Gender Disparity: Stereotypes and Norms in Parliament and Politics

The socio-economic factors play a huge role in identifying gender stereotypes and norms.

Every person’s identity is shaped by their gender, not just from the time of birth but notions of gender even come into the mind of parents before conception. But the ability to identify oneself by one’s gender does not come naturally to children; it is instead learned via behaviour and experience. Parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and the wider community all significantly impact children’s development.

As soon as a kid is born, they are regarded physiologically and socially differently because of their genitalia. Both sexes’ newborns are clothed differently, have distinct names, and even their parents act in accordance with socially prescribed gender norms and stereotypes. Education plays a powerful role in empowering the gender discrimination that has changed the scenario of women’s participation in politics.

But there has been gender disparity in the parliaments of many nations like Fiji and Australia. The underrepresentation of females in politics and parliaments is a pressing issue. The op-ed gives a holistic view of discourse on Gender stereotypes and their current impact on present-day politics. 

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Gender Stereotypes and Norms

Gender is a socially constructed concept that establishes different social standards for males and females. The socio-economic factors play a huge role in identifying gender stereotypes and norms. These gender roles may differ from the society where the individual child is born and the impact of social norms plays a determining role. It is up to the culture to establish how each gender is supposed to act or think. This has something to do with how men and women anticipate one another to behave.

Gender Disparity: Stereotypes and Norms in Parliament and Politics; Image Source: @Canva

The goal of gender roles is to set limits between what is considered proper for men and women in private and public life. Because of the widespread social and moral pressure to conform to traditional gender norms, most countries place a high value on gender equality. It is usually compartmentalization of conventional roles, males are seen as the breadwinners and women as the housekeepers, but this is changing as literacy and societal acceptance of new behaviours increase. These norms have been surpassed on many occasions to change the mindset of society, but the stereotype roles still prevail in the masses. 

Many children’s books leave a significant impression on the innocent minds of young ones to identify the gender roles through the books they read.  The protagonist and its activities are mostly male-dominated, whereas women are reflected as eye candy. Mostly the plot revolves around the brave and adventure hero. This is also reflected in the cartoon characters, i.e. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Hercules, Phantom, Spartan and others. When it comes to physical strength and adventure, men are portrayed to have more strength than ladies, who are often confined to housework and personal grooming.

Children are impacted by their peers, teachers, parents and community when it comes to teaching gender behaviour, i.e. Man is considered to take the initiative during the expression of feelings in a love affair. As a society, we have a long history of gender roles and expectations that are both expressed and unwritten norms and expectations. Gender roles are identified by society, where it is expected for both genders to participate in certain activities and in a particular manner defined by society. The behaviour of boys and girls in the school and the physical activities or sports they are expected to play are some examples of these preconceived notions. 

Gender Disparity: Stereotypes and Norms in Parliament and Politics; Image Source: @Canva

Gender in Education

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Sustainable Development Goal 4 of ‘Quality Education’ also raises an issue of gender inequality in education where girls are not given equal access to education in comparison to boys. In the education system, mostly boys are given priority over girls to get educated, as the society believes that boys earning education have to attain employment and support their families. In contrast, the girls are considered to be dependent on their marital families in future.

Male and female gender stereotypes are based on the belief that boys are better in physics, math, science, computing and technical subjects, whereas girls are considered to be better in home science, sociology, psychology etc. Boys are usually considered to be more capable than girls in academics, whereas girls are perceived to be better in home-making roles.  Boys are expected to be better in Sciences, technology, engineering and math [STEM] in comparison to girls. Even the colours are derived from the gender prism, where males are considered to wear blue and dark colours whereas a woman is expected to like pink or soft colours.

Gender Disparity: Stereotypes and Norms in Parliament and Politics; Image Source: @Canva

These gender stereotypes have influenced the behaviour, as one noticed when a boy cries, then they are teased for doing girlish behaviour. In contrast, when girls do a macho act, they are criticised for being tomboys. The boys in school are looked at to implement hyper-masculinity in their performance in sports and physical activities, but these notions are challenged by contemporary schools. The gender-sensitive expectations are diluted to observe equal gender performances.  In contemporary changing times, the acceptability of girls as financial support to their parents is becoming common. The educated women are becoming self-independent and challenging the discriminatory norms of gender bias.

Efforts are made to bridge the gender gap in world agencies, i.e. UN has adopted this issue for the 2030 agenda for SDGs. SDG’s Goal 5 of Gender equality for ‘empowering women and girls to take control of their bodies and lives is seen as a pressing issue. 

Gender Disparity: Stereotypes and Norms in Parliament and Politics; Image Source: @Canva

Conclusion: Gender Gap in Politics

Women’s representation in the political era, especially in the legislature, has been a concern for nations. This is an election year for Australia and Fiji, and this issue has always been highlighted to capture the vote bank of half of the population. 

Gender representation in Australia is far better than in other developed nations, as an article in the Guardian stated women made up 31% of the 151 members in the House of Representatives, whereas above fifty per cent in the Senate (Antoun Issa, March 2021). Fiji, however, there has been an improvement in women’s participation in Fiji in the last two decades. However, a general perception is that Politics have been seen as a male bastion. 

There has been a focus of SDGs on women’s equal participation and leadership in public and political platforms. In a nutshell, gender disparity in politics can be changed by changing the mindset and providing equal opportunities to both genders based on merit, not on biological differences.

Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied
Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra is an assistant professor in history and Acting Head of School, School of Arts and Humanities, College of Humanities and Education, at Fiji National University. Email dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer.