After the recent election, the president remained the same and there were a few changes in the seats of Congress. The United States has long had a disproportionate number of men to women in the Senate and the House of Representatives – women make up about seventeen percent of each – but this year, there are now twenty conservative women and sixty Democratic women in the house. In fact, this has been called “The Year of the Woman,” and not just because of the amount of medals women won in the Olympics. There are also female cabinet members, but still no female president. Many women are questioning why there are not more women in leadership role in the government. What explains the “glass ceiling”?
Other countries around the world have similar levels of representation in government. In Angola, for example, thirty percent of government leadership is required to be female. I would like to suggest, however, that the number of women in leadership roles in a country’s government does not cause better quality of life for women in that country. There is a difference between women being prevented from leadership roles and women simply not wishing to be in those roles.
Many women who marry and have children choose to focus on raising their kids, and it can be difficult, though certainly not impossible, for mothers to become politicians. This year, China underwent a transition in leadership as well, and women now make up about twenty-five percent of the political leadership, including “Mom Communists.” I would not be too hasty to say that the women of China are entirely equal, however. They have been labeled “the most beautiful delegates” as well, and there is a stigma certainly not present with their male counterparts.
The lack of women in government certainly may be chalked up to prejudices in a patriarchal society. However, some of the attitudes about women are being reversed, even in cultures that are considered to be “traditional.” Rwanda, Liberia, and Bangladesh are among the countries that have a woman as prime minister or president. The United States, on the other hand, has not yet had a female president, or even vice-president. Is this indicative of a lack of respect or equality for women in a developed country?
I am happy to say that internationally, the glass ceilings are closer to being broken. The United States has not had a female president, but currently has a female Secretary of State in Hillary Clinton, along with more female members of Congress than ever. More than a third of Canada’s senators are women. In Mauritania, political parties with a larger makeup of women are financially rewarded. Even in the Middle East, where it is notoriously difficult for women to access education, it has been required since 2005 that a quarter of the National Assembly is made of women. These numbers – a third, a quarter – are not ideal yet ideal, but indicate a definite step in the right direction.
I hope that someday, governments will not have to induce political leadership to include women through laws or subsidies, but that women who are right for the position will have the opportunity to prove their merit.