Numbers don’t tell the whole story. In most countries, women entering electoral politics face an obstacle course – strewn with political parties dominated by men, lack of funding, gender stereotypes, and plain misogyny in politics, media and society.
A recent World Values survey in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia showed that large numbers of people believe that "men make better political leaders than women do." In Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, more than 40 percent of those surveyed agreed with this view, while in Uzbekistan, 54 percent of respondents strongly agreed with it. Not surprisingly, campaign financing is among the most significant challenges faced by women in politics.
Gender-based violence is another major challenge for women as it can limit their agency and influence their willingness to enter politics. Globally, an estimated one in three women suffers violence from intimate partners or non-partners, a figure that has stayed stubbornly high over two decades, despite tremendous efforts – in laws, services, and funding – to tackle this scourge. Violence against women and girls has also taken malevolent new forms in cyberstalking and bullying, vicious online sexual naming and shaming and ferocious trolling.
According to a UN report on Violence Against Women in Politics, women are especially a target because of their gender, and sexist threats, sexual harassment and gender-based violence add a dangerous dimension to any opposition they face. Take, for example, the cases of Afro-Brazilian human rights defender and city councillor, Marielle Franco, the UK Labour Party MP Jo Cox, and Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who were murdered for their political beliefs and grassroots leadership. Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić, faces persistent sexist and homophobic portrayals in the media, which sets aside her skills and qualities and focuses on her personal life.
Women’s continuing responsibility for household and care work is another major obstacle to their entering political or public life. The recent spurt of attention to the global gender pay gap has mostly ignored a fundamental and enduring cause for gender inequalities: women’s burden of unpaid work. Between 1997 and 2012, the time spent on average by women on housework and caregiving in countries worldwide has fallen by only 15 minutes per day, while for men it increased by just eight minutes per day.
Along with unpaid work, gender-based discrimination in the family, gender segregation in education and employment, and gender-based violence are all factors that limit women’s access to decision-making positions, in politics, government and public or private sectors.