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Where are our female political candidates?

Where are our female political candidates?

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BY MIDDAY TODAY, we will know who are the candidates who will contest the elections in the country’s 15 constituencies on November 5. There should be very few surprises in relation to the persons nominated by two main parties. Should we get any surprises, they are likely to come by way of Ivan O’Neal’s Green Party or independent candidates, if there are any.

Between the Unity Labour Party (ULP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) there are likely to be 11 first time candidates, among them four women. Overall, we expect only five out of the 30 persons nominated to contest on behalf of the two main parties will be women. Although this is a big improvement over 2015 when only one woman contested on behalf of the two main political parties, it is still far from satisfactory.

According to the 2012 census, women represent 51 per cent of the total population of St Vincent and the Grenadines. We do not yet have the figures for this year’s elections, but in 2015, 43,704 women were registered to vote, which was 40 per cent of the eligible voters.

Vincentian women are very active in the political process and are usually the main activists and organizers in many constituencies. They are highly represented at campaign rallies and events and usually make up more than 50 per cent of workers on Election Day.

There are no legal obstacles in St Vincent and the Grenadines preventing women’s participation in the political process, so why do we have so few women stepping up as candidates for representational politics?

The answer to that question lies in the double standards existing in our society and the deeply ingrained misogynistic attitudes of many people.

Even today, in the year 2020, our women are still being held to vastly different standards than are men, and behavior that might get a wink and a nod when exhibited by men are frowned upon if a woman dares behave similarly.

Whereas a male candidate might be praised for his energy, forthrightness and confidence, a female with the same personality would be described as combative or aggressive. A recent published analysis of the 2020 battleground constituencies described a female candidate as “drab”, unexciting and performing beneath what would be expected of her educational qualifications. No male candidate was subjected to such a scathing review of his physicality, personality and intellect by the commentator. In a similarly condescending manner, one male contesting the 2020 poll has repeatedly dismissed his female opponent as not being significant enough for him to be aware of her existence.

All of this is done to break the female candidates’ spirit, undermine their self confidence and keep them in “their place” — that is, outside of Parliament and other places where decisions are made.

This has gone on for far too long; we need to call out misogynistic behavior for what it is, whenever it is recognized. And, if we are serious about increasing the number of women contesting representational politics, so that the make up of Parliament better reflects the population, we have to actively set out to make it happen.