In spite of the tremendous political advances made by women in the Western world, clear evidence demonstrates that their participation in politics does not equal that represented by men. While women make up a little over half of the total population of Canada (51.04%), they are in many ways conspicuous by their absence from the more formally recognized Canadian political scene [Statistics Canada, 2006]. This paper will analyze substantial political and gender factors which account for this state of affairs, and will develop a strategy to address this problem. While some unfairly blame women themselves for their lack of political participation, the real blame lies with the gendered structures of power in our society, and with the male-dominated political system, not with women themselves. Political factors include such issues as the selection process for candidates, the decentralized nomination practices, and the type of political system in the respective country. Gender issues that will be covered include the sexual division of labor and sexual identity; that is, to determine whether women are bound by the static gender roles which formerly excluded them from fully participating in public office. The paper will then turn to various initiatives that can be used to address this under-representation, such as quotas, target numbers, and affirmative action measures; the way in which a party's organizational structure can be altered to influence its ability to enforce rules for gender or minority representation; and how a party's ideology can influence the commitment to female participation.
[...] For the purpose of discussing gender parity in public office, the possibility that local party elites are reluctant to support female candidates must be acknowledged. Because women usually have not developed as much political capital as their male counterparts, they are likely to be disadvantaged by the current process. Without the support of the party organization and the “selectorate,” it is difficult if not impossible to make it to the political scene. Since women tend to be excluded from the political process, their interests are marginalized and the only way to reverse the cycle is to integrate political structures. [...]
[...] Whether or not women possess the characteristics suitable for attaining and holding public office, the search for answers in regard to women's political under-representation thus becomes very complex because the remaining impediments, most of which stem from the candidate recruitment and selection process, are informal and subtle. Political elites control the process determining the rules, the procedures, and often the criterion according to which candidates will be recruited [Pitre, 2003]. The perceptions of local “party elites” about important characteristics for political life guide their choice among aspiring potential candidates. [...]
[...] Eventually, and, judging by the startling decline in male educational levels, probably soon, women will continue to replace men in every aspect of public society. However, the real test of feminism's advances will not occur until this present does reach its maturity: one which has not been impacted by the old patriarchal restrictions. What could only damage women, on the other hand, and the cause for actual parity, is to enforce or petition the inclusion of arbitrary representation based on gender-based identity politics. [...]
[...] As such, her position coincides with substantive representation in that both interpretations provide models for gender parity: female interest is promoted by women with a direct, ideological focus on their welfare not simply by public officials who feel beholden or are lumped as spokeswomen simply because they happen to be anatomically female. This distinction is important, for no convincing link exists demonstrating the equation that the proportion of female members of any given legislative assembly and the proportion who see themselves as representatives of women. [...]
[...] The adjustment to a substantive and surrogate form of female representation in public office, rather than descriptive representation, becomes the goal for those seeking to reform the Parliamentary model in order to facilitate the obtainment of public office for women. Or rather: the additional seats of this reformed political system will provide a greater opportunity for female representation in government; moreover, it will provide those who are directly responsible for ensuring the needs and the requirements of their constituents. Allen and Dean present a model for another form of proportional representation in Great Britain aimed at adequately representing women in public office. [...]
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