Carnegie Endowment Identifies How to Increase Women in U.S. Politics

A recent report from the Carnegie Endowment helps identify specific approaches to accelerate women’s representation in American politics. (Image courtesy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

While there has been a recent rise in the number of women running for offices across the United States, the journey towards gender equality in politics is not moving fast enough. Statistics shown in a recent paper written by Saskia Brechenmacher, an associate fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program, prove that gender equality in politics is still far from reach, yet many European countries have come significantly closer to this goal. Brechenmacher’s paper provides research about the efforts of such countries and identified moves the United States can make to reach gender equality sooner.

As of right now, women make up 19.3% of the House of Representatives and 21% of the Senate. In several Western European countries, women make up over 30% of their respective parliaments. Lack of equality in any government system leads to a structure that does not reflect its population’s makeup, diminishes the voices of women, and weakens the quality of democracy. In the article, Brechenmacher clarifies that this imbalance is less affected by voter bias and more affected by the small number of female candidates. Female candidates tend to be voted into offices just as often as men, yet they are less likely to run because of four major issues.

Four Issues That Need Addressing to Get Women Representing America

Issue #1: Change America’s single-member voting system. This limits the number of candidates a party can support and shrinks the window for women to enter the political playing field. European countries have adapted systems which allow parties to nominate several candidates, bring a much wider range of people to the ballot. While it is not likely the United States would adopt this same system, 11 U.S. cities use a Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) system instead. This structure allows voters to select several nominees and rank their choices. For candidates, this system encourages a civil approach to campaigning over huge spending. Because of this, it makes it easier for women and minorities to get their name on the ballot, likely not having the same access to funding and connections as men.

Issue #2: Establish gender quotas like European countries have done. These can either be mandatory by law or established within political parties, the latter being more common in Europe. With gender quotas, European parties have established percentages of their nominees and recruits to be female, thus integrating women from the lowest levels. In the United States and Europe, proposed gender quotas have received huge pushback, but unlike the U.S., Europeans have successfully implemented several at the local and government levels. This has been accomplished by female-led campaigns, the contagion effect, self-image of parties and party elites, publicizing research promoting such quotas, and making allies. In the United States, recruitment and training of female candidates have taken the place of quotas as an effort to combat this issue. The Republican party has established Right Women, Right Now to recruit and train women for state offices and the Republican Congressional Committee launched a short-lived program GROW to shine a light on women running for house seats. The Democratic party has seen significantly more success with this, however, through EMILY’s List, Women Lead, and the Women’s Senate Network. However, the numbers do not compare to those of European parties. Other options suggested by the Carnegie report are to set numerical targets for parties to recruit women, systematically recruit and support female candidates, address misconceptions about biases held against women running for office, and prioritize internal equality within parties.

Issue #3: Deal with the problems of publicly funded elections in the United States. Often, U.S. elections require huge sums of money to get noticed, giving the advantage to wealthy candidates with a recognizable name and connections. Because women have been left out of the world of politics, they immediately face a disadvantage when fundraising and advertising. European countries have taken this into account, making reductions on campaign spending. Some countries have made percentages of government funding to parties based on the parties support for and recruitment of female candidates. EMILY’s List and the Women’s Campaign Fund have made it easier for women to receive funding, but more steps could be taken. Financial incentives for support of female candidates, specific funding for open-seat races, and overall shifts in public financing could further level the playing field for women running for office.

Issue #4: Address the Gender Issues in U.S. political institutions. European countries suffer from these internal barriers as well, but activists have continued to make moves toward equality. Internal gender equality plans, placement of women in leadership positions, improvements on childcare and parental leave rules, family-friendly working hours, and internal support structures have vastly improved the experience of women in office in Europe. In the United States, the Carnegie report by Breckenmacher suggests we should work toward improving data collection, setting internal gender benchmarks, improving childcare and parental leave rules, and combating sexual harassment. With these changes, the everyday experience of female political figures will be vastly improved. Getting these issues addressed will keep the conversation on gender equality going on the local and congressional levels.

While European countries have made greater strides than the United States, their movement toward gender equality has plateaued as well. Internal barriers and biases are still huge issues that are the most difficult to uproot.  Keeping the conversation alive is the most important aspect of our battle. It will allow for incremental change to continue and will break down stigmas and misconceptions about the power of women today.

Read the full paper by Saskia Brechenmacher here. 

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Author: Katrina Marek

Katrina Marek is a freshman at Hofstra University, studying film and fine arts. She hopes to pursue film editing or art education in the future. Outside of school, Katrina works as a vocalist at Cathedral of the Incarnation and a Gallery Assistant at the Hofstra University Museum. She loves watching films, drawing, painting, reading, finding new music, and being in the company of close friends.

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