Have you ever blown bubbles in a plate of instant mashed potatoes without any gravy? That is the United States Congress. With the House and Senate both being around 80 percent male, House being roughly 79 percent and the Senate being 90 percent white, the 115th Congress will be the most diverse in American History. That was not a typo.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United States is the 104th best country for women’s representation, below Madagascar but above Tajikistan. The Pew Research Center showcases that despite the majority of Americans “finding women indistinguishable from men in key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation” there is still a lack of women in key government and business leadership positions. Pew subsequently points to “double standards” as the top reasons for the dearth of women’s representation, whereby women have to work more than men in order to prove their worth.
In their book Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective Pamela Paxton and Melanie M. Hughes explore factors that better facilitate women’s political representation. They point out how proportional representation, which is percentage of votes equals percentage of seats for a party, does a lot more for women legislators since there are greater opportunities to gain political office. Nonetheless, Paxton and Hughes make sure to point out that the system is not a panacea, since whether women can get on the list of PR candidates at all can be a barrier in and of itself. Parties can put men at the top of lists for those to get seats, women can be put at the bottom, and there has to be at least five potential representatives per district if there is to be meaningful women’s representation.
International Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations can be especially helpful in getting women into political positions due to their resources and influence. Women’s International Non-Governmental Organizations can train women policymakers at global conferences as well as teach social movement tactics to promote gender equality so that participants return to their home country with methods and strategies for political mobilization. Other organizations such as the United Nations, the International Labor Organization, and the World Bank can simultaneously provide skills, knowledge, and resources for women to run for office and craft demand for women politicians.
They can also make the crafting of gender quotas, or political seats saved for women, a condition for aid in developing countries. Paxton and Hughes refer to this and other forms of international leveraging as the “boomerang effect”, whereby domestic women’s organizations utilize influential international groups to put pressure on ruling bodies to open up opportunity pathways for them.
Following the Women’s March, organizations such as VoteRunLead and EMILY’S List which specialize in training women political candidates saw substantial recruitment, laying foundations for more women to seek political office at local and national levels. The United States’ 20 percent of women in Congress statistic is abysmal, but with the right civic mobilization and social capital efforts, America might one day be as good as Madagascar.
(featured image source flickr-Fibonacci Blue)