Why are there few female voices?
What you need to know:
- Talking back, being assertive, and firm, were the specific examples that the article highlighted as having offended the powers that be, so much that it was inconceivable to have her steer Parliament one more term, since generally term limit is not our problem.
The question above was asked of us on Twitter. Many responded by pointing to the quality of politics, and how hard it is for women to make it, and that it gets tiring for women.
In the past, people have offered simplistic answers such as, women lack confidence, credibility, competence, courage and creativity needed to survive in politics. Politics is thus a space for a select few women born with the male gene and preferably loud voice, ‘not typical woman’.
Disappointing as these explanations are, they say a lot about the real reasons for women’s weak voices in the intellectual political discuourse, even by professionals.
In 2021, after the speakership race which Ms Rebecca Kadaga lost, Saturday Monitor did an interesting story on the former Speaker. Full Woman did a comprehensive analysis of why Ms Kadaga had failed to secure a third term as Speaker. The title of the article was telling. It said: “How Kadaga talked her way into trouble.” This very interesting read raised more questions about whether anyone wants critical female voices in politics anyway. There were many people interviewed for the piece and several excepts of Ms Kadaga’s “utterances” that apparently led to her loss.
Talking back, being assertive, and firm, were the specific examples that the article highlighted as having offended the powers that be, so much that it was inconceivable to have her steer Parliament one more term, since generally term limit is not our problem.
I was very disturbed by the article. The things that were exactly admirable about the former Speaker as a leader were the same ones for which she was being beaten, apparently. The story seemed to suggest, “our politics has no space for women with critical voice”. In many ways, for the same reasons, few women venture into political analysis.
While women are accused of lacking the much-needed attributes to be analysts and good politicians, we also clearly do not like the ones who bring them to the table. It soon becomes about their personally, failure in performance, loose mouth, and so on rather than a political and social system that has not come to terms with women and power.
More recently, we have seen the drama surrounding Ms Persis Namuganza, the State Minister for Lands, and the decision of Parliament to nearly unanimously censure her. By all means, I like good manners and respect for elders and institutions. But the Namuganza situation is another case, of our system being quite intolerant of women with voices, not the quite voice kind.
We must engage with the discomfort of women who assert themselves. This sends a strong message to women, young and perhaps aspiring politicians and analysts, that there is a clear line that cannot be crossed. We are happy with women who vote and mind their business, not the talking ones. The accusations levelled against Ms Namuganza, when viewed objectively, says a lot about our politics, our institutions and less about Namuganza as a person.
To answer this question, one must be willing to look at the history of women’s subornation. No one does this better than Gerda Lerner, in the book, The creation of patriarchy, published in 1986. She contends that men and women live on a stage on which they act out their assigned roles equal in importance. The play cannot go on without both kinds of performers.
Neither of them contributes more or less to the whole, neither is marginal or dispensable. But the stage is conceived, painted, defined by men. Men have written the play, have directed the show, interpreted the meanings of action. They have assigned themselves the most interesting, most heroic parts and given women the supporting roles. And I should add, this is the case in politics.
She further notes that it takes considerable time for women to understand that getting “equal” parts will not make them equal, as long as the script, the props, the stage setting and the direction are firmly held by men. And that when women begin to realise that and cluster together between the acts or even during the performance to discuss what to do about it, this play comes to an end.
While she uses the image of performance, in my work, I have looked at women as invited to the king’s table. As long as they play by the rules of those who set the table and invite them, they are okay. They become a problem when they start to question the menu or table manners of those who set it up. Those who can not deal with the menu, to play supporting roles, chose not to join it at all. So even the few quite voices eventually sizzle out as many remain bystanders. Increasingly, I am convinced, this is not a gender question anymore, it is a citizenship question.
Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.