The recent victory of the young, energetic and appealing Liberal politician Justin Trudeau in the Canadian elections has caught the eyes of the world for a number of reasons. A major one is the creation of a cabinet with ministers half of whom are women. This was one of the major election promises fulfilled by the flamboyant 43 year old Prime Minister who is the second youngest in his country’s history to hold this port folio. This has once again brought to the fore a number of issues and reignited debates about women and politics. Overall there seems to be great degree of positiveness about this phenomenon.
"Creation of a cabinet with
ministers half of whom are
women. This was one of the
major election promises"
For the first time in its history, Canada has an openly feminist Prime Minister. This comes at a time when “feminism”has been reduced to a “bad” word in much of the Western world. This victory comes at a time when many important developments are happening concerning women in power across the globe.
Speaking of the gender of the candidates and politicians brings one to the question and ancient debate on women in echelons of power. On one hand the presence of women in top tiers of policy making is definitely an indicator of gender equality and the power and position of women in the society. However, the debate lies in the questions – to what degree is the presence of women in powerful positions a good indicator? How much power do these women really have? How much is the proportion of women in decision making indicative of the overall position of women in the country?
In societies with deeply entrenched patriarchy such as those of the Indian subcontinent we have seen many women rise to the very apex of power. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have all have female leaders at both the national and regional levels. However, the mere presence of women as Prime Ministers, as Presidents and Chief Ministers have not done much to ameliorate the banes of patriarchy from these countries.
"the mere presence of women
as Prime Ministers, Presidents
& Chief Ministers have not
done much to ameliorate the
banes of patriarchy"
Then comes the question of women being and becoming a part and parcel of the patriarchal system and working in tandem with the same. The same may perhaps be said of Hillary Clinton as well in case she does become the US president. No wonder feminists in USA are largely batting for Bernie Sanders- a male but with much more progressive ideas.
It maybe said that women can be carriers of patriarchy just like any subaltern section can be the carrier of an exploitative system.
Nevertheless, even this token victory is a huge leap for women. If nothing else, it sets aspirations among other women. They may not immediately contest elections, but know that it is doable. In an age of information technology and social media news travels fast. No wonder women across the globe cheered for Canada. It also sets precedents for men to have to defer to a woman and this goes a long way in changing attitudes in unquantifiable ways.
It is the same with the recent victory of Aung San Syu Kyi. In spite of all the hurdles put in her way - and she will not legally be able to become President - it is still a welcome news to see her and not the generals who will be driving much of Myanmar's politics in the near future.
Finally, we are witnessing a trend in the world - more women entering active politics. India, for instance, currently has the most women friendly cabinet in its democratic history - four women hold powerful portfolios in the cabinet.
"we are witnessing a trend
In the world - more women
entering active politics."
That is not to say that gaps do not exist. The parents of Nirbhaya are, for example, still awaiting justice for their daughter and are increasingly alarmed that the juvenile rapist, the most brutal of the lot, is soon going to walk free. But it does signify that there are more women out there, doing that and who will not simply be satisfied to play a secondary role.
The presence of women in politics does provide a lot of room for at least potential empowerment. Moreover, numbers matter. A single or few women in politics may be compelled to outperform their men colleagues in being 'manly' so as not to prove themselves 'weak'. But numbers provide greater possibility to push for change.
This is where its advantage Trudeau cabinet. Led by a feminist man, the fifteen women form 50% of the cabinet, holding important portfolios like the ministry of health (Jane Philpott) justice (Jody Wilson Raybould), indigenous affairs (Carolyn Bennett) and environment (Catherine McKenna). All the female ministers are highly qualified and experienced in their fields. With the leadership of an ideologically supportive leader, much positive can be expected.
Like the Scandinavian countries which have the highest number of women in decision making in the world today. This is a result of gradual political evolution over the years where the presence of women has helped in creating a progressive gender sensitive political culture.
"over the years the presence
of women has helped create
progressive gender sensitive
Trudeau’s victory may not be a revolution but as far as gender equality goes it is definitely a positive step towards evolution. Similarly, Aung San Syu Kyi cannot be expected to perform miracles but it definitely serves as an example for the many Saudi women who will be participating for the very first time in their history municipal elections.
Written byNIRJHAR MUKHERJE
NIRJHAR MUKHERJE is a lecturer in political science in Vidyasagar College, Kolkata. He is also an activist with a profound interest in gender issues and strong feminist views.