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Photo by JC Gellidon


The number of women represented in the policy arena globally has been steadily increasing with economic development, improved access to education, and greater gender parity around the world. Nevertheless, women are underrepresented in politics compared to their male counterparts, and only 20 women hold their countries’ highest office as of 2018[1].


According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2018[2], the Philippines ranks 13th in the world for women’s political empowerment, and has one of the highest representation rates in Southeast Asia. The country is ranked 43rd in parliamentary representation with 29.5%, and 39th for ministerial positions, with 25% being women. However, female representation in politics was the poorest of the four indicators, when compared to economy, education and health. Many women still face the traditional obstacles to meaningful political participation, including social pressures, familial expectations, and limited resources. In addition, the fact that politics is still very much governed by networks between men has meant that representation has not always equated to tangible policy outcomes[3].


This is worsened for women in rural areas, who may not have the same access to education or economic freedom to pursue careers in policymaking. Research published in 2016 shows that representation is highest at the top level of policymaking, but dips lower at the local levels – 19% of all elected officials, 26% of city councillors and 27% of mayors and governors, including women involved in strictly bureaucratic roles[4]. With the proportion of women voters marginally higher at 77.9% to men’s 77%[5], the proportion of women in leadership must adjust to reflect its voter demographic.


In certain cases, women gain nominal political power through hereditary lines or by association with a certain group. These representatives are often compelled to uphold the policy stance adopted by their predecessors, or are under great pressure from their community to take a specific approach to policymaking[6]. As a result, the diversity of opinion and alternative perspectives that women typically bring to government are kept minimal.


Over the years, there have been various laws considered or enacted that are intended to improve political outcomes for women, and increase representation at the highest levels. However, these laws must go beyond token representation to can truly institutionalize the empowerment of women in government to ensure women’s voices are heard[7]. At the same time, measures to equip women and build leadership capacity will be invaluable in closing the gender gap.


The Case for Women in Policy

v Countries with a high representation of women in politics enjoy greater investment in public goods


When women are placed in positions of authority, they increase expenditure into healthcare and education, and advocate for social issues that affect the community[8]. A 2011 study found that for every dollar of development money given, women are likely to spend 90 percent on their family and community, while men are likely to spend only 30 to 40 percent[9].


In 1992, India enacted the reservation system, which allocated one-third of grassroots leadership positions to women. As a result, communities with women leaders saw a 62% increase in potable water projects compared to male-led communities[10]. Issues of healthcare, education and resource-budgeting were also prioritized more. Meanwhile in Norway, where women comprise 41.4% of parliament, female representation was shown to have a direct causal relationship to childcare coverage[11].

v Policymaking processes led by women increase community engagement in decision-making and effectiveness of outcomes


Women are more likely to take an active role in community politics when they witness women in leadership roles; they are able to relate to these leaders and are more likely to feel that they have a voice in influencing policy[12]. Moreover, in the long-run, women’s investment in education and attention to social issues also fosters a community that is well-informed and involved in civic life.


Research conducted in West Bengal and Rajasthan found that women leaders responded well to community feedback to address challenges facing their communities. Communities with female leaders responded to men’s complaints at the same level as male leaders did, but the female leaders also responded to women’s complaints. In both states, the decisions made by women more closely reflected the issues that were relevant to the villagers[13].

v The involvement of women in politics denotes a democratic and open system of governance


While women leaders often inspire other women in the community to be more involved, female representation can also increase men’s confidence in the political system. In mature democracies, both men and women consider a government more democratic when women are represented in high political positions, increasing public faith in the system and strengthening its legitimacy[14].


In a case study of women’s political leadership in South Africa, men began to take up ‘gender causes’, including championing the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act that heavily prioritizes women’s health and autonomy[15]. In this case, the shift began at the institutional level, with concessions in parliamentary schedules and procedures to incorporate women’s requirements. The movement gradually evolved into a social change as men were exposed to the perspectives and concerns of the women in their government, and finally returned to the institutional level as concerns were integrated into policy.


Increasing women’s representation in policy is a challenging, multi-faceted issue, and temporary measures such as quotas and reservations may be beneficial in kick-starting a more collaborative process that incorporates women’s perspectives on policy. In the long-term, measures that facilitate social change and community involvement will be essential to build on this base and ensure an equal, robust democracy.

[1] Women in International Politics, 2018

[2] World Economic Forum, 2018

[3] Participation of Women in Philippine Politics and Society: A Situationer, 2003

[4] IN NUMBERS: Women in PH politics, 2016

[5] IN NUMBERS: Women in PH politics, 2016

[6] Participation of Women in Philippine Politics and Society: A Situationer, 2003

[7] Enacting a Women’s Political Participation and Representation Law, Philippine Commission on Women

[8] Women Deliver, 2018

[9] Handbook on Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), 2014

[10] Strengthen Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making Power, 2016

[11] Not enough women in parliament, The ASEAN Post, 2018

[12] Handbook on Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), 2014

[13] Women As Policy Makers: Evidence From A Randomized Policy Experiment In India, Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo, 2014

[14] Handbook on Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), 2014

[15] The Impact of Women’s Political Leadership on Democracy and Development in South Africa, Colleen Lowe Morna and Mukayi Makaya-Magarangoma

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