In the United States of America, women dominate the population in number by consisting of 50.8% of the total.[i]Yet, the U.S. House of representatives only consists of 20.2% women out of the total 535 seats.[ii]The 2018 midterm elections are considered to be ground breaking in welcoming various new members of the American community to represent the Congress, for example, the first Native American woman, first Muslim woman who also wears a hijab, and women of colour from some states.[iii]Numerous research studies have been conducted connecting the role of women in the government to the well-being of the country. Sweden’s government includes 52% of the women and consists of highest female employment rate in the European Union, which lead to the government looking at parents as dual-income earners providing better maternity leave plans and having the lowest child poverty rate.[iv]Former American Political Science Association president Arend Lijphart also found strong correlations between the women in government and more progressive policies on environment, violence prevention, incarceration, etc.ii,[v]With an increasing movement of freedom in the twenty first century, when and how will the government catch up in truly representing a democracy by balancing the gender inequality ratios in legislature.
2. What is a democracy and its connection to women in twenty first century?
The definition of democracy does not just entail free exercise of voting rights to select a particular leader but along with it, democracy includes participation of every citizen of the state in the act of voting, and be involved in politics and civil life.[vi]Therefore, a true state of democracy is not reached until all citizens of a country acquire the same power. When analysing the statistics, only a handful of countries are able to reach the gender equality ratio of 1:1 in the government with only Rwanda and Bolivia passing it with 63.8% and 53.1% respectively, as of October 2018.[vii]On this scale, the United States is at ninety-seventh spot. A list has been included in the appendix that consists of top ten countries in this scale and other other countries United States has competition with. Surprisingly, Russia is the only country below United States. It is accurately said by Valentine M. Moghadam, who is currently the chief of the section for Gender Equality and Development that it is not just that the women need democracy, but the democracy also needs women to move the country’s progress further.[viii]
In order to address the true needs of the society, women and other diverse members of the country must be involved in the government to make day to day policy changes. If the legislature is dominated by white men, for example, all the struggles of different communities might not be recognized like maternal leaves, pink tax or harassment. Studies have also connected how female political leaders are more responsive to the community’s needs.[ix]Some possible reasons for such disparity on gender roles occur due to various social, economic, and environmental effects on women that either suppress women’s public authority or discourage women from rising up. These will be further explored later in the essay.
3. History of women in government
United States of America may have gained independence from the Great Britain in 1776 but in many ways, the citizens of the country were not free.[x]The same was applicable to the women too. Later in the next year, 1977, all states passed laws that took away women suffrage. Over the years, many movements took place to enable women to vote, for example, the formation of American Women Suffrage Association (AWSA) in 1869 to provide women the privilege of voting and choosing their own elected official. Similar movements took place throughout the late nineteenth century. But it was not till the nineteenth amendment was enacted in 1920 to legalize the right to vote for each American citizen throughout the nation.[xi]As mentioned previously, the true democracy can only be reached when women are able to elect their leaders and have the convenience to rise to positions of power in Congress.
Women saw a similar struggle in entering the field of politics and it was not till the 1917 when Jeannette Rankin fought her way into the House of Representative after a battle with the system and having a support of National AWSA. She was a key player who helped enact the above nineteenth amendment. She remained an important influence on the policy making regarding gender equality and civil rights in her career spanning six decades. Her agenda in the legislature was of non-interventionism and therefore, she was the one of the few who voted against entering the two world wars and the only one who voted against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor in 1941. This demonstrates that despite having credibility, her voice amongst men was unheard. In 1916, the ratio was 1 in 531 and 101 years later, it has only improved to 108 in 535.iSince independence, only a total of 323 women have served in comparison to whopping 11,856 men.[xii]However, 1916 did mark an era of opening up more doors for women with very slow progress. The fight for the position of president started in 1972 with Victoria Woodhull from the Equal Rights Party and since then, 13 different women have tried to run for the candidacy with the last one being Hillary Clinton, who was the first nominee from a major party, which was the Democratic Party. 56 of the 146 countries that have been studied by the World Economic Freedom have had a female head of state, but United States remains outside this league.[xiii]Therefore, we must explore the various reasons why such disparity exists.
4. Barriers to Entry
There are number of reasons that many authors have proposed for such disparity of gender roles in the government and some of them will be discussed here. These can be divided into two – institutional and socio-cultural factors.[xiv]
a. Institutional Factors
One obvious answer seems that a majority of the female population must not vote, because of which the different female qualified candidates do not get enough votes. This may have been the case before the nineteenth amendment, but is not the case anymore. In a study done by Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), they found that since 1980, more percentage of women have casted votes than men for presidential elections as it can be seen from figure 1.[xv]Through the figure, it is also visible that this percentage gap has actually widened over time, meaning that more percentage of women and less men vote. Therefore, women have been more active in taking part in elections and this does not explain the disparity.
