While for some, democracy has been a reality for over 2000 years, for women and other minority groups, their (active) participation in democratic processes only started in the 20th century.
The word democracy stems from Greek and is constituted of two words: demos meaning the people, and kratos meaning power or rule (the power to rule). Hence, it literally signifies the rule of the people where citizens of a country should be those actively deciding on how to manage it (government) and whom to elect to make decisions on their behalf (representatives). This political model is not new and first emerged in Athens (Ancient Greece) around 5 B.C. Yes, the same Ancient Greece that came up with the Olympics. While this was a long time ago, there is one crucial difference between democracy back then and democracy today.
Back then, when citizens of Athens gathered to discuss, decide, and essentially chat about politics, one important voice was missing. Women. Women had no political rights and very limited social and civil ones. Since they didn’t count as citizens, they were not allowed to participate in the democratic process. Democracy as the rule of people actually meant the rule of adult men. Wait no, scrap that since neither immigrants nor slaves were allowed to participate in Athenian democracy. Because of other restrictions on citizenship (Athenian origin, military training, etc.), only a handful of men were effectively able to make decisions – for example about going into war – impacting the lives of everyone living in the city.
Today, about half of the world’s population, 49.4%, lives in countries that can be defined as democracies. Even though studies show that democracy in recent decade(s) appears to be in decline, a democratic government still remains an ideal that many citizens prefer. But the modern definition of democracy means that all citizens of a country, men, women, and non-binary individuals alike, participate in deciding about the government and representatives. Today it also means that only with the full and equal participation of women in political decision-making, we can speak of a democracy. Just like the current exclusion and marginalisation of any segment of the population (other minoritised groups) from the democratic decision-making process, effectively not only impedes democratic development and equality but also undermines the very architecture and promise on which democracy rests.
In this way, it is difficult to speak about the realisation of a democratic project without gender equality and meaningful inclusion of any segment of the population since they both reinforce one another. Unfortunately, even though women and individuals from minoritised groups are increasingly holding leadership and political positions, there is still a need for international norms and efforts to achieve the goal of equal participation in politics. Recently, a report estimated that with the current rate of progress on women’s political empowerment, it will take 145.5 years until the equality of men and women in politics is realised. Yes, you read that right. 145.5 years. That means in the year 2166, democracy could finally mean what it has always promised.
So yes, women and other minoritised groups are not kept away from the realm of politics as they used to be in Athens, they have gained positions, representation, and rights like never before but don’t be fooled, the journey is far from over. Spread the word, democracy is gendered. And latest in 2166, we will rewrite this entry.