Madame President & the glass ceiling

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The ILO report entitled “Women at Work: Trends 2016”,  in highlighting gender gaps, especially within the Caribbean, predicts that it will take 70 years – i.e. a lifetime for this gap to be closed. The report noted that the gap is currently widening, thereby suggesting that it will get worse before it gets better.  Against this prediction, we took a look at women in politics in our Federation.

Our curiosity was piqued by the return to the Federation of a delegation from Taiwan which  participated in the inauguration of the first woman president of that country.  One news report mused that her ascent to high office is surprising as she isn’t a protégé of political parents.  Congratulations to Her Excellency Madame Tsai Ing-wen, and to the Taiwanese people.  She joins a band of 76 or so women who have held the highest political office of the land. In this Western Hemisphere, only nine women have done so.

In post-independent St Kitts and Nevis, about six women have ever offered themselves for political office and four were successful in being elected.  This low level of candidacy has been lamented in recent Observer Mission reports and also in a special Commonwealth report.  It has also been commented on by the UN, notably in conventions like CEDAW which we ratified in 1985.Why are women not equitably participating in politics?

This issue was examined, albeit cursorily, during the public consultations for electoral reform in 2006.  It was agreed that there wereno legal or constitutional impediments to the involvement of women in politics.  In fact, the role of women in grass roots and other political campaigns was considered critical to the winning of the male candidates; and, more women were involved in voting than men.   So why were women holding back?

The National Parliament now has two women, one on either side; one elected the other selected.   Nevis Island Assembly has one woman; selected, on government side.   Their presence in not new, as both Houses have historically had female participation although not in large numbers.

Interestingly, negative stereotyping and gender rhetoric, the fear of discrimination against themselves and their families, the brutality of the campaign and “unequal  power relations between men and women…” are some of the barriers that were identified as hindering women  participation in national politics. One way recommended to overcome this is to impose gender quotas.  But this may prevent men from being all that they can be, and may not really break through the glass ceiling.

We need to think again.