It’s not enough to have women in power

The time has come to stop pretending that women’s presence is enough to usher in legislative progress.

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It’s not enough to have women in power - NewsMavens
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-- by Elizabeth Walsh, January 2018

This week, the Austrian Minister of Women was joined by other prominent female politicians who refused to sign a petition calling for advancements in women’s rights, including elimination of the gender pay gap, abortion services in public hospitals and state sponsored child care.

The rejection came as a shock to many, particularly because even the Catholic Women’s Movement had supported the petition, citing opposition only to abortion funding.

Criticism of the Minister for Women for her failure to deliver on her mandate is warranted.

However, feminists should also realize that relying on a single spokesperson to carry out their agenda is neither sufficiently democratic nor strategically viable.

Gender scholars argue that for significant advancements in women’s rights to be made, women must be empowered to "challenge the rules of the game" -- to take on institutional obstacles that limit women’s influence in the public sphere. This means lobbying for greater access to democratic institutions, demanding gender forums, women’s conferences and conducting surveys to assess institutionalized sexism. In short, to challenge the political old boys’ network, women must call for more inclusive democracies.

Speaking of old boys’ networks, there are still no formal disciplinary procedures for sexual harassment and bullying in Theresa May’s Great Britain.

The recent wave of sexual assault allegations in Westminster has prompted the creation of a committee to address harassment culture, but it remains to be seen whether or not the code of conduct will usher in the "culture of respect" that May is seeking.

A code of conduct gives the appearance of progress, but when sexual harassment takes place in government, it’s not only respect that is lost, but an inclusive and fair democracy as well.

When female lawmakers are victims of sexual abuse, their ability to lobby for women’s rights and other progressive policies is undermined. When the political system protects men who sexually harass women, it’s important to remember that the country’s policies reflect their thinking, even if women are adequately represented.

It’s not enough to fight gender imbalance in politics. Inclusive democracy, gender justice and new rules that root out old boys’ networks are in order.

gender, politics, women's issues

**Elizabeth Walsh is an American journalist covering women's rights in Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published by The New York Times, Middle East Eye, United Nations and others. She has a master's degree in international affairs from Sciences Po Paris and speaks English and French. See more of her work at www.elizgwalsh.com.**

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