There’s been a nasty tone to the discussion around women and the Cabinet reshuffle. The ever present murmurs about the ‘unfair’ promotion of women on the basis of their gender, rather than their ability, seem to have grown that much louder. Not only is much of this grossly unfair – do we really believe that all of our male ministers have risen purely on the basis of their ability, with none benefiting from patronage and connections, some of which are connected to their gender? There’s a reason politics is called an ‘old boys club’ – it narrows the focus down to individual jobs rather than the role of Cabinet and the Government as a whole.
Governments and government departments need diverse perspectives in order to function optimally. A single worldview will lead to decisions that, whether consciously or unconsciously, perpetuate power relations and privilege the problems of some over the problems of others. Democracy needs diversity and a strong Cabinet needs women.
Globally, it’s clear that countries that fail to engage women in decision making and political processes miss out. According to the World Bank's World Development Report this year, “Increasing women’s individual and collective agency leads to better outcomes, institutions, and policy choices”. As an example, in India, giving power to women at the local level through a quota system directly led to increased focus on issues important to women and previously overlooked, including sanitation, alcohol abuse, education, health and domestic violence.
And it’s not just women that benefit. In many countries, women’s involvement has shifted ideas around work-life balance and men have also benefited from changes such as more family-friendly legislation. Equally, men benefit from a world in which their sisters, wives, family and friends are happier, healthier and can earn a living on an equal footing.
In light of this, the Prime Minister’s choice of Justine Greening to head the Department for International Development hopefully reflects his recent commitment to put women and girls at the heart of global development efforts. Given that the majority of the world’s poorest people are women, it certainly seems right that at least one of the top jobs in DFID should be held by a woman. Equally, with one in three women affected by violence globally, the post of International Champion for Violence Against Women is a vital one and, if affected by the reshuffle, needs to be filled by someone passionate about the issue and able to take it forward.