Democratic socialist candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated veteran Democrat Joe Crowley in a stunning upset in New York’s primary elections Tuesday night that revealed a deep rift in liberal politics.
Ocasio-Cortez’s win is also a big deal for women and for American culture. If she wins in the general election in November and heads to Congress, she could become a part of an important phenomenon researchers have discovered again and again.
Research shows women govern differently than men in ways that change policy and even social attitudes. When more women get into politics, a lot more changes than you might think.
Academics have found this over and over again: Women legislators are more likely to introduce legislation that specifically benefits women. They’re better at bringing funding back to their home districts. They get more done. A woman legislator, on average, passed twice as many bills as a male legislator in one recent session of Congress.
But the research that stands out most shows that having more women in elected office fundamentally changes the way that society perceives women — and the way that young women think about themselves.
When more women run for and win elected office, adolescent girls are more likely to indicate an interest in running for office. And according to one major, peer-reviewed study conducted in India, more women in government office leads to parents perceiving their daughters differently, assigning them less housework, and investing more in their educations.
The United States has spent decades falling behind on women’s representation in elected office. In 1997, we used to rank 41st in the world for the percentage of nationally elected seats held by women. These days, we’ve fallen all the way down to 103th, with 19.4 percent of congressional seats occupied by women legislators.
A record number of female candidates running for office and scoring electoral victories in 2018’s midterm primaries. It’s quite possible that, come early 2019, we’ll have more women serving as governors, senators, and House members than ever before.
The 2018 midterms have a chance to begin reversing those trends — and that could make a huge difference for young women growing up in the United States today.
Women legislators get more done
Congress has become increasingly female over the past three decades. In 1991 there were 33 women legislators. Today there are 104.
That’s still far from gender parity; men outnumber women four to one in Congress. But all signs so far from the 2018 midterms suggest the number of women will rise come November.
“According to Bloomberg, 41 of the 92 women, or nearly half, running for the House or Senate are expected to advance in their races,” Vox’s Li Zhou wrote of the primaries earlier this week. “Women also dominated a slew of statewide contests, including governors’ races in South Dakota and Alabama. And while a majority of Tuesday’s wins were on the Democratic side, much like those in previous primaries this year, Republican women in California and New Mexico saw some victories as well.”
And already, the increased presence of women legislators in Congress has changed the way the legislative body works.
Michele Swers, a political scientist at Georgetown University, has written multiple books examining how this shifting gender balance has changed the body. Her research consistently finds that women in Congress tend to shift the conversation to focus more on bills and policies that relate to women specifically — such as increasing paid leave or prosecuting violence against women.
One of her papers looked at Congress in the mid-1990s, comparing women and men legislators of similar ideologies. She found that liberal women legislators co-sponsored an average of 10.6 bills related to women’s health — an average of 5.3 more than their liberal male colleagues.
Changing the conversation can have an effect on the laws that Congress eventually passes: One recent study of Congress since 2009 found that the average woman legislator had 2.31 of her bills enacted, compared with men, who turned 1.57 bills into law.
“Women in Congress are just more likely to prioritize issues that have a direct connection to women — violence against women, family leave policy, those kind of things,” Swers told me. “The more you can directly connect the consequence to women, the more you see female legislators getting involved.”
Having more women in government affects how society thinks of all women
One reason we might care about increasing women’s representation in government is if we think they will govern differently — if we think different laws will get passed or certain topics will get discussed at greater length.
And the studies discussed above certainly do show that to be the case.
But more importantly, having more women in government changes how society thinks about all women — and how young women think about themselves.
Christina Wolbrecht, a political scientist at Notre Dame University, has found that adolescent girls are more likely to indicate an interest in running for office during years when there is lots of media coverage of women in politics.
Another one of her studies looked at 23 developed countries with varied levels of women in government. It found that in the countries with more women legislators, young women were more likely to participate in politics and have political discussions, and that young women expressed a greater interest in becoming politically active in the future.
Or consider an influential 2012 study in the journal Science, which looked at what happened when India randomly assigned some political positions to women. In villages assigned to have women “pradhans,” essentially city council chiefs, parents became more aspirational in what they expected of their daughters.
The fraction of parents who believed that a daughter’s occupation (but not a son’s) should be determined by her in-laws declined from 76 percent to 65 percent. Adolescent girls in those areas also became less likely to want to be housewives — and the gap in educational attainment between young boys and young girls completely closed.
Of course, there are significant differences between India and the United States. But the idea that representation changes how we perceive a younger generation — what types of things they’ll be able to achieve in their lifetimes, what sort of careers they ought to pursue — is pretty universal.
