Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

International Women’s Day: U.S. Ranks 78th (!) in World for Women in Government

Today is the 101st International Women’s Day.  Women have certainly made progress the world over in the last century, but the disheartening thing for this father of daughters is how far they still have to go–globally and here in the U.S.A.  Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian has the hard data.  Women are 51% of the global population, but there are only 2 countries where women have at least 50% of the national legislature: Andorra and Rwanda!  The U.S. has never had a woman president or even nominee by a major political party. And both times that a major party nominated a female Vice Presidential candidate (Democrats nominated U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of NY as former VP Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 and Republicans nominated Gov. Sarah Palin of AK as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008)–24 years apart(!)–she was briefly a boost, but ultimately a drag on the ticket which led that party to defeat. Currently, there are only 17 countries where women are head of government, head of state, or both.  The good news is that this is nearly double the situation in 2005.  The bad news is that women are very poorly represented in government everywhere.  The global average is only 19%.  The Nordic countries do the best, with Sweden and Finland at 42% represenation in their respective parliaments.  The United Kingdom, which has had one female Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcker, a Tory, from 1979-1990, the longest serving PM in British history), is currently a dismal 53rd in female representation in parliament. But the U.S. is even worse, 78th in percentage of women serving in Congress (either chamber).

This isn’t to deny the progress made in other areas.  One third of the U.S. Supreme Court is now composed of female justices –which is still below many other countries. Canada, for instance, also has a 9-member Supreme Court, but 4 of them are female and one is the current Chief Justice.  3 of the last 4 U.S. Secretaries of State have been women.  Women head more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, though still a minority.  But the percentage of women in Congress actually DECREASED in 2010, for the first time in decades. And now we have a major candidate for U.S. president who believes that women should NOT be employed outside the home, but should stay home and homeschool the children.  (As an individual choice that some make, I support this, where it is economically feasible. In a world where one income seldom keeps a family of four in even the lower middle class, however, this is unrealistic for the vast majority of families.  And even where it is feasible, I support it only if it is something chosen equally by the couple, not something imposed by law or social pressure.) What’s next? Arguing that women be denied the right to vote? To drive cars (as in Saudi Arabia)? To own property in their own names?

Meaning no disrespect at all to the many men who champion the rights and wellbeing of women, but it seems to me that this lack of proportional representation is DIRECTLY related to the suppression of women’s rights globally and in the U.S.  Would we seriously be debating whether or not insurance should cover birth control if the number of women in Congress (and state legislatures) represented their 51% of the population? Would anyone DREAM of having an all-male panel to debate the subject? Is there any way that the average pay for women would STILL be only 77% of male pay for the same job if women were even close to 50% of our state legislatures and Congress? Would sexual harassment penalties go unenforced or rape underreported if women were proportionally represented?  Would misogyny be openly defended as “freedom of religion” or “free speech” if women were 51% of legislatures? I highly doubt it.

I am not putting women on a pedastal. I do not believe in their moral superiority.  Alas, when they are elected, they seem to vote for wars and injustice as often as their male counterparts, more’s the pity.  They can be just as blinded by race and class as men.  Electing a woman for president will no more automatically usher in a golden age than electing the first African-American did.  The system is rigged to keep the most progressive from ever getting that far, it seems.  But the injustices that are heaped on women AS women would almost certainly decrease with greater representation BY women.  And proportional representation is central to democracy.  Electing more women to all levels of government is simply more just.  That doesn’t make any woman X better as a candidate than any man Y. Character, platforms, etc. still make all the difference.

But women have had the right to vote in this nation since 1920. So, why are we still 78th in the world in female Congressional representation in 2012?  We need more women in all levels of government and I hope both major parties in the U.S. nominate female candidates for president in 2016.

101 International Women’s Days. So far come, but, O, so far to go.

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March 7, 2012 - Posted by | civil rights, feminism, human rights, justice, U.S. politics

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