By and large, the representation of women in public administration is still low when compared to men. Although this number has been swelling over the years, it does not automatically imply that political the interests of women are receiving full attention. Important questions are being asked about the exact impact of women in public office. According to Reingold (2006), a number of studies on this subject have ended up with a similar conclusion which points to the fact that women in public office do not make a difference. Drawing of a study by Kittilson (2006), the decreased participation by women in national matters is based on the assumption that there a shortage of women standing up to be elected into public office.
This paper looks at the consequences of women in public office and whether women in public office have any influence at all regarding policy formulation or political process. Apparently, the place of women in public administration is still not clear. Most citizens wonder whether women in public office really make a difference.
The Impact of Women in Public Office
To a large extent, women in public office play an important role in shaping policy and changing the political landscape in many countries. They are, however, more concerned about defending the rights of women. Ostensibly, women actively advocate for the rights of women regardless of their level of priority. Generally, they take a more feminine approach in dealing with issues.
Political activists and many others who advocate for more women in public office often do so because they believe that electing more women to public office will ensure that the concerns of women are effectively addressed (Swers, 2002). Basically, the decision making process is still dominated by men serving in key leadership positions around the world. Women in public office are thus expected to stand up and make their presence and involvement in public affairs recognized.
Even though some women are more active than others, all women in public office are part of the campaign to influence policy formulation. In the United States, it is alleged that women of African American origin are more aggressive than White women as far as shaping policy agenda is concerned. In addition, women in public office who have a strong association with women’s organizations are more influential. As women ascend to key leadership positions in public offices, however, their desire to shape policy agenda and champion the rights of women is quite strong.
While men in public offices appear more vocal than their women counterparts, it is the women who are seen to have greater influence of citizens. Ostensibly, women have a unique ability to bring more citizens on board as opposed to men. Increased public participation is thus possible when women are fully involved in the running of public affairs. Ordinarily, men would rather deal with public issues behind closed doors while women generally prefer an all inclusive process. This may include the use of public forums to engage the public and get their views on important national matters. Certainly, the involvement of the public portrays a sense of transparency and willingness to listen to citizens. Women in public offices can also be reached easily by members of the public unlike men in similar positions. Apparently, this enhances the participation by citizens in the policy making process.
Women in Public Office and Governance
Most problems faced in the contemporary world are caused by poor governance and lack of political goodwill. Good governance is thus an important consideration if nations all over the world are to realize sustainable development. Stakeholders have to do a lot more in order to address problems of corruption, inequality and social injustice in the society. To some extent, this has been caused by the fact that women are generally alienated in public service.
As pointed out earlier, active participation by women in public office has, introduced a new perspective in governance. With support from women’s organizations, women are doing all they can to shape policy and ensure that the women receive fair treatment and that their rights are not violated. Having women in public office has also motivated many women to be involved in national matters. While the voice of women was largely ignored in the past, women in public office have made sure that women are consulted as much as possible.
Corruption within the public sector is mainly linked to the assumption that men when take up leadership roles in public offices, their greatest desire is to strengthen their businesses. Holding a public office is thus considered advantageous by most men since it allows them to form important business connections that help to further their business dealings. In essence, this creates a fertile ground for corruption to thrive. Purportedly, the same may not be said of women in public office. In general, women are not concerned about such links and typically seek to balance their family needs with a concern for public service.
Consequently, women in public office are less likely to be caught up in corrupt dealings. Unlike their male counterparts, they tend to prioritize the needs of the disadvantaged in the society and defend their rights through the policy process. Women in public office are also extremely anxious to meet the needs of those they represent with respect to service delivery of amenities and dealing with grievances. They care about creation of employment, cleanliness of the environment, participation by members of a given community and the challenges faced by low income earners.
Women in Public Office and Gender Equality
According to Norris and Inglehart (2001), continued absence of equality in public administration is a great concern in most countries. Besides influencing the formulation of policy, it is presumed that having more women in public office will promote equality (Swers, 2002).
For this and other reasons, women’s organizations are always willing to fund and champion the election of fellow women to public office. Some women even use the fact that they are women to campaigns for public office. Arguably, women in public office have been instrumental in ensuring that women are well represented in public administration. Many countries today have positions in public administration set aside specifically for women. Although there are fears that this may water down the quality of leadership by women in public office, it creates an opportunity for more women to be involved in running public affairs. It is alleged that women who have used this approach to take leadership in public offices may lack the determination to challenge the status quo. As a result, their presence in public office may be felt.
Challenges Faced by Women in Public Office
Although it is generally believed that increasing the number of women in public office will improve service delivery, there are serious concerns that must be addressed. Generally, women in public office differ significantly from their male counterparts in their backgrounds, political ideologies, and perception of their roles as public office holders.
In general, the impact of women in public office varies from one public institution to another and may be affected by the beliefs of those doing the selection. Ordinarily, many people including influential leaders of political parties are involved in the selection of public officials. In the event that the selection of political appointees is centralized, those who do the selection have the ability to influence the types of women who become appointed officials in public offices. Their values may cause them to opt for women who are similar in many ways to their male colleagues. Consequently, their performance in the public offices they are appointed to may have little or no impact at all.
Characteristics of institutions in which public officials serve may also affect the extent to which women in those offices can make a difference. Where institutional pressures, norms, or leadership discourage women from behaving differently from their male counterparts, women may be less likely to have a powerful impact. However, in institutions where women office bearers are the majority and are able to work together either informally or as an organized group, they may be more likely to make a significant difference.
The effectiveness of women in politics and public administration is also affected by male dominance. For women to survive in a male dominated society, they are expected to be loyal to political parties and male leaders of the day. They are mostly misused and this greatly affects their performance in the public offices they hold.
As noted earlier, most countries have specific positions in public offices reserved for women. While this is meant to promote gender equity, it has a negative connotation to it. Women who take up such positions often fail to earn the respect of their male counterparts or even citizens. The ability of such women to change the status quo or to influence policy formulation is thus questionable. To ensure that the impact of women in public offices is felt therefore, it is imperative to create an environment where women have to compete alongside men to take leadership in public offices. Undoubtedly, this will enable women to be more confident to hold such offices and to be actively involved in controlling the affairs of government. On several occasions, it is women fighting through civil society groups who have been champions of social and political change in various communities around the world.
Beyond any reasonable doubt, women in public offices have played a key role in shaping policy formulation. In general, women in politics and administration often manage their daily lives as competent, highly respected holders of public office who exhibit sensitivity and demand high standards from those with whom they come into contact. They seek to serve their communities effectively and focus more on the needs of the disadvantaged groups. By and large, women may bring enhanced levels of respectability and good governance in public administration.
Although it is generally believed that men are the main perpetrators of corruption and injustice in public administration, some women in public office have been caught up in cases of corruption. Apparently, this has greatly weakened their role as social and political change agents in the society.
Kittilson, M. C. (2006). Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments: Women and Elected Office in Contemporary Western Europe. Web.
Norris, P. & Inglehart, R. (2001). Cultural Obstacles to Equal Representation. Journal of Democracy, 12(3), 126 – 140. Web.
Reingold, B. (2006). Women as Office Holders: Linking Descriptive and Substantive Representation. Web.
Swers, M. L. (2002). The Difference Women Make: The Policy Impact of Women in Congress. Web.