All of this research shows that it can matter hugely when we see someone like ourselves in a position of power. It shows: You can do this too.
It’s likely that the ranks of Democratic women in the House will continue to go up, simply because so many women are running and winning primaries. (It will be harder for female Democrats to make gains in the Senate, because two female senators — North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill — are running in heavily Republican states and might lose.)
But on the GOP side, a number of the current women in the House could be defeated. Of the 68 House GOP seats considered “in play” by the nonpartisan election tracking site Inside Elections, 11 (16 percent) are held by Republican women, who hold 23 (about 10 percent) of Republicans’ total 235 House seats.6
The GOP Senate landscape is somewhat more favorable to women, in part because there are some signs that the Republican establishment is practicing identity politics to some degree and making intentional efforts to promote female candidates despite the aversion to specific gender appeals by some in the party.
Britain’s 350 biggest stock market-listed companies will have to appoint women to more than 40% of all their boardroom positions over the next two years to meet the government-backed target for corporate gender equality by 2020.
Figures released on Wednesday by the Hampton-Alexander review, a government initiative to tackle UK corporate gender inequality, show that FTSE 350 companies are still far short of the target to have 33%-female boardrooms and 10 firms still have all-male boards.
Women hold 29% of boardroom positions at FTSE 100 companies, an increase from 12.5% in 2011, and are on track to meet the 33% target by 2020.
However, progress has been slower in the wider FTSE 350, with women making up only 25.5% of all directors.
The review named and shamed 10 “dark ages” companies who have failed to appoint any women to the top table two years after the 33% target was set.
They are Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, Stobart Group, Baillie Gifford Japan Trust, Daejan Holdings, Herald Investment Trust, IntegraFin Holdings, JP Morgan Japanese Investment Trust, On The Beach Group, TBC Bank and Ti Fluid Systems.
Rachel Reeves, a Labour MP and chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “The inglorious 10 companies who still have all-male boards need to drag themselves out of the dark ages and ensure they bring in a more diverse and valuable perspective to the running of their businesses rather than running a closed club of the old boys’ network.
“Many of our biggest companies still have a long way to go to meet the 2020 goals. Progress at the board table is at snail’s pace and far too few women are taking the helm as chief executives.”
Victoria Atkins, the minister for women, said there was no excuse for having an all-male board.
Sir Philip Hampton, the chairman of GlaxoSmithKline and co-chair of the government’s corporate gender equality review with the late Dame Helen Alexander, said: “It is good to see progress of women on boards continuing, with the FTSE100 likely to hit the 33% target in 2020. However, nearly half of available board appointments in the run-up to 2020 now need to go to women if the FTSE 350 are to meet the target. Far too many companies still have no women – or only one woman – on their board.”
A Sports Direct spokesman said it was committed to meeting the gender gender diversity target. “We are currently interviewing a number of female candidates to join the board as non-executive directors and our next workers’ representative to the board will also be female,” he said.
Stobart Group said it has identified an “excellent female candidate” for the position of independent non-executive director but the appointment is on hold until after its annual meeting on 6 July.
Another interesting story this week came from The Star Online which profiles Malaysia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail pictured above:
Then there is the women’s representation issue – Pakatan’s manifesto called for at least 30% of the country’s policy makers to be women but that has not happened in the state excos.
“It is a target that we talk about. I spoke to the PM yesterday; he did mention, he was thinking of how to get the cabinet balanced and how to consider different parties, and I looked at him and said ‘and women too’.
“There are some new phases and changes in the Cabinet coming, but I also want to add that we want women to be recruited based on capability and their qualification, not just because of gender.”
Dr Wan Azizah says that the global reaction to the #MeToo movement has brought fresh attention to the need for a sexual harassment act.
“Women do not like to be treated as sex subjects. You should treat us with dignity, and respect. At the moment, we as employees are protected at the workplace. But outside work, there is a gap.””
Dr Wan Azizah also moots the possibility of setting up a women empowerment and leadership institute.
“All of these things are on the cards – that we want to be something, make a change and difference in society.”
While the EU Reporter profiled women's representation in the Ukraine where women hold about 12% of parliamentary seats:
Not everyone is aware of gender discrimination in Ukraine. Not many think about gender equality in Ukrainian politics. However, when we go for numbers, the situation looks horrible. While women take 22% of places in national parliaments in the world, in Ukraine this number is only 12.5%. A few years ago, it was 4% and later 8%. The percentage of women in the parliament in Ukraine is even lower than the medium one for Arab countries, which is 17%, writes Alina Nychyk.
Talking about lower levels of politics in Ukraine, there is only one woman the governor of the region – Kharkiv oblast. While there are only 9.6 % of women heading cities, there are 19.3% heading villages. It is easier for Ukrainian women to get lower positions in politics.
