Contributed by: Kendall Krumme
The United States democratic system is supposed to be a model for the rest of the world as a representative government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. In many ways, we accomplish this feat by holding fair elections, maintaining free press and speech, and conducting peaceful protests when we believe the government is doing something wrong. However, our government is fairly unrepresentative of the population, especially when it comes the sex, race, and religion. In this post I will focus on the lack of representation for women in the federal, state, and local government. Why are girls and women consistently underrepresented in our local, state, and federal governments? Women make up half of our country yet not even close to half of our representatives. This is a problem because we often find older men making decisions about women’s health, family care, and employment opportunities; women’s issues that they do not have experience with. We must encourage more women to run for office in order for there to be equal representation.
One of the more alarming trends that we see is a stagnation of growth in political representation for women. Ever since the 1970s, the amount of women has increased in government, including a huge spike of women in government in 1992 which has subsequently been deemed the “Year of the Woman.” However, the steady rate of increase in women’s political representation has leveled off since the mid-2000s. (Kurtzleben) This is an issue because there at this point there is nowhere near the representation in government that would be considered equal. Pictured below is a chart that shows the proportion of men and women that hold certain positions in government.
As of 2016, women make up 24.5% of state legislatures, 19.4% of congress members, 12% of governors, and 18.9% of mayors with cities of more than 30,000 residents. (Catalyst) And, of course, we have never had a woman president, a feat that many of our international allies have already achieved. Another trend we see is that there is a higher number of women in Congress who identify as democrats than republicans. In addition, there are very few women of color in government positions. For instance, there is only one governor who is a woman of color and women of color only make up 7.1% of Congress. These statistics further demonstrate that women are underrepresented in government, especially women of color. (Catalyst)
So why aren’t there more women in office? Recent polls show that around 92% of Americans would vote for a qualified woman for a political position. (Kurtzleben) The reason we lack equal representation is because women rarely make it to the ballot in the first place. Women are more hesitant than men to run for public office. In a 2012 report, American University professor of government Jennifer Lawless and Loyola Marymount University political science professor Richard Fox studied why women who are qualified for a position or possibly interested in politics, like lawyers and activists, are less likely to run for public office. Their conclusion consisted of seven barriers that keep many women from running for office. They are the following:
- Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
- Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena. Meaning, women saw how Clinton and Palin were treated and perceived by the public and the media in 2008 election and decided not to run.
- Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
- Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
- Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns. This includes loss of privacy, less time with family, the possibility of having to engage in a negative campaign, and more.
- Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office — from anyone, including family and party recruiters.
- Women are still responsible for the majority of child care and household tasks. (Kurtzleben)
While this is troubling information, I believe that we can solve this dilemma and recruit more women to run for public office and I also believe that the Girls Empowerment Network is one of the many avenues that encourages women to run for office in the future. Girls are often told they can be “whatever they want to,” but often young girls do not believe that message. At GEN, we help girls find their power and gain confidence. We KNOW that girls can do anything and we want to make sure they know that too.
An increase in confidence could combat many of the reasons why women don’t run for office at the same rate as men do. We hope to prepare girls to take on challenges while feeling good that the challenge is worthwhile and that this could contribute to an increase in female politicians. In addition, the more people advocate for women, the more women advocate for themselves. Someone is more likely to take a chance and run for public office if somebody else encourages them to take that risk. This is true for both men and women. When men are encouraged more, men run more often. It is time for all of us to support more women to run for public office because I know that women can and will succeed.
At GEN, we know that girls and women are leaders who are strong, brave, confident, and assertive. We have a duty to advocate for women and encourage women to pursue their interests, even if there is risk involved. So let’s take action to create a more equal, representative government.
Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Almost 1 in 5 Congress Members Are Women.” NPR. NPR, 11 June 2016. Web. 24 July 2017.
“Women in Government.” Catalyst. N.p., 30 May 2017. Web. 24 July 2017.