An Important Message to Women Voters: Our Time Has Come!
by Donna Brazile
for Democracy Dispatches -- Demos.org 03/30/2006
When President George W. Bush commemorated International Women's Day early this month, he did it by singling out women's influence on democracy and noting that, "as women become a part of the democratic process, they help spread freedom and justice and, most importantly of all, hope for a future." The President is right.
We have certainly witnessed a hopeful year for women in democracy. Liberia, Chile, Jamaica and Germany elected their first female heads of state and demonstrated that women from diverse backgrounds in dramatically different countries can get elected, not because of their gender but because of their leadership qualifications. (Note: Peru is also poised to elect a woman President this year)
While a banner year, these four new additions still mean that women head just 12 out of the nearly 200 countries in the world. There are only a handful of countries that can claim equal representation of women in other levels of government, and many advanced western democracies, including the United States and most of Europe, have less than 20 percent female representation in their national legislative bodies. The underlying tenets of democracy presuppose that each person is entitled to his or her representative say in government and its direction. Certainly, such scant female representation does not give women, the majority of the world's population, such legislative privilege.
The roots of democracy are grounded in the belief that individuals have the right to be autonomous, making unfettered decisions about themselves and their lives. We deny women this basic right when we construct a society that does not support and encourage them in their attempts to fulfil their entire potential. How many talented women have failed to realize their leadership capabilities because we, as voting communities, are not comfortable with women running the show?
There have undoubtedly been countless qualified women who dared not dream of becoming President or Prime Minister because the realities of a woman's duties in our society coupled with her own limited self-perceptions and the mechanisms of politics make that dream unattainable.
Since America is founded upon and committed to the underlying principle of allowing individuals the freedom to choose their own paths, we must remove any remaining cultural or even political barriers that discourage women from entering office. Women must be equally encouraged and supported in their leadership pursuits as are their male counterparts.
Unfortunately, the promise of genuine democracy remains unfulfilled not only because women are dramatically underrepresented in the U. S. and many other "democratic" countries. Democracy suffers the strains of elections where many votes are not properly counted, where contentious redistricting battles shore up easy victories for incumbents while effectively removing citizens' ability to choose their representation, and where the high price of entry into campaigns keeps many individuals shut out of politics.
Women must play a role in reforming democracy at all levels. We are uniquely situated to fight for change and must be made to feel empowered to hold our elected leaders accountable because of, and despite, our outsider status in politics. Getting women active and motivated in the political arena will do a lot for our democracy, bring us closer to the governing process, and hopefully remove some barriers that have made us woefully underrepresented in elected office.