Women Have Very Little Political Power Anywhere In The World

Women are underrepresented in 145 out of 145 countries.
LM Otero/AP

When Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, announced he had appointed women to half of his government's cabinet positions, many people asked him why.

"Because it's 2015," he replied.

But 2015 isn't an especially progressive time in the political world for gender equality. There are zero countries where women have equal representation with men. Zero.

A new report on global gender equality by the World Economic Forum, the Geneva-based nonprofit most famous for its uber-elite economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, shows that while women are inching toward global parity in education, health, and to a lesser extent economic outcomes, they are still woefully underrepresented in national governments.

Of 145 countries in the index, only four (Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Nicaragua) are more than halfway toward equality at the parliamentary, ministerial, and head-of-state levels of government. The majority of countries are below a quarter of the way to equality.

This is no accident.

"Political power continues to be one of the great bastions of masculinity, almost anywhere you go in the world," said Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden, who studies the subject.

Without political power, women can fight and claw their way toward other types of equality, but their fates are still ultimately in the hands of men.

World Economic Forum

Many of the top 20 countries on the list in terms of political empowerment -- including Rwanda, Bangladesh, and Costa Rica -- only got there through some sort of quota system that forces political parties to recruit and groom women for political office.

The United States comes in 72nd on the list, about halfway down.

In the U.S., things aren't getting better. In fact, they are getting worse. Why? Mostly money. Campaign finance is killing diversity (by gender and race), according to Shames.

The burden that the U.S. political system puts on candidates to fund and run campaigns on their own is unique. In countries with parliamentary systems, the party often shoulders much of the burden of raising money (or the state pays candidates to run) and setting up events, said Shames. Political races only last a few weeks, or a few months. Hillary Clinton announced her presidential campaign a full 19 months before the November 2016 election.

"My dissertation research was talking to people about why they wouldn’t want to run for office. Almost nobody liked the idea of having to raise all the money themselves. But women disliked it more," said Shames.

Shames said that while women can raise just as much money as men in political campaigns, and win races at similar rates, it takes twice as many phone calls by female candidates to raise the same amount of money. In other words, women have to work twice as hard to get to the same place. Add to that the difficulty of beating (mostly male) incumbents, sexism from the media, the contemporary view of congressional politics (the young women she knows mostly see "white men shouting at each other," said Shames), and a grueling campaign schedule likely to put off anyone with significant family responsibilities.

It's not a surprise that the U.S. political pipeline is just as white and male as it has been for the last two decades. The question now is whether there is any political will to change it. Maybe we need quotas.

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