Female leadership and education: What's the relation?
One of the most consistently documented relationships in the field of political behaviour is the close association between educational attainment and political participation. For some scholars, the reason for this relationship is clear: education gives citizens the skills and resources needed to participate in politics. American socialists Burns, Scholozman and Verba identified direct and indirect effect of education on political participation of men and women in the United States of America after decades of research. According to their findings, as direct effects, education enhances knowledge and skills regarding public debate, political analysis and current affairs which in turn motivate political participation.
In many societies in East Asia, enhancement in women's education, health and well-being has been achieved, yet women's political participation is considerably lesser. South Asian countries show impressive achievements in women's political participation. However, in this region, women whose positions are at a higher or national level seem possible due to having male mentorship or familial connection. Male politicians play important roles in exercising gender prejudices by allowing female relatives to be the members of parliament without systematic consideration of electing them. The deeply-rooted patriarchal society and cultural life are also found to create obstacles to women's political participation in South Asia, according to American sociologist Gail Omvedt.
There are two key factors, education and economic opportunities that provide resources and contacts for political activities. The higher the endowment of these two factors, the more the possibility of involvement in political participation. Women from Mongolia and Japan have higher education attainment but due to lack of transformation of educational advantages in achieving economic outcomes, women's political participation is not significant at all. In case of South-east Asia, education attainment by women is less than significant but economic empowerment has taken place where women are involved in factories and entrepreneurship. However, economic empowerment has not been able to lead to significant political empowerment in this region. The scenario of South Asia in this field is quite different than others. Money, power and political networks these three factors play a vital role in engagement in politics.
It is important to stress that even though education is considered prerequisite for being in politics, the participation of illiterate rural women in zila parishad and panchayat proves that the lack of education and training does not sometimes constrain women's political participation in South Asia.
According to conventional wisdom, higher education increases the tendency of higher political participation as education offers civic skills and political knowledge. Scholars have developed three theoretical models of the relationships between education and political participation so far. The first education model is called the absolute education model which supports the conventional wisdom, considering education as a cause of political participation. It says, through gaining knowledge, education triggers the cognitive ability which develops the understanding of an individual's role as a citizen, as well as their potentiality in political process. The model states that an increase in education causes the rising tendency of political participation. The pre-adult socialisation model focuses on factors such as the socio-economic status of family, personal characteristics and political socialisation during impressionable years. The factors also contribute in choosing the education which in turn influences political participation. Similarly, the relative education model, also referred to as the sorting model, asserts that education influences political participation through social status.
In case of Bangladesh, the direct contribution of education for women's political participation cannot be measured by looking at the number of women in representative politics. The presence of quotas and reservations are the major way for women in Bangladesh to become a part of the legislature, which also constrains their active participation in politics. In addition, even though women's participation at Union Parishad and Paurashava elections has increased, the responsibilities and duties are not well-defined and their involvement in decision making process is absent. Women are usually given areas such as education, health, women and children affairs, which are traditionally considered 'women's domain'.
Moreover, their lower political participation and the subordinate position can also be explained by the pre-adult socialisation model.
Bangladesh is a country with deeply embedded patriarchal social and cultural traditions and gender prejudice. In this case, socio-economic status of family and political socialisation both play an important role in motivating women in the country to participate in politics; however, gender prejudices exercised by the male politicians in allowing female relatives in politics without a systematic way, results in a subordinate position and representation of these women in politics. This family-controlled political practice in Bangladesh is working as a tool to discourage the involvement of poor or less affluent women in politics.
Although the Government of Bangladesh has introduced quotas or reservations at the national and local levels for ensuring significant increase in women's political participation, women presently comprise only 19.7 percent of the National Parliament – that is holding only 69 out of 279 seats (The Women in Public Service Project, 2014).
In addition, families with lower socio-economic status are also influenced by the patriarchal society and gender prejudice. Girl students are often enrolled in primary and secondary schools, but lose their pace when they are about to enter tertiary education. This dropout rate is partly due to a lack of necessary support that would enable them to continue their education. Incentives are provided by the government for girls only up to higher and secondary level education. Therefore, families with lower socio-economic status cannot bear the expense for further education of girls, leading to higher dropout rates.
Set social patterns, such as early marriage or engagement in household chores, and obligation to perform the reproductive roles imposed by society and family, also play an important role in discouraging Bangladeshi women from participating in politics. Girls are often forced to quit formal education just when they are able to use their individual assessment and perceptive qualities to get a better understanding of their surroundings. They are often married off at a very young age to a man twice their age, thereby enabling the men the opportunity to dominate over their wives' choices, decisions and freedom. As they are cut off from education, employment opportunities also begin to dry up, and girls, especially in rural areas, start to depend on their husband for financial and psychological well-being. One day they become mothers, and these strategically 'handicapped' mothers cannot help their daughters come out of this vicious social trap, and therefore, the voice of Bangladeshi women is suppressed from ever being heard in politics.
Since Bangladesh is an agriculture based country, it has not always appreciated women as leaders. Barring a few exceptions, most qualified women can't even think about participating in politics. There needs to be a change within the family dynamics; women's participation in politics cannot be improved at the top level until perceptions towards them at the lower levels remain unchanged. The state has to adopt initiatives, which will create a positive perception towards women and augment their capacity to face challenges in the political domain.
The writers are students of Master of Development Studies (MDS), BRAC University.