We hope history books will say 2018 marked the year women finally began to achieve gender parity in national elected office. But it’s going to take more than hope. After all, it took 242 years to have a U.S. Congress comprised of 24 percent women.
That got me thinking: how are other countries doing in women’s representation in comparison to ours? It turns out— much better than we are.
The latest research from RepresentWomen, (a nonpartisan organization working to advance reforms to ensure more women can run, win, serve and lead) shows that the U.S. currently ranks 78th among the world’s nations for women’s representation. So much for patting ourselves on our collective backs for 2018.
What’s going on here? According to RepresentWomen, the handful of nations that have achieved gender parity and/or making great progress toward gender balance in elected office have done so because they have adopted recruitment practices and voting systems that create more opportunities for women. Such practices and systems are mostly absent in the U.S.
RepresentWomen’s 2018 research report, Why Rules and Systems Matter: Lessons from Around the World, reveals that parties recruit fewer female candidates in winnable districts. Additionally, Political Action Committees (also known as PACs) give less funding to women candidates. Furthermore, it turns out that, “female candidates are also disadvantaged by the single-winner district, plurality winner-take-all electoral system that protects incumbents and fortifies the status quo,” according to the report.
What can be done to achieve gender parity in elected office in the U.S.—or at least improve our comparative ranking? RepresentWomen’s report and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace study, Tackling Women’s Underrepresentation in U.S. Politics: Comparative Perspectives from Europe, both point out that women do better in proportional representation (PR) election systems. While the U.S. is unlikely to adopt a wholesale PR approach, we know ranked choice voting (RCV), a variation on PR, benefits women candidates (see Cynthia Richie Terrell’s blog in the February WDC newsletter describing RCV and its effect on women candidates). More than a dozen municipalities and states have already adopted RCV in their elections, but the WDC—supported bill to allow RCV in Montgomery County failed in 2019’s legislative session.
In addition to adopting RCV, we should also look at funding targets to boost women candidates. Until public financing becomes the law of the land, why shouldn’t we ask PAC funders and donors to give 50 percent of their contributions to women candidates?
But what about party recruitment of women candidates? Just how do other countries do it? Gender quotas, mostly.
Both the Carnegie and RepresentWomen reports state more women are being elected around the globe than ever before. RW created a Dashboard on International Women’s Representation to track the type of voting system & use of quotas in every nation. According to RepresentWomen’s report, “This unprecedented trend has been fueled by the adoption of gender quotas.”
The most common type of quotas in Europe are “quotas set by political parties themselves—in contrast to the mandatory legislative quotas used in developing countries,” as indicated in the Carnegie study.
The quotas idea got a boost on March 29 from The Washington Post, which published an article with the following headline: 80 Countries set quotas for female leaders. Should the U.S. be next? In the article, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called for all countries to set quotas requiring that women fill a certain percent of leadership roles. Belgium requires that an equal number of women and men appear on the ballot.
You might be wondering about what country ranks #1 for gender parity. Currently, Rwanda tops the list, with a parliament comprised of over 61 percent of women.
Rules and systems that work around the world should be adopted in the US—this is no time for American exceptionalism. We must reform the rules and systems that hold back the drive for gender parity in elected office.
Want to learn more about gender parity? Click here for more detailed information on the status of elected women around the world.