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Effective Government for All
|by Mark T. Jones|
Governments have their own mental and physical state and this is a fact that no budding law-maker or minister can afford to ignore. Some Administrations begin with a substantial mandate from the electorate and depending on what proceeded it is afforded a well of goodwill. The honeymoon period and the air of expectation afford a government and individual ministries a golden opportunity to initiate change, often with minimal resistance.
To use an analogy of the seasons, this governmental spring time sees the sap rising and a flurry of activity. Ministerial optimism abounds, although there are some aggrieved souls, who for whatever reason have been ignored or passed over for ministerial office. As ministers and their staff finally get to grips with priorities and policies some form of summer arrives, green ministerial shoots darken and on the surface at least there is a prospect of purpose, progress and in some quarters at least popularity. During this rush for growth competition for resources and space increases and there is always the danger that weeds and pests will impede and damage productivity.
Occasional weather events disrupt matters in the form of setbacks, competition amongst ministries and the clash of egos. To outsiders and many of those within the Administration all appears well. With this collective sense that the Government is in rude health there is a greater unwillingness to question the Executive and slowly an atmosphere of cozy complacency begins to permeate the corridors of responsibility. Should a government begin to lose its way the summer soon begins to give way to that sense of satiation and ennui that is so redolent of early autumn? Ministers become detached and isolated and when dissenting voices are raised within the media or amongst societal stakeholders they constantly fulminate about their lot. Often a solid cadre of individuals seems unwilling or unable to recognize the dangers of the malaise that begins to envelope the Cabinet and before they realize it a political chill has set in that threatens governmental cohesion, policy and ultimately survival.
The issue of gender elucidates much about the existing prejudices that are prevalent in most legislative assemblies. Ministerial expectations tend to be viewed through a patriarchal prism and therefore skew the way in which policy priorities are shaped. Women aspiring to serve their country are already aware that they are likely to face many more obstacles across their path than their male counterparts, there is also less likelihood that they will be called upon to hold the most prominent portfolios. In countries where women have achieved high office they find themselves exposed to unprecedented levels of personal scrutiny and criticism that tests their mental and physical resilience.
Anne Summers in her article entitled: The gender agenda: Gillard and the politics of sexism (National Times, 26thFebruary 2012) in examining whether Australia’s women political leaders are treated differently from men is clear that this is a topic with real heat, one that in the course of her conversations with a number of past and present women political leaders reveal that: “The conversations are a somewhat sobering reminder that, despite the quite respectable number of women political leaders Australia has now produced, our comfort level has not undergone a commensurate improvement.” (Summers 2012)
According to Summers, preconceived notions of what a women should be continue to dominate the attitudes to women in politics and are particularly acute in regard of those who hold ministerial office: ''You literally cannot win,'' says a cabinet minister. ''You are criticized if you dedicate yourself to your career and don't have children. Or if you do have them, you're told you are neglecting your family. Or, when you spend time with them, that you are not doing your job properly.'' Julia Gillard, the onetime Prime Minister of Australia is on record as expressing her own concerns about sexists and misogyny that exists in political circles.
Women Members of Parliament around the World (2010)
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union (www.ipu.org)
Governments around the world have a woeful record on issues of gender based violence and whilst some Administrations go through the motions of addressing human wrongs, existing patriarchal mindsets frame ministries that have little interest in or desire to tackle injustice and violence with any understanding or seal. The shamefully inept response of Ministers in India in regard to the gang rape and torture (and subsequent death) of young female physiotherapy intern in New Delhi 16th December 2012 speaks volumes of just how much work is needed when it comes to gender rights. Ministers were not only slow to respond, but lacking in empathy and understanding, as well as utterly incapable of comprehending public anger and concern. An understanding of crisis management and effective communication are integral to all organizations, and governments ignore this at their peril.
Gender is not the only issue here; there is also the attitude towards individuals living with disability as well as the fact that certain minority communities are underrepresented in public office. Those in the public eye are under scrutiny like never before and it is more important than ever that they ensure that they are aware of the impact of their conduct and public and private utterances. Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube whilst making for potentially high impact campaigning vehicles, can be a double edged sword as they enable injudicious use to expose individuals to ridicule and censure. Some ministries/law-makers have been slow to wake up to need for vigilance with regard to the personal, ministerial and governmental cyber footprint. Remaining mentally and physically alert is a key factor in political longevity.
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