Gender inequality in politics is a major issue in the contemporary world. In most countries around the world, women have taken political backstage due to several factors that encourage ‘political chauvinism.’
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The majority of nations have elective political posts, and this aspect explains the small number of women occupying political seats across the world. However, some countries have achieved gender equality in politics. Differences in political gender inequalities amongst countries are based on cultural, religious, economic, and social backgrounds. This paper explores the role of women in politics in India and Iran as the two countries have different nature of political gender inequalities.
Political Gender Inequality in India and Iran
Women are great leaders, but stereotypes have denied them the opportunity to be at the political forefront for many decades. Scholars argue that women play a major role in decision-making processes. In most cases, women are sober-minded in highly intense situations, and thus they make rational decisions in such cases (Dahl 2007: 109). The world is currently going through political evolution where dictatorial leaderships are waning slowly with the emergence of democratic political party politics, thus enhancing majority rule governance.
However, Iran still has dictatorial leadership, but international pressure is compelling the government to embrace gender equality, but little has been achieved so far. In addition, women are continuing to be empowered with the spread of feminism from the WestWest, and thus they are slowly assuming political positions, hence bridging the political gender inequality in many countries across the world. However, both India and Iran have political systems that are strongly attached to various factors that discourage women from acquiring powerful positions, as explored in this paper.
Cultural factors are the major hindrances to the achievement of political equality in both India and Iran. Men are the rulers, and thus they make all decisions according to traditional cultures, which favored chauvinism.
India is strongly attached to the Hinduism culture, which inhibits women from ruling over men, but they can assume powerful positions for legislative and policy implementation purposes. The Indian cultural tradition requires women to be loyal to their husbands, which explains the small number of women in political leadership positions even in the face of concerted efforts to promote gender equality in the country (Al-Azri 2013: 98).
Traditionally, women were acquiring powerful positions, but they were not at the forefront in the decision-making processes as they stayed behind their powerful husbands as advisers. Women were viewed as unintelligent, and thus they could not be trusted in matters related to the governing of a community.
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Allegedly, men were afraid of competition if women assumed powerful positions that could lead to the degradation of family values and culture. Even though there are increased cases of family fallouts in the developed world, there is hardly any evidence to relate women empowerment to the problem, but this goal is yet to be seen in both India and Iran because gender equality has not been achieved yet.
Economic factors play a major role in politics in the modern world. In every democratic political system like India, economic factors determine the most viable candidates for political posts. India has a multi-party system, and thus it normally experiences abnormal inflations during the campaign periods prior to the election because of the huge amount of money spent in the campaigns by the political parties as they campaign for their candidates. In addition, the candidates who win the support of their political parties are economically empowered persons in most cases.
This aspect has hindered women from assuming political positions because they have been subjected to economic subjugation for a long time and thus denied the support of their political parties, especially in Iran. Surprisingly, the majority of women who manage to assume political positions have a strong relationship with economically powerful who back them up to acquire the positions like the case of most women politicians in both India and Iran.
Economic factors were the major cause of feminism movements that originated from the WestWest. Women needed the right to have economic power and earn equal pay as men provided; they were doing the same jobs in the same environment (Lijphart & Waisman 1996: 111). Women were often paid a lesser amount of money than men were because they were viewed as weak workers, and they lacked competitive skills as well.
However, feminism movements played a major role in ending that prejudice, which marked the beginning of women empowerment. As a result, women were given equal opportunities as men in the education system, and as a result, the political systems started to accommodate women in powerful positions. However, Iranian women are denied economic rights, and this aspect deters them from becoming powerful politicians, but Indian women are better off because they have been empowered economically.
Religion plays a major role in determining human behaviors. Religion influences the political culture and thus is viewed as a major player in determining the role of women in the political systems. Some religions have embraced gender equality due to their values that view women as equal to men. Hence, religion has been a major factor in determining the measure of gender equality in a country. Women can hardly assume a ruling position under some religious cultures because men will oppose them.
The Islamic religion is conservative, and it hardly adopts new changes. Hence, few women in Iran are economically empowered because their religion prioritizes men in economic matters. On the other hand, Hinduism is the dominant religion in India, and it has played a major role in influencing changes towards women empowerment in the country, hence women in India have benefited from religious support, which allows empowerment.
Social factors are a combination of different aspects, and thus the most influential elements in determining the nature of political gender inequality in most countries. In India and Iran, women are socially viewed as insecure, regardless of the position they hold in society. Scholars argue that women are naturally weak, and thus they can be empowered by being supported by their men. Therefore, gender inequality is the least in environments where men have played a major role in empowering their female counterparts.
In India and Iran, men are responsible for carrying on cultural values and passing them to future generations. Therefore, men change the cultural beliefs that do not favor gender empowerment before passing them on to future generations. In addition, Muslim men cling to religious beliefs more strongly than women do, and thus they play a major role in promoting gender equality in Iran. In addition, the ability of economic factors to favor gender empowerment can only be determined by men, and thus they have a major role to play in order to achieve political gender equality.
Feminists blame men for oppressing women by paying them indiscriminately in the workplace, coupled with fathers denying their daughters the right to formal education in Iran. Hence, men are responsible for adjusting social factors to favor gender equality, hence increasing the number of women in political positions. However, in India, men are supportive of their women counterparts, hence the more women in political positions as compared to Iran.
