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The End to a Glass Ceiling?

I just wanted to report a serious fracture in the glass ceiling of women’s participation in political life. Rwanda has recently achieved a parliament which is over 50% female. Earning 44 of 80 seats in the recent national election, women now dominate political life.

In a country which is post-genocide, I find it not a little interesting that the domestic sphere figures large in their elections. While the country’s demographics are skewed towards women (55% of the population is female) because of the ravages of war, I find their endorsement of affirmative action refreshing. However, I wonder if the election is perhaps reinforcing rather than destabilizing the difference of women: 24 seats are reserved for women in parliament, regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, these seats are undeclared until after they gain the legislature. Thus, here gender trumps ideology.

In a country where women leaders must both cater to the needs of a democratic system and nurture grassroots movements, I should think that transparency would be more of a concern. Nonetheless, I am enthused by the thought that a top-down solution should bring such a huge triumph for women. It does, however, beg the question of the value of affirmative action in the political arena. Long criticized in the West for its politically volatile consequences, affirmative action would see female candidates parachuted into positions of power. The problem is, as here, affirmative action would not discriminate between Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. Both women would be regarded as equal on the basis of widespread gender discrimination (whether they themselves understood it as such or not). I think perhaps in a society forced to rebuild not only its political sphere but also its domestic realm such policies are effective methods of reaching consensus–since, of course, neither realm is mutually exclusive and in fact one models the other. However, I don’t think they should be long-term solutions…

The Mirror of the West?

In a provactive but brief editorial on the PBS Program “Women, Power, and Politics”

a new york times reporter comments on the curious phenomenon of profiling women in power. He makes the important point that throughout the PBS program the reporter’s subjectivity, her voice, saturates the narrative of women’s international political triumphs.

This is something which greatly disturbs me: the individualism of a western media outlet has completely trumped the communal politics of equal representation. Ms. Hinojosa could very well represent any male or female reporter asked to complete a similar task. In a western society which is so obsessed with the production and consumption of self-narratives, that we cannot consume the ‘facts’ of success without first affecting their concomitant narratives is extremely depressing. Must the narrative of success be representative, or as here, related to a western ethos before it resonates? Do we have to wait for Oprah to christen a movement with her queenly ‘we’ before we recognize the accomplishments of women’s movements around the world?