Figure 1: Proportion of eligible adult population that reported voting
Another possible reason that CAWP proposed is gender gap, which refers to as the disparity in votes for a candidate based on gender, which can be viewed in figure 2.[xvi]The data might seem confusing at first, but it is quite revealing. Y-axis shows the percentage of men and women who voted for the (x-axis) winning president in each presidential election since 1980.
Figure 2: Percentage of men and women who voted for the winning candidate since 1980
The candidates who men have more aggressively supported, visible through the percentage of men that voted for that candidate, has gone to win the presidential election with exceptions of Clinton and Obama, when men did not show as much support as for women. And the opposite is true for women, when they have not shown as much support as men. This subtle disparity is explained through a flaw of the electoral college of where the most popular candidate does not actually win the elections.
Four times in the history of the United states, the candidate with the popular vote of the citizens has actually not won the presidential elections. This happened in 1876, 1888, 2000 and most recently in the 2016. In all four scenarios, the democratic candidate have been at loss. In 2016, Hillary Clinton received 48.25% to Trump’s 46.15% with a majority of 2.9 million more votes. Trump’s popular vote was the seventh smallest winning percentage since 1828.[xvii]
This discourse where the candidate with the popular vote does not win the election happens due to some flaws in the way electoral college is laid out. During the midterm elections, which happens two years after the president is elected, the votes casted by the population elect the House of Representatives, which is a total of 435 members. Each of these 435 members are from different states and the number of members from the state depends majorly on how big the population of the state is. Each of these 535 members cast their vote to decide on who the president will be.
In November every four years for presidential elections, the citizens cast their vote to indicate to their state representative how they should vote. The discourse happens because elected members are not required to vote how their state population has asked them to.[xviii]This leads to a number of cases where these state representatives do not vote how they were meant to and unfair elected presidents in the four different years as mentioned above. Therefore, having only 108 out of 535 seats for women leads to an elected president who does not truly represent the values of the citizens of the country.[xix]Since this system has failed 4 times out of the total 58, the failure/error rate is 7%. Therefore, many demand a structural change of the electoral college system to install a fairer method of electing the president and replace a 231-year-old system that was established in 1787.[xx]Since this is a very tedious process, no steps have been taken to update it. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton has set up an example that there is a possibility that the United States of America would allow viable female political leaders.
b. Socio-cultural Factors
Some other reasons for less representation of women in parliament are due to many political and socio-cultural challenges. Two big reasons come forward from a survey conducted by Inter-Parliamentary Union – family responsibilities and lack of finances.xivIt found that one-third of the women in parliament did not have family responsibilities and women in parliament were twice as likely to be single than men. This suggests that women with families, especially with younger children, are less likely to pursue a parliamentary career.xivIn the same survey, women listed family responsibilities to be the main deterrent for entering a career in politics.
Another barrier that women have to break is the financial. As mentioned in another survey, 98% of the times, the richest candidate wins the presidential elections. Many censure for an unfair system as election campaigns can be extremely expensive. Election campaign finances could include paying for different visits in different areas of the country, marketing his/her name and the work that the candidate has conducted, and organizing awareness-oriented campaigns, amongst many others.
5. Solutions already in place
Since the United States falls very low on gender disparity spectrum, many solutions have been brought into place, because of which we do see a drastic increase in female members of parliament throughout the twentieth century, in figure 3.[xxi]
Figure 3: Graph demonstrating the total members of female members in the American government till present
As it can be seen from figure 3, late 1970s and 80s is where a gradual increase took place and some of movements are discussed below.
a. Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP)
CAWP is a branch of Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in the state of New Jersey. CAWP is considered a national leader in publishing numerous researches on the demographics of women in politics and various data sets related to that. Its mission is “to promote greater knowledge and understanding about women’s participation in politics and government and to enhance women’s influence and leadership in public life.”[xxii]Their research has been fundamental in identifying the gender gaps in politics, which have led various institutions to install solutions. They have also been responsible for training and education programs hosted on campus, for example, Ready to Run, that trains various women on election related tasks such as how to run for elective offices, becoming active in public life, working on campaigns, mobilizing voters, etc. Starting from New Jersey in 1998, Ready to Run has been installed in 8 other states.[xxiii]
CAWP has set an example for the whole country that it is possible to have female political leaders by building confidence in their authority. More, similar educative programs are required to educate and prepare women to run for the office and build their ethos in front of the citizens of the country. There is a need to restore women’s political authority.
