In South Asia, a region with a long history of male-dominated politics, a new wave of women leaders is making strides in breaking gender barriers. Leaders like Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh and President Chandrika Kumaratunga in Sri Lanka are challenging societal norms and expectations. However, despite their success, there are still significant hurdles that women face in pursuing political careers or even engaging in political discussions.
While men and women in Asia participate equally in elections, there continues to be a gender disparity in other aspects of political involvement. Studies have shown that gender is still the most influential factor determining civic engagement, with Asian women consistently being underrepresented(Liu, 2020). Furthermore, research suggests this issue starts early on - young girls appear disinterested or disengaged from politics at an impressionable age.
A recent investigation carried out by the Indian nonprofit Kuviraa uncovered that boys are more politically active than their female counterparts once they reach adulthood. Moreover, these males displayed less understanding and awareness of the hurdles faced by females within Indian politics. In a thorough survey of over 600 youths aged between 14 and 22 done by Kuviraa they found that while girls value political participation just as much as boys do, their actual engagement was lower. Out of the young men surveyed, about half (51%) identified themselves as politically active compared to less than a third for young women (29%). This divide widens as they age: Young males tend to increase their political participation after turning 18 but this isn’t mirrored with females--an indication that societal or cultural factors may be dissuading them from involving in politics.
How early expectations and social sphere shape ambitions:
In the study conducted by Mayer and Schmidt(2004), it was observed that despite girls valuing political participation equal to boys, their involvement in politics remained unexpectedly low. There seemed to be a common perception considering politics as an arena largely dominated by males. Another research team spearheaded by Alozie(2003) explored how gender, race, and socio-economic factors shaped young people's interest in politics. They concluded similar findings where female participants regardless of race or financial status perceived political engagement as important yet were less involved than their male counterparts.
Gender-based differences in political engagement begin at an early age, significantly shaping the interests and ambitions of girls(Bos et al., 2021). While women are often relegated to private spheres, men receive encouragement to participate in public affairs due to societal expectations that consider them as strong leaders capable of making decisive judgments. Parents have been observed discussing politics more frequently with their sons than daughters demonstrating how differing levels of interest can develop over time(Liu, 2020). As they transition into adulthood, many females associate the realm of politics with male dominance and start viewing leadership roles within this field as primarily a "man's world." This perception contributes negatively towards their participative intent resulting in lower levels of aspirational ambition seen among women when compared to their male counterparts(Bos et al., 2021). This mismatch between feminine traits and the male-dominated political arena is perpetuated by schools, the media, families, peers, and other socializing agents.
Prof. Liu's study reveals that in Asian cultures, women frequently participate in politics through informal channels like community organizations or religious groups, rather than the conventional political parties and government institutions typically examined in Western societies. This crucial aspect is often overlooked in discussions regarding non-Western political actions, which encompass unconventional forms of political engagement.
In another study conducted(Brandtzæg, 2016) across 10 countries using big data analysis indicated gender patterns in liking practices. Males leaned towards politically and information-oriented expressions, while females favoured humanitarian aid and environmental issues in Europe and the Americas. Still, the research found these offline civic engagement differences carried into online interactions. In Asia and Africa, males were more proactive regarding all forms of civic expression on Facebook than women, particularly distinguishing in Egypt and India with a notably lower female civil presence on this platform among young millennial females (13–28 years) as well as general populace; perhaps reflecting manage their online identity and activity on Facebook to conform to societal expectations and avoid backlash.
So what can be done to address this gender disparity?
How Parents Can Empower Girls
Parental influence is crucial in shaping children's political attitudes, Kuviraa's study reveals. The two main factors identified were parental engagement in political discussions with their children and encouraging their political involvement. While the impact was slightly lower for girls, it was still significant.
Gender socialization has long-term implications for girls, not just in political engagement, but also in their confidence in male-dominated fields. This lack of confidence can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, as girls may avoid math and finance-related subjects due to a belief that they are not good at them.
To combat this, Kuviraa's study suggests that simply talking to girls about politics and encouraging them can increase their political interest and engagement, ultimately challenging traditional gender stereotypes.
Building on this research, future studies should investigate whether early engagement in finance-related activities can also boost girls' confidence and decision-making abilities in that arena.