In order for women to run, win, serve, and lead effectively, the systems in place must afford them the opportunity to do so. Women around the world face significant systemic obstacles that continuously deter them from running and serving in office. RepresentWomen advocates for proven strategies and reforms to help mitigate and eliminate these barriers so more women can run, win, serve, and lead around the world.
Why should we care about system-based strategies that have worked to increase the number of women in government in other countries? Research in other countries shows that having more women in government has resulted in an increase of laws to protect victims of sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence. Specific cases in countries like India and Norway also show that women politicians are more likely to address issues such as food security, childcare, and healthcare. This means that work done abroad has not only been successful in bringing more women to the table, but it has also produced policies that benefit entire communities. By observing and adopting some of the best practices that have worked internationally, the U.S. could enjoy similar, positive outcomes for women’s representation.
The U.S. currently operates by a single-member, winner-take-all system that consistently elects legislators who reflect only the biggest or strongest group of voters. This leaves many voters severely underrepresented, including women, BIPOC, and third parties while inherently favoring incumbents and reinforcing the white, cis, male status quo in government. These trends often alienate women from the political process and discourages many from challenging male incumbents.
Proportional representation is vital for ensuring government is reflective of all voters. For example, multi-member districts in proportional systems allow voters to elect several members at once, and candidates win the seats determined by the proportion of votes a party receives in most contexts. Adopting electoral practices like these in the U.S. would ensure that all citizens are represented by people with a more diverse spectrum of opinions and create more opportunities for underrepresented constituencies like women to be represented in government.
Political parties in many countries play a significant role in deciding who runs for office, and they must be tasked with incorporating more women candidates into their ranks. Gender quotas are one successful approach to this issue in many countries, where political parties commit to recruiting 40% women candidates.
Gender quotas also come in many shapes and sizes:
Currently, 84% of the top 50 countries ranked for gender parity have a gender quota in place. The U.S., ranked 83 for gender parity, has no official gender quota in place.
Women’s ministries or commissions are government bodies specifically designated to improve the status of women and advise the government on all policy matters affecting women. Beyond policy-making, women’s ministries and commissions can undertake research, facilitate redressal of grievances and are a critical link between politicians, feminist organizations, and the female electorate. They can serve as a ‘watchdog’ to ensure parties, ministries, committees, etc. are properly implementing laws or policy decisions related to women’s rights, and can provide funding support for litigation in cases of violation.
Several countries around the world have established women’s ministries and have seen quick and positive impacts. Here we highlight New Zealand.