why-women-matter-the-importance-of-gender-balance-in-government/
- Gender equality in politics, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/c06602e5-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/c06602e5-en
- iKNOWPOLITICS, https://www.iknowpolitics.org/en/learn/knowledge-resources/here-are-most-gender-balanced-cabinets-world-today
- Women in Politics: Why Are They Under-represented? https://freepolicybriefs.org/2021/03/08/women-in-politics/
Thanusha M Ganesan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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