Whither the political woman: The political underrepresentation of women in Sarawak
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This thesis is concerned with women's political underrepresentation, which is still a problem in most parts of the world. The primary objective is to investigate the reasons for this phenomenon. It is maintained that the problem is due to a dearth of political women. This lack of political women is attributed to various factors that derive from a gendered public and private ordering within societies. One major aspect of this thesis is the explication of the significance of the asymmetrical public and private distinction in relation to the lack of women in political office particularly in Southeast Asia. In this respect, the first objective is the reformulation of Rosaldo's original "public and domestic" distinction to include asymmetrical gender processes. Women's domestic roles, men's superior status, gendered stereotypic characteristics and behaviour, and gendered institutions are explicated as manifestations of the public and private divide. The second objective is the empirical evaluation of two sets of hypotheses derived from the public and private divide. One is related to societal perception of women and political office, and societal attitudes on gender roles and gender asymmetry. The other is related to political parties as gendered institutions Empirical evidence from two studies carried out in Sarawak, Malaysia largely confirms the pervasiveness of the public and private divide within society, and within the political party as a gendered institution. First, it was found that people from diverse cultures exhibit similar attitudes on asymmetrical gender relations. Second, it was found that people have generally moved away from negative stereotypes of women, but there is still a strong belief in male superior status, the need for women to prioritise domestic roles and conformity to proper gender behaviour. Third, it was found that the highly gendered nature of political parties is not conducive to the development of political women. All these findings suggest that the culturally sanctioned public and private divide is an impediment to women's attaining political office. Based on these findings it is suggested that societies would have to move away from culturally prescribed gender asymmetry to egalitarianism before equality in gender representation can be achieved.