‘It’s Been the Honour of a Lifetime’: Are Women Being Forced Out of Politics?
After two female titans resigned weeks apart, The Gaudie spoke to local female politicians and activists to get their perspective.
By Theodore A Williamson
On the 19th of January, Jacinda Ardern, praised globally for her handling of the Covid pandemic and her compassionate and level-headed leadership, resigned as the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand. In her resignation statement, Arden commented that she ‘didn’t have enough left in the tank’ and that it was time for her to step aside. Just three weeks later, Nicola Sturgeon, the 1st female First Minister of Scotland, and for many the face of Scottish politics, announced she was also stepping down after eight years in the job. There were stark similarities in Sturgeon's statement, part of which read: ‘All in all – and for a long time, without it being apparent – it takes its toll on you and on those around you.’ It is undeniable that the sphere of global politics is destined to change with the departure of these two women and a question arises as to whether women are being forced out of an ever-more brutal field of politics in 2023.
The Gaudie spoke to local Aberdeen councillor Deena Tissera. As the first woman of colour elected to Aberdeen City Council, she has first-hand experience with the difficulties that women face when trying to get into politics. She told The Gaudie that female politicians are still treated differently to their male counterparts. ‘They try to scare you, fearmonger you into not raising issues that are difficult for them to hear, she said. ‘People don’t see you as a leader because you are not a white man.’
Tiserra brought forward a motion at a party conference in 2018 to ensure that 50% of the nominees for target seats were women. The legislation passed, and as a result, Labour seats within Aberdeen City Council are gender balanced.
Tissera believes that her election normalised the ability for women of colour and other minority groups to become involved in politics. Tissera commented on the lack of role models for women within Scotland and how this can become a barrier to entering politics. When asked what the future holds for women in politics and the mentally draining aspects of modern politics, Tissera spoke about the increased level of safety she takes going to her own surgeries and the increased levels of abuse that she, along with other female colleagues, face. However, when asked about the departure of Ardern and Sturgeon, Tissera gave a level of optimism for future discussions of mental wellness and, faced with their resignations, commented that it was a refreshing change to see politicians recognise when they should step down, rather than clinging onto power.
The Gaudie also spoke to political activist Christina Schmid, who is a third-year student at the University. As a first-generation student, Schmid has a passion for social justice and tries to challenge the traditional white male field that is modern-day politics. Schmid argued women face a glass ceiling when trying to engage in politics, and although there aren’t barriers stopping women from being politically active, the male domination of politics creates challenges for future female politicians.
When asked about the changes that will happen following the resignation of Sturgeon and Ardern, Schmid noted that women who enter the sphere have two options: either to align themselves with the traditional masculinity sphere or try to change it.
‘I feel like a lot of the women who have been in power for a long time have adjusted to the masculine sphere,’ she commented, adding: ‘Women who don’t adjust to this masculine sphere make themselves an easy target.’
The resignation of Ardern and Sturgeon raised awareness of the need to challenge not only politics, Schmid said, but also feminist movements and whether or not the goal is adaptation to the current political sphere or wholesale changes to the system.
Both conversations had an overarching theme of the essential role played by young people in politics and the power that they possess, especially women and other minority groups, as they strive to make politics truly representative of the population and not just one group of people. In the weeks that have passed since the resignation of Sturgeon and Ardern, it is more important than ever to continue the fight for a truly representative and equal political sphere. This requires the assurance that each and every person knows that they have a pathway into politics if they want it.
For anyone looking to get more involved with politics, Tissera has a website where she can be contacted for further advice about how to get involved in local politics. https://www.deenatissera.com