Including Women's Voices in Politics
Although women can vote and run for public office in nearly every country, in 2013, they accounted for only 21 percent of parliamentarians worldwide and served as head of state or head of government in twenty-four countries. Talented women who would make effective public leaders are excluded from the pool of available candidates due to financial, social and legal barriers, to the detriment of their communities. When women hold public office, they prioritize public goods that are of concern to women, including water, infrastructure, sanitation, roads, education and health.
With female political leaders present, female citizens engage more in civic discussion, women and minorities are more likely to report crimes committed against them, and adolescent girls’ career aspirations and educational attainment increase while their time spent on household chores decreases.
Because of gendered behavioral expectations, women face different political challenges and opportunities than men. When they perceive female politicians as power-seeking, voters react negatively with feelings of moral outrage. Although women’s leadership is imperative for their communities, particularly for other women and adolescent girls, some norms inhibit women’s political participation.
What We Can Do to Capitalize on Women’s Leadership in Politics
Current research posits numerous explanations for the lack of women in leadership roles, including gender discrimination, lack of female role models, aversion to competitive environments, family responsibilities and social norms. We can address these challenges through structural changes to political frameworks and social changes in how we expect women and leaders to behave, which can give way to increasing women’s political aspirations.
- Gender Quotas: Power-seeking behavior, even when unintentional, hurts female political candidates but helps male candidates. Seat reservations for female elected officials make communities more likely to associate women with leadership and vote for women in the future. Reserving political seats for women increases female electoral participation and improves governments' responsiveness to women’s policy concerns. Yet, in the corporate sector, quotas have demonstrated mixed outcomes. In Norway, quotas for corporate boards increased gender diversity, but imposed costs on firms and shareholders, while another study found that quotas, or affirmative action, increased women's willingness to compete in competitive mixed-gender environments, closing the gender gap and resulting in the more qualified candidates, men and women alike, applying for competitive positions.
- Modeling Female Leadership: Women in leadership positions have a multiplying effect: Repeated exposure to female elected officials improves perceptions of female leaders and leads to future electoral gains for women. Female role models in leadership positions help adolescent girls to aspire to leadership.
- Political Training Programs: Mentorship, confidence building, media training and political campaign education are all effective tools to increase adolescent girls’ and women’s political aspirations and efficacy despite structural obstacles.