While recently pondering about the limitations women face in attaining high level managerial positions in the workplace, I came across the popular phrase ‘Glass Ceiling Effects’- Which can be defined as an invisible upper limit in corporations and other organizations, above which it is difficult or impossible for women to rise in the ranks.
In trying to understand this term and skimming over several literature, and looking at the recent political challenges facing women in Egypt my thought patterns seem to be timely. I began to develop an opinion that there is a possibility that we can use the glass ceiling theory to understand and explain the challenges, barriers and difficulties women encounter towards being represented politically in parliament, ministerial, presidential or top government positions. An Inter- Parliamentary Union survey of 187 women politicians from 65 countries examined the difficulties faced by women in politics.
- One of the women’s primary concerns was to reconcile political life with family commitments. Almost all of the respondents admitted to having difficulties balancing family responsibilities with a useful and effective political life. The report noted that although day care for small children was widely available to women parliamentarians in Nordic countries, this was not always the case in other parts of the world.
- Eighty per cent of the respondent’s considered that the increasing representation of women in politics had renewed public trust in politics, and that the public recognized that women worked hard and wanted to achieve concrete results.
- As of October 2003, the global average for women representatives in national parliaments stood at 15.2 per cent, with 15.5 per cent in the single or lower house and 13.9 percent in the upper house or senate compared with 13 per cent, 13.4 per cent and 10.9 per cent respectively in 1999.
- Regionally, women held 17.7 per cent of seats in Europe, 15.5 per cent in Asia, 18.4 per cent in America, 14.9 per cent in Sub- Saharan Africa, 12.1 per cent in the Pacific, and 6.0 per cent in the Arab States.
- Scandinavian countered still led the world with the highest share of women holding lower house parliamentary seats. In Sweden, women hold 45 per cent, in Denmark 38 per cent, in Finland 37 per cent and in Norway 36 per cent.
- Increasingly, women are filling cabinet posts in what have been considered male domains. As of November 2003, there were 20 women ministers in foreign affairs, nine in defence and security, and 19 in finance.
- The quota system is an affirmative action tool intended to ensure that women constitute a critical minority of at least 30 to 40 per cent on decision – making bodies.
Having read some materials, I particularly found it interesting that in the United States of America Congress, women experienced barriers and felt that they were not well integrated. For a country that would normally boast to be a liberal democracy, I considered this weighty- and almost meaning that there is still a long way to go in this journey. Hence I began to appreciate that the current challenges facing women in Islamic countries such as Egypt, although in a worse condition- are not peculiar to them alone- this is a global anomaly. Although I am sympathetic to the protesting, injuries and the death of some innocent women in Egypt, I do not believe that these protests may necessarily solve the problem or avail any dramatic changes. I do understand that their statistics in this regard is considerably lower than most regions.
Hence, putting my thoughts into perspective, the recent challenges encountered by women in Egypt should awaken us (gender focused groups, international organisations, authorities in government etc) to the fact that women all over the world continue to be under – represented, marginalized and relegated. I would suggest a more scholarly approach to understanding why women in Nordic Countries have experienced a higher measure of success in this area than other countries and why countries that have professed liberal doctrines have not achieve an equal representation- are these problems of religious or traditional origin or is it the women who are actually reluctant to support other women or even take up these positions? Maybe the glass ceiling theory would help to further understand the barriers women face in politics.
On another note, although statistics would show that in Nordic countries, women make up about half of the cabinet member, 25 percent in the UK and about a third of top European Union commissioners are women (Alvesson and Billing, 2009), these are all positive numbers, but the reality still remains that there is a low representation, so I would describe these numbers as a pacifier and a form of false hope to create a sense of progress. Making up about half is not half, 25 per cent should not be celebrated, let alone one third. Is it ambitious to expect a 50/ 50?
In conclusion, some materials have always noted that societies hold with high regard and value more representation of women in top political positions. Despite the favourable disposition why then are achieving an equal equation between men and women a challenging, complex, non-straight forward mission and objective to achieve. We may want to also consider the use of the ‘Glass Ceiling ‘analogy to understand these challenges. May be we can gain more insight that would provide more solutions and save more lives.
By: Ulari Maduekwe
Palmer, Barbara and Simon, Dennis (2011) Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling – Women and Congressional Elections (2ND Editionnd
Alvesson, Mats and Billing Due Yvonne (2009) Understanding Gender and Organizations