Opinion Series: Prudent Powerplayers - How Women Run the Show
How often do you hear about women in positions of leadership or power on the news, and how many out of those reports have been positive representations of these women?
I believe that the media always ends up having a bias and stories will be split into sides—oh, and we cannot forget about Internet trolls. Yet, I find that women generally do not receive much media coverage unless it is to paint a negative picture of them–or, if they do receive media attention for something positive at first, it becomes twisted into something negative.
Take Greta Thunberg, for example. She is standing up for what she believes in, is raising awareness about climate change, and is emphasizing that we, on a global scale, must make many changes in the ways we live our lives if we want to avoid a climate disaster. She is all over social media platforms, her work spread widely by people online who support her cause, but there are also Internet trolls who are trashing her movement. Also, the current President of the United States–leader of a nation!–Donald Trump, first praised Greta for her efforts by Tweeting, “Looks like a very happy young girl looking forward to a wonderful future. So happy to see!” when Greta first began her work. More recently though, he criticized her, saying that she needs to “work on her Anger Management problem” after she called out world leaders for their lack of action in regards to sustainability and environmentally-friendly planning–influencing his supporters to think the same way.
In addition, media outlets always like to broadcast their thoughts on appearance when it comes to talking about women. Tabloids in magazines love to comment on “bad outfits” and how female celebrities are “unrecognizable!” when they are not wearing makeup. The media coverage on Sarah Palin’s campaign in the early 2000s was very focused on what clothes she was wearing, calling her style “unprofessional” amongst other things. There were some blogger websites who were claiming that gold-medal American Olympian Simone Biles was “too masculine” to be considered beautiful. This coverage of appearance versus impact is a trend that we see for women all over the globe, no matter what role, industry, or career path that they have chosen.
As a student in political science, I am reminded every day of how male-dominated the globalized world seems to be (or is). Leadership roles all around the world are still primarily held by men and there is a lack of female (as well as visible minority) representation in the global scene. In politics, only 24.3% of parliamentarians are women, 11 women serve as Heads of State, and 12 women are Heads of Government (twenty-three women in charge of states in the world!). As of 2019 in the business sector, 29% of senior management roles globally are held by women. Additionally, as of data collected in 2015 by UNESCO, women make up only 28.8% of those who work in STEM globally. There is a lack of female representation and media coverage in areas like sports and entertainment, with a whopping 4% of sports media content being focused on women and 12% of sports news presenters being female. The Oscar Academy Awards rarely see women nominees or winners in categories that are not “Best Female Actress” or “Best Supporting Female Actress”–the Womens’ Media Centre reported that only 30% of the non-acting category nominations were female in this year’s nominations.
These statistics are unfortunately slow-changing and even lower for visible minorities–in Canada, women of colour earn 56.7% of what all men earn; in the United States of America as of 2019, Latinas and Black women had the lowest median weekly earnings compared to all racial/ethnic groups ($642 and $704). Though conditions are improving for women in the workforce and more women are getting to be in top positions, it is still not enough to shift this imbalance of gender in global work, mainly in industries that have higher salaries. Not to mention the big gender wage gap (see Table 1).
So, why is this the case? When did all of this become the norm?
Patriarchy–defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it–can be traced far back in history. Dr. Gerna Learner, pioneer of making womens’ history as an academic discipline and Robinson-Edwards Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, believed that patriarchy began between 3100 B.C. to 600 B.C. in the Near East, as a result of inter-tribal exchanges of women for marriage that was not protested by those women because it was what was best for their tribe. She said that these exchanges gave early societies the idea that their men had rights that the women did not. Within European politics during the days of imperialism and colonization, patriarchal domestic relations within polities were symbolically important resources in structuring racialized and sexualized imperial and colonial hierarchies in places that these states had established colonies. This idea that husbands had a natural and undisputed authority over their wife and children was often a way for colonial powers to argue that they had a natural and undisputed authority over the peoples they colonized. Moreover, this notion “...legitimated colonial attempts to create patriarchal households [within the societies of colonized peoples] where none had previously existed.”
Over time, women all around the world have desired to claim their own human rights as females. From patriarchy came the rise of female movements, such as the Canadian Women’s Suffrage Association who got us the right to vote in the early 20th century, to the rise of feminism and civil rights throughout the 20th century, to movements such as #MeToo in the 21st century. Some other significant movements led by women include the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace (led by Leymah Gbowee), who worked to end the Second Liberian War by means of nonviolent protest, and the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (led by Wangari Maathai), which prompted not only environmental rehabilitation in Africa, but also linked sustainable means of development, peace, and democracy through planting trees.
So, what are these movements fighting for? Why do we need more females at the forefront of things?
When women are educated and are able to be involved in decision-making processes, conditions in those societies are ultimately improved for everyone. Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, said that women in power bring forth policies that “benefit women, children and families in general… So women tend, when they’re in parliament, for example, to promote women’s rights legislation. When women are in sufficient numbers in parliaments they also promote children’s rights and they tend to speak up more for the interests of communities, local communities, because of their close involvement in community life.” We can look to Nordic states, such as Iceland and Norway, as prime examples of this. Female empowerment in Iceland emerged in the 1970s when women came to hold many positions in politics. Norway also has a strong female presence in politics, with 40% of its government being made up of women (in addition, it also has a female prime minister). In these nations (including Sweden and Finland), a culture of strong female presence in politics encourages political participation in women and increases the number of female legislators in government, and supportive parenting and childcare policies have helped more women enter the workforce, which has closed the gender wage gap substantially.
Though women’s rights have improved dramatically over the last several years on an aggregate, certain groups of intersecting oppressed identities still face barriers that we must address in order to achieve true equity. Studying the policies that are implemented in the Nordics–and using those as models for our own legislations–can influence the rest of the Western world to improve our conditions for women and decrease the gender wage gap. The idea of freedom varies from culture to culture; thus, the ways that women might achieve gender equality or empowerment are distinct between different communities. Increasing female and minority representation at world meetings is a step that I believe should be taken in order to decrease this social imbalance between genders.
There will not be change unless we continue to fight for it and make it happen.
 Women in Science
About the Author
Kayla Charchuk is a first-year student at Langara College in Vancouver, BC. She is studying political science in the Peace & Conflict Studies department and hopes to transfer to Simon Fraser University in the fall to work towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. She is passionate about human rights, women’s rights, and de-stigmatizing mental health, and seeks to provide educational opportunities for women globally and educate others on mental health in the near future.
You can find her on Instagram @charchukk or read her personal blog at https://awalkdownmemorylaneblog.wordpress.com/