Angie K. González and Carme Ferré-Pavia argue that social media platforms are potential equalisers allowing women politicians to circumvent traditional media biases. In Colombia, female and male politicians use Twitter in similar ways to receive similar benefits. The key variable in inequality is ideology
The underrepresentation of women in politics is a persistent problem throughout the world. Despite advances in various fields, women continue to face obstacles to political leadership. Perceived as less competent, ambitious, and competitive than men, they are often overlooked for leadership positions.
Power continues to be a hostile territory for women because of existing gender stereotypes and their relationship with leadership. At the same time, the media plays a role in perpetuating these prejudices and creating new cultural barriers that hinder the visibility of women in positions of power and influence.
Media coverage can reinforce biases against women in politics, but social media platforms such as Twitter may function as an equaliser
Gender stereotypes and biases influence perceptions of leadership and obstruct women's progress in politics. Female politicians often face challenges related to cultural expectations, which associate power and leadership with masculine traits. Media coverage, including social media, can reinforce these biases and maintain gender inequalities in political visibility.
However, social media platforms such as Twitter have the potential to act as equalisers that allow politicians, especially women, to circumvent traditional media biases.
Traditional media coverage tends to be biased against female politicians. But social media platforms have offered these politicians an opportunity to communicate directly with the public. The real-time nature of Twitter, in particular, is a huge advantage, and the platform offers researchers easy access to data. Twitter empowers politicians to disseminate messages, engage with an audience, and transform supporters into active participants.
Nevertheless, studies have also shown that gender disparities persist on social networks. Notably, male politicians receive more retweets and engagement than their female counterparts. In addition, social networks can be breeding grounds for hostility, hate speech, and misogyny against women in politics.
Colombia, with its diverse political landscape and history of civil war and drug trafficking, provides an intriguing context for studying gender parity in politics. The country has experienced low levels of female political representation in Congress, despite the existence of a gender quota law. Furthermore, the dominant right-wing and centre-right political parties, which make up 80% of female representation in Congress, mean that women's voices in Colombia's legislature are overwhelmingly conservative.
Twitter has an estimated six million users in Colombia. The platform thus offers a useful context through which to examine how politicians navigate the digital sphere, and to determine whether any gender-related differences exist.
Female and male politicians exhibit similar usage patterns and comparable levels of influence, audience reach, and message efficacy
We analysed all tweets from congresswomen and congressmen for a one-year period. Our investigation revealed a gender balance in Twitter use. Female and male politicians exhibit similar usage patterns and comparable levels of influence, audience reach, and message efficacy. We found no significant gender differences in terms of audience figures or amplification.
In fact, the list of the ten most influential and effective Colombian politicians on Twitter is an even mix of women and men. This confirms that, in the Colombian case at least, Twitter allows equal visibility for male and female legislators.
Gender aside, however, we did observe notable disparities based on political party affiliation and ideological beliefs.
The central focus of our research was to analyse the differences in Twitter usage by women and men politicians. The differences we found, however, tended to relate to actors' political background. In this particular case, political ideology proves key to understanding Colombian politicians' influence and effectiveness on Twitter.
In the Colombian case, barriers for women in politics still exist, but the challenges go beyond gender issues
The data shows remarkable differences in speech based on political party affiliation and ideological tendency. Male and female members of Congress tend to be closer in their rhetoric and the messages they disseminate on Twitter when they are closer in ideology. In Colombia, therefore, barriers for women in politics still exist, but the challenges go beyond gender. Instead, they are linked to polarisation and political ideology.
Most female members of Congress represent traditional and conservative parties. Women holding these ideologies tweet more and are more successful than those representing centre and left parties. We must consider these factors when analysing how people use social media, and the influence of such networks.
To achieve true gender parity in political representation, we need to recognise that significant disparities still exist based on political party affiliation and ideological beliefs. To ensure greater and more effective participation of women in politics, we must overcome societal biases and create inclusive digital spaces where all politicians can effectively communicate their messages. A quota law alone is not enough.
Ultimately, barriers for women in politics persist. In the Colombian case, these challenges extend beyond gender issues and are linked to polarisation and political ideology.