U.S. ranks behind Saudi Arabia in representation of women in office, even as more women contemplate running here
A record number of women in the United States are expected to run for office in 2018, according to experts, spurred on by the election of Donald Trump as well as subsequent efforts to build women’s political power, such as the Women’s March. While American women reach new milestones, including holding a record number of seats in the Senate, their representation in national legislative office still lags behind a hundred other countries, including falling two places below Saudi Arabia, which is notorious for its terrible treatment of women.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, told The Associated Press. EMILY’S List works to elect women who support abortion rights at all levels of government. Schriock said: “Every day, dozens more women come to our website, come to our Facebook page and say, ‘I am mad as hell, I want to do something about it. What should I do now?'”
In the four weeks after the 2016 election, 1,000 women came to the group’s website to learn about running for office. That number has now surpassed 26,000. By comparison, the group was in contact with 960 women during the previous election cycle, according to The Associated Press.
Women are also now actually entering public office at record numbers. On Wednesday, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, was sworn into the U.S. Senate, a position she was appointed to following the resignation of Sen. Al Franken. With Smith now seated, Congress’ upper chamber has set a new record in terms of female representation, with 22 women now able to cast a vote.
That’s a significant increase from 10 or 20 years ago, Jean Sinzdak, associate director at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told Fortune magazine, but still far less than the 50-50 representation that would constitute gender parity.
Women hold only six of the country’s governorships, and only one in five mayoral posts in U.S. cities with populations over 30,000. And, according to an analysis published by the Guardian in September, President Trump is “on track to assemble the most male-dominated federal government in nearly a quarter-century,” with 80 percent of nominations for top jobs going to men.
The Geneva-based nonprofit Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks female representation in national parliaments across the world, based on the percentage of women in the lower or single legislative body, which in the United States would constitute the House of Representatives. As of October, the United States ranked 101st out of 193 countries. (Saudi Arabia, ranked above the U.S., first allowed women to serve in the national legislature in 2013. Women are now required to hold at least 20 percent of seats.)
Countries ranked in the top 10 for female representation include Number 3, Cuba (49 percent), Number 6, Sweden (44 percent), and Number 8, South Africa (42 percent). In Rwanda, which is ranked first, women compose 61 percent of women in the lower house of Parliament. But political representation is only one measure of relative political power, and in Rwanda—as elsewhere—this data may obscure the broader social dynamics at play. For example, Rwandan Ph.D. student Justine Uvuza told NPR that even women in the country who held positions of power in the public realm, including in parliament, might face very different power dynamics in their private lives.
“One [women parliamentarian] told me how her husband expected her to make sure that his shoes were polished, the water was put in the bathroom for him, his clothes were ironed,” said Uvuza in the NPR interview, adding that she wished Rwanda could engage in a real debate over the limits of equality.
Uvuza’s research underlines the complex and multivaried forces that shape women’s political power as well as their worldviews. The Newcastle University student also polled Rwanda’s female legislators about whether they would support a feminist women’s movement in the country, and almost all of them said no. Feminism is “not Rwandan,” they told her. “That’s for Westerners.”
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