Why in the society, where women have been playing crucial role in the whole history, female part of 45-million nation experience huge difficulties in entering the world of politics? Ukraine has its history of women in power. Grand Princess of Kiev Olga, Anna Yaroslavna – the queen of France or Roksolana, who was ruling the whole Ottoman Empire – are only the most well-known examples. From the other side, one of the biggest feminist organization in Europe, the Ukrainian Woman’s Union, was founded during the 1920s in western Ukraine.
While Ukraine search for closer co-operation with the European Union, there are some positive steps in gender indiscriminative legislation. In 2013, the legislative quota of 30% was adopted, but it did not bring the expected results in the 2014 elections (20 out of 29 parties did not fulfill this requirement). The issue is that there were no penalties for the violation of the norm. Now, there are only 53 women out of the 423 deputies of Verhovna Rada. Out of the 47 women elected in 2014 to parliament only two achieved this by winning a constituency (the election used a mixed electoral system with 53.2% MP’s elected under party lists and 46.8% in 198 constituencies). This proves the attitude of general public to women as politicians in Ukraine.
The European average amount of women in national parliaments is 23.4%. Only in neighboring Romania the rate of women in parliament is lower than in Ukraine (9.6%). In the European Parliament, 37% deputies are women. Countries with the highest percentage of women in national parliaments are Norway and Sweden – 40 and 45 % respectively.
Ukrainian women work hard for the development of the country, but sometimes stay behind the curtain and do not reveal their whole potential. Women can become the driving force of democratic reforms, but also of Ukraine’s integration into the EU. However, attitude of Ukrainian society still keeps many talented women away from their dream jobs in politics.
Increasing women’s representation in the government can empower women and is necessary to achieve gender parity. Women stand for stability, social justice and sustainable development. They support co-operation between nations and less probably get involved in interstate conflicts.
Ukraine is going to the EU and empowering Ukrainian women to become part of this road will definitely accelerate the process!
The Irish Examiner had a short piece about the call for gender quotas at the local level in Ireland based on their success at the national level - I am excited by the embrace of recruitment targets aka quotas in Ireland - this discussion illustrates the leadership needed to make serious progress toward parity:
While gender quotas have been applied at national level, meaning at least 30% of general election candidates must be female, there are no stipulations when it comes to local elections.
Under the plans, political parties could receive funding to hire a women’s officer who would promote and support women in the party.
It is understood that the Department is supportive of the initiative, which was put forward by the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus, and are working to bring in measures before the 2019 local elections in a bid to encourage more women to stand.
Chair of the Women’s Caucus, Catherine Martin, who brought the suggestions to the department, pointed out that gender quotas have succeeded in electing more women to the Dáil, but at local level 79% of councillors are men, which she said needs to change.
Ms Martin said she believes the funding incentive could be introduced through regulation rather than legislation, which would mean it could be in place for next year’s local elections.
“I am hopeful that there will be something in place for next year,” she said. “We have seen how gender quotas have worked in the general election, we need something to encourage women to get involved at a local level.
“It has been shown that locally elected positions offer a springboard into national politics.”
Earlier this month, the Collins Institute, a policy think tank supported by Fine Gael, also called for further supports to encourage greater participation by women across all aspects of Irish life, including business and politics. They suggested that gender quotas to be introduced for local election candidates from 2019.
The Women’s Council of Ireland also supports gender quotas at a local level.
Women’s representation in Turkey’s parliament has hit a new high.
In the wake of the landmark June 24 elections, a total of 103 women will take seats in the 600-seat parliament, according to unofficial results.
This makes for a rate of women’s representation of 17.1 percent, up from 14.7 percent in the last parliament.
The People's Democratic Party (HDP) takes the lead in women representation, making up 25 of the HDP's 67 lawmakers.
Next comes the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party with 53 women among its 295 lawmakers.
Then comes the main opposition CHP, which has 18 deputies among its 147 lawmakers.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has five women among its 49 lawmakers.
Parliament's new Good (IYI) Party has three women among 43 lawmakers.
According to official results of Sunday's elections, the Justice and Development (AK) Party won 295 seats in the 600-member Grand National Assembly.
The CHP came in second, claiming 146 seats, while the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) secured 67 seats, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) 49 seats, and the IYI Party 43 seats.
Thanks for all you are doing to advance women's representation,
P.S. I hope to see many of you at Seneca Falls Revisited: A Women's Equality Weekend in upstate NY August 23-26. Check out the fabulous speakers here and reserve your hotel room here by July 24th. We owe it to those who gathered in Seneca Falls in July 1848 to finish the work they started.