June 26, 2012

If You Care About Women’s Equality, the Following May Disturb You. ~ Hayley Samuelson

Hayley Samuelson

I grew up in a family of strong, intelligent and opinionated women who ensured that I would be raised in an environment where I would never have to question my dreams or goals.

Throughout my childhood, I never felt restricted by my gender and felt equal if not better than my male counterparts.

As I grew older, I studied injustices towards women in history and in contemporary society. In college, I dedicatedly memorized women’s liberations in the U.S., eventually shifting my studies towards the international realm. I learned about women in countries all over the world that were denied education, forced into domestic duties, knew little about the diseases that plagued them, mutilated simply because they were female and never given the chance to feel the autonomy I felt.

During a recent lecture I attended on Women and Politics in Latin America, my professor explained about how in the late ’80s, many countries in Latin America enforced a quota system in their political representation.

A quota system requires a certain percentage of legislative candiates to be female. These countries enforced quotas to boost the image of their country, to appear more modern and more democratic to the rest of the world.

I was surprised to learn that Cuba was represented by 45 percent women in their legistlature and that many Latin American countries had a history of multiple female presidents. This made me curious, how did my own country, where I felt to be a compelte equal to men, compare?

After some research, I found this Google document, The Guardian compiled for 2012’s International Women’s Day, showing the representation of women in legislature country by country all over the world…the results were completely unexpected.

At first glance, I was confused…number one, Rwanda…number two, Andorra…number three, Cuba…where was the U.S.? I began scrolling and didn’t even see it in the top ten. After I passed 20, I  scrolled back up to the top to go down slower, thinking I missed something. Then after I passed 50, I was dumbfounded.

I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until I reached number 97.

When I reached 97, I could hardly believe it. I expected the notoriously forward thinking Norse countries like Sweden and Finland and even European countries like the Netherlands and France to beat us out, but the majority of the 96 countries before the U.S. were ones I would have never guessed.

Mozambique, Uganda, Ecuador, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Tajikistan…the list of countries with what I considered to be an unexpectedly high amount of women in legislature goes on and on.

Looking closer at number 97, I found that in the United States of America women hold 17 percent of the seats in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

To break that down farther, women occupy 17 out of the 100 Senate seats, meaning men fill 83 of the seats. In the House of Representatives women hold only 73 of the 434 seats. With even more research, I found that only six of the 50 states are represented by a female governor.

I have been studying feminism for quite sometime now and know that the gender barriers in the U.S. are not non-existent, like my 10-year-old self once believed but even still, it seems peculiar that these countries I had prejudiced as being less modern and less democratic, were significantly more accepting of women in politics that in the U.S.

How can we claim to be such a modern country, when our legislative branch lacks significant women’s input (not to mention lacking diversity in many other spheres)?

That being said, many of these countries do employ a quota system, which is not very democratic. The quota system does normalize the idea of women in political office, brings women’s issues onto the political agenda and helps people overcome gender barriers. However, it may also delegitimize women, because constituents could assume women representatives are only in their position because of the quota.

I’m not saying that a higher percentage of women in legislature leads to better representation of women’s issues (because in many cases this is not true) or complete gender equality, but it is a start. It makes sense to have a high percentage of women with decision making power when many laws created directly affect women.

In the U.S. for example, I’ve been hearing multiple stories of committee meetings held regarding reproductive health without one women present in the room.

How can a man, who will never be pregnant or have to deal with many of the reproductive health issues facing women, make decisions regarding the well being of all women in a country?

Having a woman’s input is important in this issue and in every issue.

Representative wise, the U.S. does not appear to be equal. But, in terms of day to day life, as a woman, I am in many ways more equal than in some of the countries above the U.S. on the list, so I can’t complain. It would just be nice to see more women in politics.

Increasing the underrepresented groups in our legislature, increases the number of ideas and viewpoints that are considered before passing a bill.

I hope this makes you take a second to think next time before you vote. I’m not saying to vote for a woman just because she’s a woman. But think about how a woman’s perspective may influence the decision making process. If you don’t agree with the female candidates out there, maybe encourage worthy women you know to run for office.



Hayley studied journalism, politics and international media at the University of Colorado—Boulder. In between juggling school and various jobs, she makes time to snowboard, travel, write and craft. She surrounds herself with people that motivate and embrace her as she strives to make a difference in anyway she can. Follow her on twitter.


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