Your Vote Matters: The Scary Lack of Women in Political Office

It’s that special time of the year again—no, not Halloween; election season. I know, not even the exciting presidential elections, but their boring cousin: the midterms. Lackluster, right? Wrong. Much scarier than any ghost story is the current state of women’s representation in the United States. You’ve heard it before: women make up only 18% of Congress, we’ve never had a female President…

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Still not convinced that you should care about electing more women? Let’s consider the World Economic Forum’s recently published Gender Gap Report. Every year, the WEF ranks each country based on the extent of its overall gender gap in education, health, politics, and the economy. This year, the United States ranks 20th out of 142 countries—not bad, you think? Let’s take a closer look. The top 5 countries (the countries with the smallest gender gap) are the usual suspects: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. From there, the ranking gets really interesting. Among the countries with a smaller gender gap than the US are: Nicaragua (ranked 5), Rwanda (ranked 6), the Philippines (ranked 9), Burundi (ranked 17), and South Africa (ranked 18). The gender gap is calculated across four indicators and for all but one, the US does not make it into the top 30. The good news is that the US ranks 4th in economic participation and opportunity, getting top scores in two sub-categories: professional and technical workers (ratio female over males) and estimated earned income (female estimated earned income over male income). Yet in the sub-category hotly debated by politicians and journalists alike—wage equality—the United States ranks 65th out of 142 countries. In educational attainment, we rank 39th; in health and survival, 62nd; and in political empowerment, 54th.

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Let’s focus on political empowerment. Across all three categories measured, the United States lags behind much of the world: women in parliament (ranked 83), women in ministerial positions (ranked 25), and years with a female head of state (ranked 64). The countries ranked ahead of us overall have substantially more women in their parliaments. For example, Rwandan women make up the majority of legislators at 63.8%. Women make up 42% of the national parliament in Nicaragua, 40.8% in South Africa, 30.5% in Burundi, and 27.3% in the Philippines. Countries as diverse as Australia, India, Israel, Liberia, Pakistan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom have already elected a woman to the highest executive office in the country.

This midterm, 160 women are counting on your votes for federal and statewide offices. Both the GOP and the Democratic Party have placed female candidates in key races—think Wendy Davis in Texas and Joni Ernst in Iowa. Yet 2014 will not shape up to be another Year of the Woman; even if these women win, we will maintain the same dismally low levels of women representation. So march down to your polling station and support a woman candidate if you can; or even better, run for office in 2016. Without more voters demanding more female candidates and without parties encouraging more women to run, it will take 71 years to achieve gender equality in the House, 89 years in the Senate, and 139 years in state legislatures. Now that’s a scary thought!

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First published on Political Parity’s blog on November 3, 2014

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