Declining Political Inequality in Indian Politics and the Role of Women in Politics
According to Schmitter and Karl, “democracies have the capacity to modify their rules and institutions consensually in response to changing circumstances” (1991: 87), and India is adjusting to allow women in political positions. However, the efforts being made to ensure that the country achieves a considerable number of women in the political spheres seem to be overpowered by strong factors.
According to Kaur, “The reservation has been mandated by the Constitution of India (73rd Amendment Act), which was enacted in 1992” (2014: par. 5). According to the act, “minimum one-third of seats for women, both as members and chairpersons, would be reserved within all of the locally elected governance bodies of India, generally known as Panchayati Raj Institutions” (Kaur, 2014: par. 6). Unfortunately, this constitutional provision has not promoted political gender equality significantly for only less than ten percent of women occupy political seats in India (Kaur, 2014).
Different parties have labored to empower Indian women, where their huge population ratio above men is hardly reflected in the political system. For instance, the state of Kerala “with the highest female to male ratio [1,079: 1,000] has an astonishingly low number of females in politics” (Kaur, 2014: par. 8).
In addition, women politicians are denied the opportunity to participate in critical decision-making processes. Unfortunately, women politicians are only allowed to participate in matters touching on female issues like the payment of dowry. They are not part of the legislative process that decides on economic and security matters of the country.
Hence, women are defined, and their roles are confined to women-related issues. In addition, women play a huge role in empowering their fellow women through introducing legislation that aims at improving gender equality in the country in line with the international gender empowerment requirements where women are required to enjoy equal social and economic rights with men.
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Unfortunately, male politicians oppose motions seeking to empower women, and thus very few women are expected to join politics in the near future. However, society will gradually change its perception towards women, and this move will allow many women to pursue their political ambition without the fear of unnecessary backlash from society.
Despite the challenges, some prominent women politicians hold powerful positions such as Sonia Gandhi, “who is the President of the Congress, which is one of the biggest and oldest political parties in India” (Kaur, 2014: par. 9). However, other powerful women in politics have gone so far due to their closeness to powerful male politicians, and such issues deny them the opportunity to influence women into acquiring political positions in India.
Hence, “to change the position of women in politics, they must stand out as an independent winner…they should be well-educated and versed with all the facets of politics….confident to take the necessary decisions apart from handling just women related issues” (Kaur, 2014: par. 8).
Persistent political gender inequality in Iranian politics and the role of women in politics
Iran is one of the countries that have denied women the right to assume political leadership positions in the world. The country runs under dictatorial leadership, and thus international pressure yields minimal results. As an Islamic state, religion, and culture play important roles in determining the role of women in politics. Muslims view women as subjects to men. Therefore, a man can hardly be influenced by a woman in the decision-making process for fear of being discovered, which makes it hard for the rights of women to be addressed exhaustively. Consequently, women can hardly assume powerful political positions.
Even though Iran has an elective parliamentary system, a constitutional amendment allows at least thirty percent of posts to be reserved for women; however, only a few are nominated for party posts. However, the few women in politics do not play a major role, as their low numbers do not allow them to pass motions. Olson (1971: 84) holds that individuals in a democratic set up need huge numbers to pass motions.
Sadly, women in Iran have to implement the political agenda of powerful male politicians who help them to assume political posts. Hence, such women do not have a particular role because society also does not recognize them as powerful politicians. The country can hardly have an elected woman leader because society is strongly attached to the conservative Islamic faith, which views women as men’s subjects. Hence, Iran does not have a favorable environment for promoting gender equality as opposed to India and other countries that have democratic governing systems (Susman 2009: 172).
The few women in politics are not active in the decision-making processes since they are discriminated against, and their mandate is to implement their roles as representatives, but not as policymakers. Women are “economically, socially, and politically subjugated, and in Iran, this would attribute affiliation to the Muslim faith, sub-regional disparities, and lack of civil liberties as triggers of gender inequality, which exacerbate economic inequities” (Susman 2009: 174). Hence, Iran has persistent political gender inequality that is far from being bridged due to socio-cultural and religious beliefs.
Gender equality is vital for healthy economic growth in any given country regardless of cultural and religious backgrounds. However, political gender equality is determined by religious and social factors in a given country, since they determine the role of women in society. Hence, the increasing number of women in political positions in India is attributed to the favorable sociocultural and religious environment in the country.
On the other side, the persistent political gender inequality in Iran is attributed to the strong attachment that the country has towards culture and religious beliefs. Indian women politicians play a crucial role in the endeavor to empower women in the country by moving motions that seek to enact policies that discourage women from political subjugation. On the other hand, Iranian women politicians can hardly influence the government to implement policies that would be defined as ‘women’ agenda because they are inferior politicians, and thus incapable of agitating for women empowerment.
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Dahl, Robert. 2007. On Political Equality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Kaur, Ramandeep. 2014. “Women in Indian politics.” Web.
Lijphart, Arend, and Carlos Waisman. 1996. Institutional Design in New Democracies: Eastern Europe and Latin America. Denver, CO: Westview Press.
Olson, Mancur. 1971. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Schmitter, Philippe, and Terry Karl. 1991. “What democracy is… and is not.” Journal of Democracy: 75-88.
Susman, Katie. 2009. “Income Inequality and Poverty in Iran.” Tropical Review Digest, March, 173-183.