Saturday, April 22, 2017

Farida Jalalzai: Why are there so few women in political leadership postitions?

Dr. Farida Jalalzai, the featured speaker for Women’s History Month, presented her research on women, gender, and politics in a March 28th event in the History & Politics Event Series. In her guest blog post below, Brianna Zichettella (junior, PSC), discusses Dr. Jalalzai’s presentation, “The Global Dimensions of Women’s Executive Leadership,” which examined the relationship between gender and political leadership in the international setting.

 Dr. Farida Jalalzai
By Brianna Zichettella (guest blogger)

In the wake of an American presidential election where a woman won the popular vote for the first time in American history, Farida Jalalzai’s research is especially relevant to both domestic and global politics. Her work focuses on the women who occupy and run for executive leadership positions such as prime minister or president. Despite significant increases in female leadership over the last sixty years, gender representation in executive positions is far from equal. According to Jalalzai’s statistics, there have been 144 female executive leaders between 1960, when the first female prime minister was elected, and 2017. Women are more likely to be prime ministers than presidents, but there are still 61% of countries have never had a female leader. Additionally, in 2017, only 6% of executive leaders are women.

There are many different factors that can influence a woman’s chances of becoming an executive leader. Jalalzai cites increased elite control, multi-party political systems, and liberal-leaning government as a few of the factors that tend to result in more female leadership. Regardless of the existence of these structures, many claim that more women do not hold executive leadership positions because women do not run.

Jalalzai disagrees. Her argument is that women run for executive office, but because many voters associate masculine traits with those positions, women are not often elected. For example, it is possible that more women tend to be prime ministers because the position emphasizes cooperation over the top-down hierarchical power structure of a presidency, and the role of a prime minister corresponds more closely with societal expectations for women’s’ behavior.

In addition to this, Jalalzai demonstrated that people tend to support the idea of a qualified female candidate from their party, but if pressed, those same people are more critical of women’s capabilities. Therefore, another reason for why more women are prime ministers could stem from the biases that people bring into the voting booth. Jalalzai’s research indicates that women are more successful in systems that do not choose executives through direct public input, such as prime minister positions that are chosen by a party rather than the voters.

Jalalzai argues that women candidates are often more qualified than their male counterparts. Despite this, they are held to higher standards and face more criticism about their appearance, speaking styles, and whether or not they smile. All three types of judgment can be seen in a lot of the criticism of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

For the American political system, Jalalzai argues that a shift in social opinion will need to occur for a woman to become president. She states that continuing political activism, such as the Women’s March on Washington, is central to illuminating the social, political, and economic inequality faced by women in America today.

Members of the History & Political Science Department faculty pose with guest speaker Farida Jalazai. L-R: Drs Jay Wendland, Aakriti Tandon, Lisa Parshall, Farida Jalazai, Penny Messinger, Elizabeth Campbell, & Andrew Wise. Missing from photo: Joseph Sankoh

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