Women in Politics: Going Beyond Financial Incentives
“Women choose to not run for elected positions,” my colleague stated. We were discussing the relatively low representation of women in nationally elected positions in Georgia. His contention was that women do not prefer to occupy roles in public life as many in Georgia believe the natural role for women is domestic. Whether this hypothesis is true, the percentage of women in Georgia’s Parliament stands at 6.5%, far below the global average of 19.8%. In fact, Georgia is in the bottom 20% of 188 countries in which this statistic is tracked (www.ipu.org).
The trend for relative under-representation of women continues at the local level. Only 10% of all Sakrebulo members are women and about the same percentage of women occupy municipal council seats.
Clearly there is scope for improvement in gender balance within Georgia’s political landscape. The parliament is contemplating ways to take action. Under consideration is a financial incentive plan to convince political parties to recruit more women candidates in their party lists.
Could the meager participation of women in Georgian politics indeed have something to do with my colleague’s summary of opinions held about the natural roles of men and women in Georgia? This bears further examination of decision-making patterns and gender roles at the household level.
Last week I had the opportunity to meet a local business woman from Shida Kartli. Recently she opened a workshop to produce hand-made crafts, specializing in needlework and embroidery. Nino is employing women from her village at the workshop. She sought out women she described as in desperate need of financial and moral support. At first, Nino’s new employees faced opposition from their husbands who wanted them to fully focus on domestic work. The men in these households expressed the view that business outside the house was best conducted by men. After several months of working outside the home and bringing in substantial new earnings for the family, all members of the household were convinced of the added value of women working outside the home.
Workshops that employ women, like the one Nino has started in Shida Kartli, provides new opportunities for women in remote locations to choose between options on how they allocate their time and to take decisions on how they contribute to their household.
Perhaps at some level there is a connection between how decisions are made at the household level, perceptions of what roles men and women should occupy and the relative under-representation of women in elected offices. If this is the case, financial incentives to convince political parties to recruit more women candidates might be a step in the right direction, but much more will need to be done to achieve greater representation of women in Georgia’s national parliament.
Additionally, dialog should take place about perceptions around the roles of men and women in society. Publications highlighting the effectiveness of women holding leadership roles in business, academia, government and civil society can serve to debunk any notion that women are not highly capable decision-makers. Finally, civil society organizations can work to ensure issues of particular importance to women have strong support among representatives in governing bodies.
Editor’s note: This column will appear twice monthly and discuss current topics that impact youth, women, those affected by conflict and those located in remote villages. Thomas Reynolds is the Mission Director of CARE International in the Caucasus.
By Thomas Reynolds*