Bryson has noted that women find it more difficult to have their voices heard,
their priorities acknowledged and their interests met (1994: 16). A recent report
documents in detail the under-representation of women in all major sectors of
decision-making in Britain, from parliament, the civil service, the judiciary, the legal
profession, the police, local government, health, higher education, the media, public
appointments and the corporate sector. For example, the UK is the fourth lowest
in terms of the representation of women in the European Parliament at 24 per cent
in 2000; it does better in a relative sense (in 1997) in terms of representation in
national parliaments where it has 18 per cent compared to Denmark’s 33 per cent.
Only 4.3 per cent of life peers in the House of Lords were women in 2000, while
in the most senior grades of the civil service, 17.2 per cent were women in 1999.
Nine per cent of the High Court Judges in 1999 were women, although this is three
times as many as women who were Lord Justices! There were 6.4 per cent of Chief
Constables who were women in 2000; 10 years previously there were none (Ross,
It is true that the representation of women is complex, and it does not follow
that women representatives automatically and necessarily represent the interests of
women in general. But there is clearly something wrong, as Voet acknowledges,
with political institutions that dramatically under-represent women (1998: 106–8).
Citizenship requires both the right and the capacity to participate in political
decision-making. The real difficulty of women’s citizenship is ‘the low level of
female participation in social and political decision-making’ (Voet, 1998: 124, 132).
The public/private divide, as formulated in liberal theory, prevents women from
becoming meaningful citizens. It undermines the confidence of women; prejudices
men (and some women) against them; puts pressures on leisure time; trivialises and
demonises those women who enter public life; and through a host of discriminatory
practices which range from the crudely explicit to the subtly implicit, prevents
women from taking leadership roles. Women members of the British Parliament
still complain that their dress or physical appearance is commented upon in the
media, although it would be unthinkable to do the same for men.
It is true that the public/private divide as it operates as a barrier to citizenship
is only implicit in liberal societies today. Whereas ancient (by which we mean slave-
owning) societies and medieval societies explicitly divided the activities between
men and women, under liberalism the public/private divide focuses on the
relationship between individuals and the state.
Yuval-Davis has argued that we should abandon the public/private distinction
altogether – a position which Voet challenges (1998: 141). It is both possible and
necessary to reconstruct the concept of the public and the private so that it ceases
to be patriarchal in character. Liberal theory sees freedom, in Crick’s words, as ‘the
privacy of private men from public action’ (1982: 18). As Crick’s comment (and
his revealing use of language) suggests, this is a freedom that extends only to males,
since (as MacKinnon puts it) ‘men’s realm of private freedom is women’s realm of
collective subordination’ (1989: 168). Citizenship requires participation in public
arenas. Domestic arrangements are crucial which allow women to be both
childbearers (should they wish to), and workers outside the home, representatives
at local, national and international level, and leaders in bodies that are outside the
domestic sphere. This is not to say that women (like people in general) should
not cherish privacy, but the public/private concept needs to be reconstructed (as
Chapter 6 Citizenship 127