Struggling on All Fronts
Women politicians have to deal with a myriad of constraints, within political parties, in governments and in their relationships to their constituents. Many of these constraints relate to perceptions that consider women's presence in politics as an anomaly imposing on them conflicting and contradictory expectations. The criteria used to judge them are exclusively applied to women only, seemingly deemed irrelevant to define men's qualifications as politicians, and they centre on male defined notions of morality on the one hand and a questioning of professionalism and integrity on the other. Moreover, expectations have multiplied, diversified and intensified since women's movements have started to regard women politicians as gatekeepers of their engagement with the state. As women politicians are gaining in confidence, and they are questioning the patriarchal values imbued in many political institutions, the constraints imposed on them are changing.
Women initially entered political parties and government in the context of clearly defined rules and expectations set by men. As members of women's wings they accepted that, were they admitted into positions of political power, this power was to be applied to a limited range of social issues only and certainly not to question the supremacy of men or the values it was based on. While women politicians thus occupied an unusual place they minimised undue attention by embracing exaggerated traditional role patterns. This and the fact that women entered politics without undue aspirations to be promoted beyond clearly defined limits simplified matters for them and the male establishment.
The democratic opening encouraged different women with different ambitions to enter political parties and governments. Opposed to women's wings they expected to be part of mainstream politics and to do their share in realising a new political culture of accountability, democracy and people centred policies which new political parties and movements promised to embrace. But they soon realised that even though political systems had changed, patriarchal structures and attitudes had not. Politically ambitious and outspoken women politicians were still ridiculed, taunted as prostitutes, and constantly questioned about their abilities to cope with their roles as politicians, wives and mothers. They still had to deal with powerful male gatekeepers who favoured the women's league type of women politician and tried to block the career advancement of those women they considered as deviating from that ideal.
In addition, the new interest of the women's movement in securing representation in decision-making not only gave rise to Lobby Groups and Women's Coalitions that advocated women's political representation, but it also imposed
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Publication information: Book title: Women and the Remaking of Politics in Southern Africa: Negotiating Autonomy, Incorporation and Representation. Contributors: Gisela Geisler - Author. Publisher: Nordic African Institute. Place of publication: Uppsala. Publication year: 2004. Page number: 173.
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