b. The 2012 Project
Research conducted by Brown University confirms that women are not likely to themselves self-nominate and they also wait for longer to run for political office. They are also recruited less in comparison to men.[xxiv]To tackle this issue, The 2012 Projectwas initiated to spark the idea of running for the office. A conference was also organized to bridge the gap between the possible candidates and the women who are already in the office. This was also an important networking opportunity for these potential candidates to different political parties in their states. 2012 was also an important year as the Senators were being elected, which happens every 10 years. This project was a group effort to support more independent women who may have never considered running before but have the ability to represent the country.[xxv]
With an increasing number of women in politics, a new challenge has risen related to psychological abuse and even sexual assault, demonstrating a true patriarchal nature of our society. Such threats are targeted to discourage women from becoming politically active and question their authority.[xxvi]National Democratic Institute launched the #NotTheCost initiative to further research into this issue by encouraging women to speak up about their issues and stand up for violence not being a cost of a career in politics. NDI suggests various suggestions to governments around the world to:
- Revise electoral management body rules and regulations
- Mobilize civil society actors to assist in election monitoring
- Create procedures for registering and handling complaints
- Incorporate a gender perspective in electoral observation guidelines
This is similar to another popular movement called #MeToo, which also intends to raise awareness about sexual harassment in general population.
There is a need for similar movements that encourage and promote women’s place in politics and demonstrate feasibility of it as a career option.
6. Comparison with other countries
Two countries that stand out in women’s participation in government roles are Rwanda and Bolivia with more than 50% of the legislature including women. We must study these countries to analyse what has led to their success and what policies could be brought back to the United States.
a. Rwanda – 63.8%
During the 1994 Rwanda genocide, about 800,000 to a million people died. This led to only a population of 6.5 million which consisted of 65% women.[xxvii]Since most of these women were uneducated, President Paul Kagame took this as an opportunity to flourish based on a population that was previously neglected, as just the men’s labor was not enough. In 2003, a 30 percent quota was passed that allowed women to acquire atleast 24 of the 80 Chamber of Deputy seats. Today, 51 of them are occupied by women. In the past 15 years, the country’s quota system has done well and now the system of terminating this quota is being discussed as the quota satisfied its purpose of inviting more women into the legislature.[xxviii]With a more inclusive environment, women have been rising in other positions also, such as, half of the 14 supreme courts in the country have women judges. Many social problems continue to exist in Rwanda but the country does represent as a sound example of a quota system that has enabled women empowerment.
b. Bolivia – 53.1%
One of the most popular leaders who comes from the Bolivian indigenous community, Evo Morales, when was re-elected in 2009, decided to have half of the cabinet members must be women and since then, this tradition has become a law.[xxix]He has been bringing various social changes in the country since his election and empowering women was another one of his agenda. Because the country went through a drastic change suddenly, the progress in terms of hearing women have been slow but the progress from the previous years, when women had very limited voice, have been quite strong.[xxx],[xxxi]Morales has been leading the country with communitarian socialism with an agenda to empower the under-represented community, since he is from an indigenous tribe also.[xxxii]
7. Potential Solutions
In the essay till now, various policies and struggles relating to women in government have been discussed. As it has also been elaborated, various movements are taking place and we must build up on those to facilitate an easier/fairer access. Some of these solutions are suggested further.
a. Quota System in electing the Electoral College, and changing the system
As discussed previously, many authors suggest setting a certain quota for the number of women in Congress and House of Representatives. United Nation suggests this to be at least one-third of 535 members of Congress. For United States to reach this standard, 71 more female members would be required.[xxxiii]Also, as seen in Rwanda, this quota does not need to be permanent and can be changed when women do not need this assistance. This is also so that during presidential elections, the voice of the female voters is heard as it is these members of Parliament that further vote who the president is going to be. This resolves to be an unfair system where it is possible that the majority votes holder does not win the election and has happened 4 times in the past. Therefore, the system of Electoral College (231 years old) should be updated to the current times.[xxxiv]
b. Financial Resources
As mentioned previously, women find it a burden to enter the field of politics due to high campaign costs. The solution proposed by the United Nations is that various parties show extra support for the female candidates to participate in the election process.xivSome authors even suggest an even amount of money distributed to each and every candidate to ensure an equality of money spent during elections. This also ensures that the candidate with the maximum amount of money does not have an unfair advantage. This solution is applicable, not just in the United States, but everywhere in the world. As the statistics revealed that 98% of the times, the richer candidates win the presidential election.
