Friday, December 8, 2023

The Critical Mass Theory of Women in Leadership as a New Model of Empowerment

Rangita de Silva de Alwis, The Critical Mass Theory of Women in Leadership: What Next?" 

This paper looks at how at the national level, a shift from a primarily equal opportunity model to equal empowerment model creates a new shift in women’s leadership paradigm. This paper posits that the new General Recommendation 40 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) brings us close to full gender parity in leadership in public and private as the next generation model on gender equality. Further, this Article analyzes critical mass theory, namely how a representative critical mass in the political, business, and public leadership spheres can lead to critical acts, furthering representation for women on the legislative arena. This reveals a move from descriptive to substantive representation of women in public life. Although critical mass is not the same as gender parity, it can lead towards parity and equality. When the number of women in a given field reaches a critical mass, it helps to shrink tokenism, and marginalization and elevates the role model effect of women’s leadership. In the final analysis, the paper argues that 25 years after the Beijing Platform of Action established the 30 percent critical mass for women’s leadership, full gender equality in leadership is the unfinished business of our time.

The CEDAW Concluding Observation 40 is built on the human rights framework of CEDAW's Article 4 on substantive equality that helps accelerate women’s participation in decision-making and addresses a historic legacy of gender discrimination. Premised on the model of equality of result, “Temporary Special Measures” as enshrined in Article 4 of the CEDAW move away from a formal sex equality model which treats women and men as similarly situated. Despite its intentions, the formal equality model often does not produce equal results. The effects of such a legacy of discrimination are manifest in the numerous gender stereotypes that subordinate women. It is therefore necessary that gender equality paradigms go further than gender neutrality concepts that reinforce structural barriers to women’s equality. A second model, the substantive equality model, takes a different stance in attempting to remedy the effects of past discrimination by demanding that policies and laws take into account such gender differences in order to avoid unequal results. Examples of the substantive equality model include CEDAW’s Temporary Special Measures for women which are often designed to boost women’s participation in historically male dominated fields. Toward the advancement of CEDAW’s goal of equality in decision making, General Recommendation 40 of the CEDAW, underscores what was argued by David Rothkopf former, editor of Foreign Policy, that “the underrepresentation of women in positions of power is proof not so much that men still dominate the top of the pyramid as it is of a system of the most egregious, widespread, pernicious, destructive pattern of human rights abuses in the history of civilization."

As a coda, while writing this article, in September of 2023, India passed historic legislation, mandating one-third of seats in the lower house and state legislative assemblies for female candidates. As the largest democracy in the world, this is indeed a significant milestone in ongoing efforts to enhance the representation of women in political systems. After 27 years since the Bill was introduced, the passage of the Bill provides momentum to the role of the critical mass theory in women’s leadership.

International, Legislation | Permalink


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