Today, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, we must acknowledge that the United State’s position in the world with regard to women’s rights is not what it should be.
The United States is a country that holds at the crux of its democracy the notion of fair and equal representation for all citizens. Despite the image of America as a country devoted to social mobility and equality, the reality is that we have serious socio-economic, racial, and gender disparities. This schism is underscored by the lack of women’s representation in American government and business.
Women make up about 51% of the American population and to fairly represent the people, women should hold about half of the elected seats in the House of Representatives (218 seats). In actuality, women currently hold 71 of those seats, or 16.3%. When women run for open seats, they often win – and as male incumbents retire, women make gains, but it’s a slow process.
The United States is ranked 72nd in the international community for its lack of women’s political leadership. Disturbingly, this puts us behind countries like Afghanistan (31st), Iraq (40th), and even Pakistan (51st). We have been outpaced by republics, communist governments, and monarchies.
However multifarious the list of governments ranking from 1-71, one shared characteristic among many of them is institutionalized quotas. India has passed legislation that requires a 30% female representation in government and France requires women to hold 40% of positions on corporate boards. Conversely, the United States has failed to take action that would increase the number of women in government or codify our rights.
The historic image of Washington as the epitome of the men’s country club where things were once settled over quality scotch and a Cuban cigar has manifested itself into genuine gender discrimination within the Congressional walls. However, the aversion to women in the political and professional spectrum runs much deeper than this type of nostalgic misogyny. Silently entrenched in the subconscious of the American party system is an understanding that politics is an inherently patriarchal system.
Across the globe women are drafting new ordinances to ensure a commitment to their rights within their own political, economic, and social systems. Currently there are 186 countries that have ratified the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, also known as CEDAW. An international women’s rights treaty, CEDAW reflects a global consciousness focused on the dynamic forms of discrimination women have always faced. Embarrassingly, the United States is the only industrialized democracy that has not yet ratified CEDAW. The lack of women in United States Congress and the indifference towards CEDAW is not coincidental.
Our strong elected women bring a unique perspective, important priorities, and make a positive difference. With more women in Congress, the US can ratify CEDAW and communicate to the rest of the world its commitment to women’s rights.
Here at home, we continue to fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, a campaign that has been fought for over 80 years! First proposed in 1923 to affirm that women and men have equal rights under the law, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.
The NWPC articulated a goal of 50/50 by 2020. Fifty percent of women in Congress by the year 2020, a scant nine years away. In the 2010 elections, for the first time in 30 years, the number of women in Congress did not increase, but stayed stagnant. Meeting our ambitious goal of gender equality seems less and less likely.
What will it take for the United States to achieve gender equality in congress? To elect a woman president? To pass CEDAW, or the ERA? To take it’s place among the top countries with strong participation by women in government and be a model for the world?
In order for women’s rights to be fully realized it is essential that women continue the fight for equal representation. The NWPC has led this fight for 40 years, guided by our founding mothers, women like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm. The Caucus encourages women to lead, trains women to run winning campaigns, and provides the political networks and support that women need to be successful.
Working in coalition with other women’s organizations through the Political Parity Project we must address the systemic reasons that women do not choose to run for office – that they often can’t afford to leave their jobs or take a leave of absence to run, they have primary childcare responsibilities, and that they haven’t built the support and financial networks they need, among others.
Given the challenges that our political parties and electoral system present for women, we have accomplished a lot in the last 40 years – moving from 2% to 16% in Congress, and many glass ceilings have been shattered, including the first woman to run for President on a major party ticket and the first woman Speaker of the House. But there is still so much to be done.
We must all work together to get more women to run and to help them win, if progress is to be made.
Thanks to Programs Director, Bettina Hager, and our interns Avalon Bellos and Alicia Barrett for their work on this, our inaugural blog!