Male and Female in Parliaments

By Derek Paul

How to develop a peaceful world as a human norm? Equal representation for the sexes is an essential step in this direction, though only one of the steps. There has been some success with near parity in male and female representation in Scandinavia and Iceland, and these countries have often achieved a higher measure of social security and cohesion with less wealth than other developed nations. There, the achievements have been brought about by new attitudes in the political parties, rather than by changes in the system. It may, however, be necessary to change the whole structure of parliaments in order to bring about a proper balance in other countries. At the end of May such proposal was made and defeated for Nunavut district in northern Canada.

In democratic countries women are expected to compete with men to get elected to parliament and when serving in the highest committees. Almost everywhere, far fewer women have been elected and political advancement has been more difficult for women than for men. Occasionally women have risen to head political parties, but sometimes this has led to disappointing results for the party, suggesting that some kind of bias has operated. At other times, predominately male-dominated organizations or cliques have deliberately undermined women leaders.

The balance that should come from the influence of women in regional, national, and international affairs is unlikely to be achieved if councils and parliaments continue to be dominated by men numerically and in style.

In human prehistory there appears to have been an era in which male domination was less in evidence: in the nomadic period, prior to the construction of settlements. Male domination may have begun with the development of villages and the need to defend them. However, even long after the foundation of well-developed settlements, there is evidence of at least one society that was not strongly male dominated- that of Crete in the third and second millennia B.C. By the beginnings of patriarchal monotheism in the Middle East, say during the lifetime of Moses, the evidence points to male-dominated civilizations, with war as an intermittent determining factor in political affairs. The systematic suppression of the influence of women since the time of Christ is astonishing, especially given the basic nature of the Christian message. Islamic civilizations are also characterized by male domination. The almost total segregation of the sexes outside of the family circle in some Muslim countries might suggest the impossibility of applying any of the ideas of equal representation in "New Parliaments." On the other hand, the concept of a parliamentary chamber for women only might find favor more easily in such a society than in a Western one.

More has changed in this century than in any other. Most significantly, industrial and farm production now require only a tiny fraction of the available labor forces. Science has flourished as never before, bringing more discoveries than all the previous centuries together. Literacy, and now computer literacy, have spread. War machines have advanced so far that we shall all be annihilated unless some new civilizing force develops to counteract aggression, reduce poverty and indebtedness of nations, develop trade and prevent or reduce ecological degradation.

In all these matters, the creativity of women is essential. Women must be heard because their influence is needed, and also because it is only right and just that they be heard. We can have no peace without justice.

Derek Paul is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto.

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1997

Peace Magazine Jul-Aug 1997, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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