Women and Political Participation

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Realised by: Flah Loubna

(Researcher in Discourse and Islamism)

The emancipation of women in the Muslim world was repeatedly belated due to a host of cultural and social reasons. Women were long believed to belong exclusively to the domestic realm and their contribution to the public life remained highly limited and conditioned by their social status. Women belonging to higher social classes could venture more freely beyond the confines of their households. In contrast, those who had limited resources were under the grips of the patriarchal system.

Muslim women in particular were doubly disadvantaged by the weight of tribal patriarchy on one hand and its strict codes regarding the visibility of women in the public space. Decontextualized interpretations of religious texts attempted to confine women to the role of wives and child bearers. In addition, the conceived ideas about honor, manhood, femininity, the vision about gender roles paired with social panopticism distanced women for a long period of time from professional pursuits. The manifestation of patriarchy in the Muslim world varies greatly from one region to another though they converge in their propensity to curtail women’s involvement in politics. The sacredness of motherhood was often brandished to deter women from aspiring to decision making positions.

Nevertheless, politics stands apart from other professional pursuits owing not only to its role in the management of the public space but mainly due to the distinctive character of a career in politics. The affiliation to political parties and the access to decision-making structures require a degree of availability and mobility that women are not often granted due to the marital responsibilities and cultural norms.

Women’s Emancipation in Numbers

The Women in Politics Map 2014 launched by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women[1]reveals that despite the noticeable progress of women in the realm of politics, the glass ceiling remains firm for many women all over the world. As a matter of fact, the percentage of women in ministerial posts reached 17, 2% in 2010. The percentage of women MPs reached a record high 21, 8% globally. B. Jhonson, the IPU Secretary General asserts “More women are now in politics and influencing the political agenda at higher levels. That is clear. But not at the very highest level”. Nicaragua tops the global rate of women in executive government followed by Sweden, Finland, France, Cabo Verde and Norway. The figure for Africa however stagnated at 20,4% in 2010 and 2014.        

The empowerment of women into the world of politics is deeply entwined

With their access to education. According to the latest report issued by the Haut Commissariat au Plan “ La Femme Marocaine en Chiffres”[2], the number of Moroccan girls who reached secondary education level is estimated to 50,8% in Urban areas while it does not exceed 5,1% in rural areas. The rate of feminization of education in universities reached 47, 3% and 52, 2% for higher education institutes. The number of women majoring in economics reached 53, 9% and 55, 3% in Humanities. The highest figures regards the graduates in dentistry, a rate estimated at 73, 3%. The emancipation of women at work reached 26, 7% in 2011. It is noteworthy that the rate of women elected in legislative bodies dropped from 11, 4% in 2000 to 7, and 8% in 2011 in urban areas. In rural areas the rate of elected women reached 3, 6% in 2000 but droppedto 2, 0 % in 2011.

The entry of women into the realm of politics is generally hampered by a range of factors that limit their access to decision making positions which puts a brake on the promotion of gender equality. The presence of Moroccan women in the political realm is still timid due to the demanding character of a political career, misconceptions about the women’s ability to assume political roles as well as the lack of internal democracy within a number of political parties. As an outcome, the absence of women from decision making positions often obscures the real needs of women. It is no wonder that gender related issues are not considered as a priority in the agenda of political parties.

Women and Gender Quota

One of the immediate remedial strategies liable to enhance women’s presence in politics is the contentious quotas system, a number of policies that “influence the election of women and provides for an equal opportunity for women to hold legislative positions”[3]. While it is seen by the advocates of patriarchy as a breach on democracy.The Quota system is considered by many as a compensation for a legacy of discrimination and disempowerment of women. Morocco voted gender quota provisions that   compel political parties to include women candidates in their electoral lists. Nevertheless, the quota system failed to deliver its promises. Often times, the involvement of women in the elected bodies is no more than a “political façade” while the glass ceiling that shuns them from ascending to decision making positions remains in place. Barbora Galvanoka[4] a gender activist contends that the disparity between the results expected under the Quota Gender System and the actual presence of women in decision making structures in Europe is ascribed to a number of factors including the political culture, the strength of women politicians, the architecture of the political system itself and the commitment of political parties.

Concrete Measures for Higher participation

The real reform starts from the belief that the presence of women in politics is neither ornamental nor secondary. It is a functional presence that can contribute immensely to the welfare of the nation. First and foremost, it is relevant here to underscore the positive contribution of women in the process of legislation. Women politicians are more likely to comprehend the manifold needs of women. That is not to say that men should be distanced from the management of gender related affairs. As a matter of fact, a balanced approach to gender issues is essential for the empowerment of women and the instatement of healthy relation between both sexes. But the female sensibilities are more susceptible to render an accurate appraisal of women’s situation and hardships. A set of proactive measures can be undertaken in order to increase the number of women in decision-making structures:

  1. The implementation of gender equality values in educational syllabi in order to instill the spirit of equality in the future generations.
  2. Weakened political parties cannot possibly further the cause of women. There is an imperious need to implement democracy within political parties through the suppression of the glass ceiling that bars the way for competent members towards the highest positions within parties.
  3. The quota system can restore an acceptably rate of presence for women in the circles of politicsat least on the short term.
  4. The reexamination of labor division within the family in the modern context is susceptible to embolden more women to pursue a career in politics.


1.UN Women. Women in Politics Map 2014 http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/3/progress-for-women-in-politics-but-glass-ceiling-remains-firm

2.Haut Commissariat au Plan. La Femme Marocaine en Chiffres. http://www.hcp.ma/region-drda/La-femme-marocaine-en chiffres_a51.html

3.Hughes, Melanie M. “Intersectionality, Quotas, and Minority Women’s Political Representation Worldwide.” American Political Science Review 105, no. 3 (2005): 604.

4.Galvanoka, Barbora. “Are Quotas the solution to bring more women to politics?”[1]http://europeandcis.undp.org/blog/2013/09/06/are-quotas-the-solution-for-bringing-more-women-into-politics/.



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