More financial resources are not just required during election but also to prepare for the election. Therefore, if the government is considering women recruitments, more institutions such as Rutgers CAWP should be financially supported to prepare women to take part in the legislative process. Women’s Campaign Fund (WCF) is an organization that tries to do so by supporting various umbrella organizations and have played a key part in fundraising for various women, who have been elected to Congress. Their motive is to achieve 50% participation by 2028.[xxxv]
c. Run for non-incumbent positions
Another problem with the electoral college system that many already elected members can choose to continue to run for their previous positions. To look at the 2016 elections, 383 House of representatives ran for re-election and 380 of them won, which is a whopping percentage of 97%.[xxxvi]Since 310 (81%) of these 383 were men, these seats were automatically taken. In the same elections, non-incumbent women have a 47.7% chance of winning in the House and 32.4% chance in the Senate.[xxxvii]Therefore, women who have not entered the government should compete for non-incumbent positions as the success rate there is more likely.
Women in the United States only represent 20.2% of the government, which puts it on the 97thspot in gender parity. A true state of democracy is only reached when women play as big of a role as men in representing the country, while making policies and even voting. Women have faced numerous struggles starting from independence in 1776 and it has been a long way to arrive at this stage. Still numerous challenges such as, institutional (electoral college) and socio-cultural (family responsibilities, financial constraint, violence in politics) factors prevent women from entering the legislature. Many solutions are already in place to promote more women to choose a political career but many more movements are needed to reach the 50% mark but more changes are required from the structural side of the electoral college and to assist against many challenges women face when entering politics. This report has revealed some of the many solutions.
One of the solutions proposed is probably the most important to involve more women in politics in the United States is by installing quota on the number of women in the House and Congress. As it has been evidenced in Rwanda, this is a very effective strategy to make the government more inclusive and then eradicate this policy once women have made their place. United Nations suggests this figure to be 30%. Also, many women find it financially challenging to enter the legislature, so a small push from the party they are running for would enable them to truly advertise their values to the citizens. The final proposed solution is to run for non-incumbent positions as there are better chances (from statistics) to acquire those than running against someone who has been a part of the government for a long time.
Therefore, these solutions or their variations must be urgently installed to promote a true state of democracy where equal number of men and women vote and make political decisions.
Here is a list of top 10 and some other countries and their ranking against USAvii
|Rank||Country||Percentage of women in government (%)|
[i]“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: UNITED STATES.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/SEX255217#viewtop.
[ii]“Women in the U.S. Congress 2018.” Women in the U.S. Senate 2018 | CAWP, 20 Nov. 2018, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/women-us-congress-2018.
[iii]Watkins, Eli. “Women and LGBT Candidates Make History in 2018 Midterms.” CNN, Cable News Network, 7 Nov. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/11/07/politics/historic-firsts-midterms/index.html.
[iv]Alter, Charlotte. “Justin Trudeau Cabinet: Half-Female Governments Work Better.” Time, Time, 5 Nov. 2015, time.com/4101749/justin-trudeau-women-cabinet-parliament-government/.
[v]Lijphart, Arend. Patterns of Democracy. Yale University Press, 2014.
[vi]Diamond, Larry. “What Is Democracy?” Stanford University, Lecture at Hilla University for Humanistic Studies, web.stanford.edu/~ldiamond/iraq/WhaIsDemocracy012004.htm.
[vii]“Women in National Parliaments.” Women in Parliaments: World Classification, archive.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.
[viii]“The Gender of Democracy: The Link Between Women’s Rights and Democratization in the Middle East.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, carnegieendowment.org/sada/?fa=21226.
[ix]Jroland. “A Year of Data.” National Democratic Institute, NDI, 1 Mar. 2018, www.ndi.org/doublexdata.
[x]“Independence Day in the United States.” Timeanddate.com, www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/independence-day.
[xi]“Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution.
[xii]U.S. Congress, House, Office of the Historian, “Total Members of the House and State Representation,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Total-Members/Total-Members/, updated October 2, 2015, supplemented with CRS research.
[xiii]Geiger, Abigail, and Lauren Kent. “Number of Women Leaders around the World Has Grown, but They’re Still a Small Group.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 8 Mar. 2017, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/08/women-leaders-around-the-world/.
