Nearly a quarter of federal lawmakers worldwide are now women, the latest International Parliamentary Union report has concluded. Just 11.3 percent of these posts were held by women in 1995 — substantial gains have been made over the past 24 years — but the global community is still a long way away from achieving true gender parity in elected leadership.
March 8th marks the 117th anniversary of the International Women’s day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year’s theme, #BalanceforBetter, seeks to bring attention to the expectation of balance across all facets of leadership including gender-balanced government.
The IPU report highlights the historic gains made by women in the United States November midterm elections, catching the world’s attention and promoting greater encouragement for future female candidates. Yet even with record numbers of women running and winning this past fall, the level of women serving in federal office remains fairly consistent with worldwide means.
In the 116th Congress, 23.7 percent of Congress and Senate positions are currently held by women. On the local level, among the 100 largest cities in the United States, 25 have women mayors. For statewide office, women’s representation is marginally better, comprising 27.6 percent of statewide executive office, and 28.7 percent of state legislature positions in 2019.
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) February 6, 2019
As these statistics highlight, the United States still has a long way to go before true gender-balanced government becomes a reality, currently ranked 78th among 193 nations examined for number of women serving in national parliaments. But with just 54 women serving in the 103rd Congress in 1995, the 127 currently serving in the 116th represents accelerated improvements in recent history.
As Samantha Pettey, an expert on female candidates in the U.S., told The Globe Post, “when women run, they win,” begging the question, why do so few women run?
As Pettey explained, “one of the biggest hindrances to women gaining office is that many women do not run for office.” A varied number of factors impact their low participation rates, including “socialization, incumbency advantage, lack of recruitment, and family roles,” she said.
Data from the Center for American Women and Politics highlights that in certain regions across the United States, women may feel these effects to varying degrees. In Vermont, a woman has never served in either the House of Representatives or U.S. Senate, but in New York, 29 women have served in Congress, and in California, leading the nation with most women elected to federal office — 43 have served to date.
It’s easy to shrug off these gains in New York and California as byproducts of the sheer number of seats available in these larger states, but neither state even cracks the top 10 list for number of women serving in statewide legislatures in 2019. Nevada tops the list with 50.8 percent of women serving in state senate and state houses across the country, and Colorado (47.0 percent), and Oregon (41.1 percent) follow second and third.
These states lead the way in advancing a climate accessible to women’s leadership, but little scholarship exists on why certain states have made larger gains than others — due to the new and limited tenure of women in these posts.
The variations in women’s leadership among states within the United States stands alongside global variations and trends among certain regions. According to U.N. Women, Nordic countries, followed by the United States, lead with the most women serving in parliamentary roles, while Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific maintain the lowest number of women in single, lower, and upper houses combined.
— UN Women (@UN_Women) March 2, 2019
But on the 2019 International Women’s Day celebrating #BalanceforBetter, Rwanda remains the leader in female political leadership, where women make up 61 percent of parliamentary seats. This surge followed the creation of the 2003 Rwandan Constitution that set a quota of 30 percent for women’s parliamentary participation. Only one women, however, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, has occupied the post of Prime Minister, and her tenure only lasted one year due to her assassination in 1994.
The World Economic Forum has concluded that worldwide, almost half of the world’s countries have broken the glass ceiling to become head of state. While the United States has not led in that regard, a record number of women have announced their presidency for 2020, creating a climate of continued momentum for women’s executive leadership following the historic 2018 midterm elections.
The benefits to gender parity extend far beyond creating a more empowered, accessible world for women. In Norway, a direct causal relationship was found between the presence of women on local councils and increased access to childcare coverage.
But as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of U.N. Woman has emphasized, “According to available data, it will be some 50 years before gender parity is reached in politics. Unless political parties take bolder steps.”