For a few brief, shining hours, Iceland was recently set to elect a woman-majority parliament. A first in Europe — and a marker for other democracies.
A recount changed some of the results and the female majority went away. Final tally: 30 women elected to the 63-seat parliament, up from 24 in the previous vote. Results before the recount showed 33 women were elected. True, WCF works for roughly half women and half men in all elected offices. Still: heartbreaking to see such a promising precedent evaporate.
And this in Iceland, which a World Economic Forum report released in March ranked the most gender-equal country in the world for the 12th year running. Hopes ran high.
Upping Our Game
While the election outcome is disappointing, nations like Iceland — where persons of all sexes and backgrounds fully compete for leadership in government — serve up a vision for the future. It is not only about diversification by gender but also by political attitude. For example, one candidate whose victory was overturned by the recount was law student Lenya Run Karim, a 21-year-old daughter of Kurdish immigrants who ran for the anti-establishment Pirate party.
“These were a good nine hours,” Karim, who would have been Iceland’s youngest-ever lawmaker, told local media.
Once we get reliably to roughly 50/50 in the U.S., voters will have taken a great leap toward government that represents our own tapestry of diversity. In the meantime, it’s our job to take steps to up our game. So, now’s the time to put on your walking shoes.
Data show women are 51 percent of the population of the U.S. and hold a majority of college degrees, including advanced degrees. Yet men still hold 70–75 percent of elected offices nationwide. In 2021, 24 women serve in the 100-member U.S. Senate (24 percent) and 143 women serve in the 435-member House (27 percent). Women’s representation in state legislatures is about 30 percent of all state legislative seats.
Where. Are. All. The. Women. Clearly, to reach #5050x2028, we’ve got our work cut out for us. You might want to make those running shoes.
Full and active participation of women in legislatures is not just a goal in itself; it’s central to building and sustaining democracies.
Reaching a Critical Mass
Full and active participation of women in legislatures is not just a goal in itself; it’s central to building and sustaining democracies. Every study we read, every issue we research, shows that more women in government brings positive results: more coalition and consensus building, less violence against women, and advances in such areas as pay equity, health care, and family policy.
“The equal presence of women, their leadership and their perspective in parliaments is essential to ensure greater responsiveness to citizens’ needs,” a study by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership said. “Last year, women were leading just 20 of 193 nations and occupying a quarter of parliamentary seats globally.
“Global female representation is still below 30 percent — the benchmark identified as the crucial level of representation to achieve a “critical mass” of female legislators to enable a significant impact, rather than a symbolic few,” it said.
Only three countries — Rwanda, Cuba, and Nicaragua — have more women than men in parliament, while Mexico and the United Arab Emirates have a 50/50 split, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In Europe, Sweden and Finland have 47 percent and 46 percent women’s representation in parliament, respectively.
As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright noted, the world is wasting a precious resource in the dramatic underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, often resulting in the exclusion of women’s talents and skills in political life. Most U.S. federal and state elections are just a year away.
When do you need to act to get us to critical mass? Easy answer: Now. If not now, when?
©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund
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