Despite Sarah Palin, the glass ceiling for women in politics remains
Delegates cheer as Sarah Palin takes the stage at the Republican National Convention in St Paul earlier this week. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Tonight I'm speaking at "An evening of Women's Politics" in Manchester. The event aims to encourage and support more women to get directly involved in politics as candidates, governors or activists.
You still get the odd sneers about such events, and there certainly remains a fair amount of resentment towards the positive measures used in the Labour party to ensure more women get selected, for example all-women shortlists. But during a year when the United States might get its first female vice-president, doesn't this show that the glass ceiling is finally broken and that we should simply leave women's representation to "market forces"?
In politics, the number of women in the cabinet has fallen and, if current poll trends continue and Labour loses a number of marginal seats, the number of female MPs is likely to drop significantly. (The Lib Dems and Tories select far fewer women as candidates.)
Indeed, even the coverage that has met Sarah Palin's nomination this week, which questions whether she can juggle five children with the demands of becoming vice-president, indicates that attitudes to women in top jobs (unless they also sacrifice having a family) have changed little over the past decades.
(I must just make clear at this point that, while I welcome Palin challenging this stereotype, I profoundly disagree with her stance on most issues.)
The Labour party has done more than any other to address gender inequalities, through legislation and other means, and to increase women's representation in politics, which has led to recent increases in the number of female politicians.
However, there are clearly other cultural, attitudinal and institutional forces at play that prevent more women going all the way to the top.
Take, for example, politics, as that is what I'll be discussing tonight. As a relatively young woman - I'm 33 - I hope to one day have a family and already have commitments. If and when I'm elected as an MP, I would face a choice: take my family with me to London each week or be apart for four, maybe five, nights a week. It's something I've thought about, but for many women it's a choice they don't want to make and it puts them off standing. (For fathers, often the choice isn't as guilt-ridden and emotionally difficult.) It's a dilemma Palin too will face if elected: move all her family to Washington or be apart most of the week.
Many of the institutional reforms proposed that would lower this barrier for women, such as remote or virtual voting in parliament to reduce the number of nights MPs are required to spend in London, have been rejected by MPs.
So until we recognise and value the demands of motherhood alongside work and create the culture and institutional climate that enables it, the glass ceiling for women will remain.
-- Jean-Louis Kayitenkore Procurement Consultant Gsm: +250-08470205 Home: +250-55104140 P.O. Box 3867 Kigali-Rwanda East Africa Blog: http://www.cepgl.blogspot.com Skype ID : Kayisa66