[xiv]Bullington, Julie. “Equality in Politics: A Survey of Women and Men in Parliaments.” Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, 2008, archive.ipu.org/pdf/publications/equality08-e.pdf.
[xv]“Gender Different in Voting Turnouts.” Center for Women and Politics, Rutgers University, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/resources/genderdiff.pdf.
[xvi]“Gender Gap in Voting.” Women in the U.S. Senate 2018 | CAWP, Rutgers University, 12 Nov. 2018, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/facts/voters/gender_gap.
[xvii]DeSilver, Drew. “Why Electoral College Wins Are Bigger than Popular Vote Ones.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 20 Dec. 2016, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/20/why-electoral-college-landslides-are-easier-to-win-than-popular-vote-ones/.
[xviii]Black, Eric. “10 Reasons Why the Electoral College Is a Problem.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Dec. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-black/10-reasons-why-the-electo_b_1971020.html.
[xix]Grey, CGP, director. The Trouble with the Electoral College. YouTube, YouTube, 7 Nov. 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wC42HgLA4k.
[xx]History.com Editors. “Electoral College.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Jan. 2010, www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/electoral-college.
[xxi]Manning, Jennifer E, and Ida A. Brudnick. “Women in Congress, 1917-2018: Service Dates and Committee Assignments by Member, and Lists by State and Congress.” Federation of American Scientists, Congressional Research Services, 19 Mar. 2018, fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30261.pdf.
[xxii]“Mission and History.” Women in the U.S. Senate 2018 | CAWP, 5 Jan. 2018, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/about_cawp/history-and-mission.
[xxiii]“Ready to Run® Overview.” Women in the U.S. Senate 2018 | CAWP, 9 Nov. 2018, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/education_training/ready_to_run/overview.
[xxiv]Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard Logan. Fox. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. Cambridge University Press, 2008.
[xxv]Spiegelman, Annie. “The 2012 Project: Women Wanted.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 July 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/annie-spiegelman/women-politics-election-2012-_b_1515617.html.
[xxvi]Villarán, Susana. “Stopping the Violence against Women: Program Guidance.” National Democratic Institute, www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/not-the-cost-program-guidance-final.pdf.
[xxvii]authors, History.com. “Rwandan Genocide.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/topics/africa/rwandan-genocide.
[xxviii]Dudman, Jane. “Lessons from Rwanda’s Female-Run Institutions | Jane Dudman.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 July 2014, www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jul/01/lessons-rwanda-female-run-institutions-mps.
[xxix]Jenny Cartagena Torrico in Cochabamba for , part of the. “Bolivian Women Are Breaking down Barriers to Seek Political Power.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 Aug. 2012, www.theguardian.com/global-development/2012/aug/06/bolivian-women-barriers-political-power.
[xxx]O’Donnell, Dimitri. “Bolivia Leads South America in Women’s Political Inclusion.” News | TeleSUR English, TeleSUR, 5 Apr. 2016, www.telesurenglish.net/news/Bolivia-Leads-South-America-in-Womens-Political-Inclusion-20160405-0040.html.
[xxxi]Campaignolle, Alice, et al. In Bolivia, A Backlash Against Women in Politics/En Bolivia, Una Reacción Violenta Contra Las Mujeres En Política. NACLA, 19 Nov. 2018, nacla.org/news/2018/11/19/bolivia-backlash-against-women-politicsen-bolivia-una-reacci%C3%B3n-violenta-contra-las.
[xxxii]Webber, Jeffery R. “From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia.” Haymarketbooks.org, www.haymarketbooks.org/books/354-from-rebellion-to-reform-in-bolivia.
[xxxiii]“Chapter 2: The Adoption of Gender Quotas.” Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide, by Mona Lena. Krook, Oxford University Press, 2010.
[xxxiv]“Chapter 3: What Are Quotas?” Designing for Equality: Best-Fit, Medium-Fit and Non-Favourable Combinations of Electoral Systems and Gender Quotas, by Stina Larserud and Rita Taphorn, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), 2007, p. 8.
[xxxv]“Women’s Campaign Fund,” http://www.wcfonline.org
[xxxvi]“United States House of Representatives Elections, 2016.” Ballotpedia, Dec. 2016, ballotpedia.org/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2016.
[xxxvii]“Women Candidates in Election 2018: 5 Key Data Points Midway Through the Primaries.” Women in the U.S. Senate 2018 | CAWP, 22 June 2018, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/footnotes/women-candidates-election-2018-5-key-data-points-midway-through-primaries.