Women around the world are underrepresented in all levels of political office despite monumental gains over the last few decades. Factors such as education level, financial independence and changing social roles continue to shape a woman’s ability to obtain the opportunities and resources needed to win elected positions. A Boston College student hopes to explore and expose the factors causing a shortage of women in politics.
Urwa Hameed, a junior studying political science and international studies with a minor in managing for social impact, has set out to explore the societal elements that influence a woman’s decision to run for office and how changing voter demographics have affected gender disparities in politics.
Growing up in Pakistan, Urwa gained a first-hand perspective on the factors that uphold the largely male-dominated and conservative political climate in many South Asian countries. After moving to the United States for high school, Urwa developed a comparative lens for examining how cultural differences shape trends in global politics and international relations across different countries. This multidimensional analysis drove Urwa to explore the issue of female underrepresentation in politics from a global perspective. By combining information from interviews with female politicians with historical data, Urwa aims to write a book using Pakistan as a case study from which to examine the root causes of underrepresentation in patriarchal societies.
Urwa credits the insight she gained while serving as an undergraduate research fellow for shaping her vision. Through her work with Dr. Richard Kearney, Dr. Peter Krause and Dr. Jennifer Erickson, Urwa was able to refine her writing skills while learning about the process of publishing written works. This allowed Urwa to begin thinking about how she can synthesize her original research into her own book.
As she was developing her research plan and area of focus, Urwa worked with a professor of political science in Pakistan who helped to guide her thought process. After bringing her insights into discussions with Boston College faculty, including Professor Jennifer Erickson (who now serves as the project advisor), Urwa developed a plan to put her idea into action. With support from the Frontier Fellowship Program and Boston College Legacy Grant, Urwa plans to travel to Pakistan this summer to conduct interviews with women who serve in a range of elected seats, from local offices to Parliament. Through these conversations, Urwa seeks to investigate how education level, religion, financial independence, and geographic location influence a woman’s decision to run for office as well as the extent to which gender plays a role in determining the candidates people vote for.
“I think one of the most powerful elements of a narrative is that it gives you a story behind the data,” Urwa said. “My hope is that by attaching personal stories of female politicians to the data, I can provide readers with a greater understanding of the trends that exist.”
As part of Urwa’s work for her legacy grant, she will be presenting her research to an all-girls high school in Pakistan. “It’s really important to me that young people have access to my work,” Urwa said. “My hope is that, by sharing what it means to be a woman in politics, I can inspire young women and girls to pursue their academic and political aspirations.”
COVID-19 safety concerns have added many restrictions to world travel, so Urwa is working on organizing an alternate plan in the event that she is unable to be there in person. She is currently collaborating with school officials to navigate the logistics of showcasing her research through a school-wide virtual presentation. In terms of collecting stories from politicians, she is in communication with a political science student in Pakistan who will be compensated for their efforts to coordinate live interviews and navigate some of the work. While it may be possible to conduct some interviews via Skype or Zoom, factors such as limited technological access create significant barriers to communication.
Despite these challenges, Urwa is grateful to the BC community for their support in helping her to conceptualize her goal. “Five years ago, I never would have imagined having the resources to publish my own book,” she said. “My advice to anyone looking to engage in a similar project is to reach out to your professors who can guide you to the right opportunities.”
As the chair for intersectionality within UGBC, Urwa hopes to share her work with diverse communities of women at Boston College who aspire to serve in political positions. In the future, Urwa would like to continue to use her work to empower others by applying for a Fulbright Scholarship and pursuing a degree in international human rights law.