When women take their place as leaders, economies and societies thrive

03 August 2020

Rosie Campbell


When women take their place as leaders, economies and societies thrive

As women’s equality activists, we are often questioned: Why is this important? What difference could it possibly make? Won’t women politicians make just as much of a mess of things as men?

For years, we would respond by pointing to the principles of basic rights, the fundamental values of democracy and the inherent benefits of diversity in decision-making. But the bigger business case for women’s political equality was harder to articulate because the whole picture of women’s impact on governance had not yet been painted. Until now. A new report, 'Women Political Leaders: The Impact of Gender and Democracy' from Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and written by Dr Minna Cowper-Cowles shows that when women take their place as leaders in politics, the whole of society benefits.

The report pulls together findings from over 500 of studies to uncover a picture that is bright, optimistic and unequivocal – women’s political leadership is invariably favourable to economic growth, prosperity and societal well-being.

Women are altering politics in a way that brings more robust consideration of policy areas that deliver a better quality of life for everyone. This includes improving public health services so that they are more consistently available and of a higher quality, which in turn leads to better health and longer life expectancy. What’s more, more women in politics often means a decrease in the petty corruption that is often a feature of trying to access these services in more unequal societies.

As policy makers, women prioritise issue areas that benefit the most vulnerable in society. On average, women in elected office work harder than men to represent their constituencies. Both of these factors cultivate a stronger sense among voters that government is responsive to their needs.

Additionally, the research shows that women bring collaborative and inclusive leadership styles into politics, an arena that has more recently been characterized by division and one-upmanship – approaches that by their very nature deprioritise the well-being of communities and thoughtful, informed debate.

Together, these factors represent the key ingredients to build stability, drive economies, and help societies not only survive but thrive. What could be more important at a time of unprecedented uncertainty and strain as, globally, we endeavour to take stock of the immediate impact of policy responses to COVID-19 and seek to build a pathway towards a genuine recovery?

Given the scale of the COVID-19 global health pandemic and its economic fallout, the findings of this report could not be more timely. It is a terrible fact that men are over-represented among the fatalities of the virus, but women are disproportionately affected by the social and economic consequences. If women are not at the decision-making table at this very moment as critical choices are made, any recovery will not only be incomplete but seriously risks doing serious harm beyond the capabilities of the virus itself.

Women demonstrate political leadership every day, even when they are not bestowed with an office or official title. Ensuring that women – in all of their diversity – are part of formal decision-making processes right now is quite possibly just as powerful an agent in our collective recovery from this pandemic as any vaccine could ever be.