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On air: Why aren't there more women in politics?

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Alicia Trujillo Alicia Trujillo | 17:30 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

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This topic was discussed on World Have Your Say on 27 September 2010. Listen to the programme.

This week it's the turn of the Labour Party to have its conference in Manchester, and we will be broadcasting the programme from there on Monday. On Saturday the party elected a new leader, Ed Miliband, as Gordon Brown stepped down when they lost the election in May.

During the period from May till this weekend Deputy Party Leader Harriet Harman had been standing in as leader, and she will also be joining us on World Have Your Say.

Harriet Harman is currently one of the most important women in British politics. Since she became an MP 28 years ago, the number of women in the House of Commons increased from 3% to 20%.

In an article in Saturday's Times Miss Harman says that the low number of female MPs exists because there is still an entrenched pattern and expectation that an MP or Cabinet Minister should be a man - because traditionally, they have been.

During her 5 months as Labour Leader, Miss Harman wanted to change the way the shadow cabinet was chosen and wanted half of it to be composed of women, this didn't happen but it's due to change to 31.5%.

In Switzerland last week, they did manage have female majority in their cabinet. This "shows a great deal of change in the country", as Ruth Dreifuss, the first Swiss female President, told me - especially as women were only allowed to vote in 1971.

Currently there are only 10 female Presidents in the world - in Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, India, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania and Switzerland - and in the Federation of Bosnia within Bosnia-Herzegovina.

At the moment there are 10 woman Prime Ministers; in Australia, Bangladesh, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Slovakia and Trinidad and Tobago and in the self-governing territories of The Netherlands Antilles and the Ă…land Islands.

So why are there still so few women who chose politics as a career? Is it because politics requires full dedication and this is difficult to combine with having a family and children?

Harriet Harman herself says:

She wishes she could have spent more time with children growing up, and to be a working mother is to feel guilty, you always want to do more and better.

In Ireland, Olwyn Enright a 36 year old MP who is married to another MP, has said that she will not seek re-election because:

"With a young family, I will not be in the position to give the enormous commitment required and that my constituents deserve."

Only last week an Italian MEP attended a European Parliament session in Strasbourg carrying her baby in a sling. Licia Ronzulli says she wanted to make a point about the difficulties women face in trying to juggle careers and child care.

Some countries like Rwanda and India have opted for quotas to ensure more women become members of parliament.

But are quotas the answer? This blogger in the US thinks not:

We don't need to differentiate between women and everyone else. We've been correctly saying for the last three decades that affirmative action is insulting to minorities. We do not need our own Sexist Card.

This blogger thinks its all down to attitude :

The excuse that I have heard most often for why women don't run for office is that they don't want to take the time away from their families. How often do men worry about being away from their families when working or bettering themselves? I'd bet that generally men don't worry very much about being away from their families. Men understand that the better they are, the better their families are. And I get frustrated that women continue to put themselves in the back seat and allow men to take the drivers seat in politics and determine all of our destinies.

On Monday's programme we will be discussing women in politics and why there aren't more women choosing this as a career option. Is it down to difficulties of working fulltime, campaigning and being a mother? Or is it still down to attitude? Is it because the electorate is traditional prefer men to represent them?



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